THE BLOG
06/14/2011 12:39 pm ET | Updated Aug 14, 2011

For the Sake of Our Children

So much of the chatter surrounding the NAACP lawsuit against the New York City Department of Education is unhelpful and off-center. As chairman of the NNPA (Black Press of America) representing 200 black newspapers in America, we plan to add our voice loud and clear in support of the NAACP lawsuit. The disparities in New York City schools are deplorable, pitting student against student, parent against parent.

The NAACP represents quality education for all of our children and their future, and this lawsuit is the right thing to do.

I use the word "off-center" because many contributing voices are forgetting the reason and inspiration behind the current lawsuit--the students of New York City.

After winning twice in court, the NAACP recently filed their lawsuit to hold the NYC Department of Education responsible for their noncompliance with a previous court order, which included engaging parents before closing down their schools and developing and executing improvement plans for low-performing schools.

Since when has there been such opposition to holding a party accountable?

Another reason this dialogue is veering off course is because of its focus on race. This dialogue should not be about race, but rather making it a priority that impoverished students, and frankly all students, have an equal chance of achievement and opportunity.

Attracting more attention to race, to ineffectual rhetoric, and to accusations of racism is unfortunate, and candidly, it is insulting to the students of New York City who need us to come together. They need a solution, not a distraction.

The black press will use our voice to make sure this problem is not unfairly put on the backs of minority students and their parents.

A long held belief is that education has, and continues to be, the great equalizer of our society. If we don't put education and its students as our first priority, what does that mean for our society?

Throughout history, education has helped to bridge opportunity gaps in communities, cities, and nations. That's why the NAACP has been fighting for equal and quality education since its founding.
There is so much at stake here. In a couple of months, more than one million students will begin their school year in the City of New York, our nation's largest public education system. It is critical that a resolution be in place at that time, so that the public school children can learn in conditions equal to those of charter school children.

What are we demonstrating to our children if we don't fight for them to have the same opportunity as their peers? There should not and cannot continue to be a tale of two schools: one with fresh paint, greater library access online and off, and better classrooms, as one has less library and recess time, peeling paint, and inadequate classrooms. If you're not familiar with what's going on, I'll leave you to infer which school is a public school and which is a charter school.

And while I'm pointing out the differences in the co-located city schools, it's also essential to remember this is not a "charter school vs. traditional school" lawsuit or position. There is no time to read deeper into this lawsuit than what it is actually about: equal learning conditions for New York City students attending co-located charter and public schools.

Throughout my life, my work as a community activist and campaigning for civil rights has instilled the belief that changes can be made if we fight for them. This fight between the NAACP and the New York City Board of Education is worth that change, and it is what our children deserve.

This past February, in another Huffington Post blog, I discussed overcoming inhibited opportunity by working together to surpass barriers and to achieve the American dream. Although my article was in honor of Black History Month and focused on broadband accessibility, many of its macro points are applicable to the ongoing discussion surrounding the NAACP lawsuit.

Access--whether to broadband or to quality education--is worth fighting for. Ultimately, providing our students with an equal, quality education will benefit our entire country as our nation itself struggles to regain its economic competitiveness.

We've overcome disparities and discrimination in the past, and this lawsuit proves there are more we must overcome in order to benefit our children and country.

I have faith in our students' champions: the parents, NAACP President Ben Jealous and the NAACP, the New York City Board of Education, and the other players involved in this dialogue. I trust they recognize and understand the only way to come to the table and agree upon a solution is through working together in open communication.

It's for the sake of our children.