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Leaders of the New School

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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

grounds.

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.