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Rev. Al Sharpton Headshot

President Obama's Education Initiative Unlocks the Gate for African Americans

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Earlier today, I witnessed President Obama deliver on yet another promise when he signed an Executive Order establishing the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans. Acknowledging the significant racial disparity present in our educational system, the president's order is a significant game changer for millions of black students, their families and communities suffering from the impact of inadequate opportunities. When endless research and evidence suggests that poverty, violence and crime are all correlated with access to quality education, it's incomprehensible that we would set up children for failure by denying them the foundation of intellect and knowledge. Thankfully, we have a president that recognizes this greatest civil rights challenge of our time, and more importantly, is leading the charge to combat it.

In 2009, not long after taking office, President Obama shocked many by inviting two individuals from virtually opposite ends of the spectrum to the White House to discuss education -- former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and me. Shortly thereafter, the president asked us to embark on a national education tour to highlight inequities, raise awareness and seek methods to resolve some of the most difficult challenges we face in leveling the educational playing field. Although we hardly agree on much of anything, Newt and I willingly participated in this effort because both of us understood that improving our schools and access to colleges/universities wasn't a left or right issue; it's an American issue.

My organization, National Action Network (NAN), and I have worked with the president and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan from the beginning of this administration. My unlikely ally, Newt, and I didn't hesitate to participate on this education tour upon the president's request because we wanted to see the next generation succeed. To now watch everything crystallized into a permanent initiative is a natural and necessary progression of this administration and we at NAN salute President Obama and will aggressively work with this new initiative.

The Executive Order creates a presidential commission on educational development for black students, and only strengthens his 2010 Executive Order to bolster the nations' Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) that suffered extensively from decreased funding due to state's budgetary challenges.

For far too long, one's birthplace in this country has determined what sort of education he/she would receive and the likelihood that he/she would be able to pursue a higher education. In too many urban areas like Chicago for example, simply making it to school is a challenge, as the threat of violence overtakes certain neighborhoods. And when a child does make it to school in these disturbing environments, they often receive questionable education from schools that are lacking in resources and quality teachers. The chances of this very child going to college (let alone graduating high school) becomes slim to none. Without an education, job opportunities grow increasingly limited, and this individual is then often forced to do whatever is necessary to survive -- even if it is illegal. It's a vicious cycle that we as a nation MUST break. And education is the one equalizer that can effect the most change.

In the city of New York, a place that has watched far too many die at the hands of gun violence in recent months and years, one of the latest victims was an innocent 4-year-old boy named Lloyd Morgan whose only crime was enjoying an evening at a Bronx park on Sunday. This must end immediately; too many of our men, women, children, parents and grandparents are dying at the hands of street violence. We are in a crisis mode all across this nation. It is of the utmost importance that we not only deal with the immediate wave of gang violence, but do what the president did today -- specialize in building a solid foundation and future for those who need it most.

Education is the key, and it's time we unlock the gates to equality, advancement and opportunity for all.