In their now classic twenty-year old recording, "Case of the P.T.A.," the lead single from
their debut album A Future Without A Past, The Leaders of the New School, a Long Island,
New York hip hop collective featuring Charlie Brown, Dinco D, and future breakout solo star
Busta Rhymes, inadvertently made a case for the integration of a paradigm of community
involvement to help save America's troubled public education system. With the lyric "A room
full of teachers, parents, and preachers, a principal and one kid dressed in sneakers," the Leaders
of the New School gave articulation and vision to an increasingly absent form of community-
based support for today's public schools.
As the founding pastor of a newly-organized church, the two-year old Joy Tabernacle
African Methodist Episcopal Church in Dallas, Texas, I have been inspired by our growing
memberships' commitment to service. Our church has been guided by an ever-increasing vision
to seek partnerships that aid in urban recovery and to serve as an omnibus ministry mapping out the
needs of the rapidly changing urban landscape and developing specific ministries to meet those needs in
a holistic way. Recognizing the troubled state of public education within our own community, we
immediately sought opportunities to make a positive impact upon our educational system and to
empower urban youth, especially in the impoverished South Dallas community.
Through our participation in the Dallas Independent School District's Principal for A
Day Program, (unfortunately as the only church participating in the program in October 2010)
we adopted Pearl C. Anderson Middle School in South Dallas. The program enabled us to spend
the day touring the school and meeting with administrators, faculty, staff, parents, and students
regarding the needs of the campus. What we soon discovered was a school being challenged to
make brick without straw -- a tremendously dedicated cadre of administrators, faculty, and staff
persons attempting to do much with little, and in the face of then additional and forthcoming cuts
to staff and budgeting.
We also discovered that the challenges to public education extend well beyond the
classroom and into the community. These students' daily pilgrimages to Pearl C. Anderson led
them past abandoned and boarded houses, past overgrown fields strewn with litter and broken
bottles, past zombie-like drug addicts and drug dealers, past seedy motels serving as beds of
prostitution, and past multiple liquor stores standing only a few hundred feet from the school's
entrance, then, finally, through a metal detector and past armed security on their way to the
classroom. How anyone could aspire to learn amid such dismal surroundings appeared itself to
be an act of God!
Our meetings on the campus further revealed yet another challenge to public education:
the increasing absence of parental involvement. Our meeting with the Parent and Teachers'
Association president revealed minimal support from parents in supporting their children's
educational process despite numerous activities and drives to get more parents involved. We
also learned, however, that the lack of parental involvement could not be easily dismissed as
negligence, not when many of these parents were working multiple jobs just to keep a roof over
their children's heads.
Our church is not wealthy, and like many Houses of Worship across the nation, the
majority of our meager resources are presently allocated simply to keeping our doors open. But
we found inspiration in the words of Dr. King who, himself, found inspiration for his words from
the words of Christ, for despite our limitations, "everyone can serve. You only need a heart full
of grace, a soul generated by love." So we did what we could. We landscaped the entrance of
the campus so that after passing busted boards and broken glass along the bleak borders of the
campus, students would be greeted by beautiful flowers in bloom. We cleaned windows that
bright rays of sunlight not be hindered in their Vitamin-D laden odyssey to shine upon our youth
at study, and that brief youthful gazes upon the world not be impeded by dirt and grime. We
coated faded walls with fresh paint and picked up litter carried by brisk winds upon the campus
And after doing what we could, we partnered with others to do more. At the request
of the Office of Leadership and Community Involvement at Southern Methodist University in
Dallas to become involved in Joy Tabernacle's on-going outreach initiatives, Joy Tabernacle
coordinated an opportunity for the University to serve alongside us at Pearl C. Anderson during
one of its Service Days to further beautify the campus. We also partnered with two sister
churches, Saint Paul A.M.E. Church and Smith Chapel A.M.E. Church, holding three worship
services and donating all of the proceeds to three public schools towards teacher incentives,
including Pearl C. Anderson.
We partnered with the newly-formed T.E.A.M. (TogetherEnriching A Lot as Men) Coalition of Dallas, inviting them to conduct their first outreach
program on the campus of Pearl C. Anderson, and we participated in its "Tie My Tie Program"
which teaches adolescent men self-respect, life-skills, the importance of hard work, and how to
dress for success.
And recently, we have partnered with the Washington, D.C. based Faith Leaders for
Community Change which will not only serve to further strengthen our capacity to do the
work in which we have already been engaged, but also will undergird Joy Tabernacle's ever-
expanding vision to increase our capacity to meet the needs of urban youth through early
education programs, after-school mentoring and tutoring program, youth recreational leagues,
and summer enrichment programs. The success of our public education system does not rest
squarely upon the shoulders of the school board or the district administration, nor does it rest
exclusively upon teachers and coaches. It does and has always required the commitment and
involvement of multiple partners, including, but not limited to, parents, the church, the business
community, civic organizations, and community volunteers.
As leaders of the new school, that is, people and institutions committed to taking an
active role to save our public education system, we must actually take on an "old-school"
approach. We must not simply talk about the issues, but become conduits of change to help
resolve them. The challenges facing our public education system are too great to be handled by
one single entity. We must all do our part. Prayerfully, The Leaders of the New School's vision
of teachers, parents, and preachers sharing space and mobilizing to act towards the benefit of
sneaker-clad youth will carve out for itself a greater future for our public education system void
of our past neglect.
Follow Michael W. Waters on Twitter: www.twitter.com/RevDrMikeWaters