By: Miranda Mowrey, Columnist
This past Wednesday marked the 57th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Since its delivery, the speech has inspired, motivated, and reminded Americans of the values that our country was built upon- “all men are created equal” and “would be guaranteed the “unalienable Rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” King illustrates his dream – “a dream deeply rooted in the American dream” – for this country to embody these wholesome, honest, and undoubtedly fundamental ideals, but emphasizes that we have yet to fulfill the promises of equality and prosperity for all set forth in The Constitution.
In his speech, King urges the audience of over 250,000 people to ‘not be satisfied until “justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”’ Although King Jr.’s leadership in attaining racial justice played an important role in the enactment of the pivotal 1964 Civil Rights Act, racial issues and tensions that were commonplace 56 years ago still persist in the year of 2020. While it is obvious that de-jure segregation policies or “whites only” signs hanging above water fountains no longer find themselves in American society, it is the unfortunate truth that virtually every one of us has experienced the deep disunity and bitterness that rips through our country today. There are many areas in which inequality and inequity show themselves, and there are countless stories we hear about the adversity faced by people of color in the 21st century: police brutality, disproportionate imprisonment, unequal access to healthcare and education, or difficulties faced in the workplace.
I stand by those who fight for justice in these various sectors of prejudice and inequity, however my personal passion falls in the sector of education, for I wholeheartedly agree with Nelson Mandela when he said, “education is the most powerful weapon which you can change the world.”
This is why in the year of self-driving cars and smart phones with facial recognition, the stark difference in funding and treatment of schools with high-minority, low-income students is absolutely unacceptable. African American students are more likely to attend schools equipped with less qualified teachers, teachers with lower salaries and first-year teachers. Even more disturbing, schools with 90 percent or more students of color spend $733 less per student per year than schools with 90 percent or more white students.
In Maryland, 4.9% less state and local money is spent on poor school districts than wealthy ones. Students in underserved neighborhoods do not receive the same social services and mental and physical healthcare as those in economically-sound areas. In fact, 45% of youth living in poverty reported that they were unable to access the mental health services they needed. In 2018, Baltimore city schools closed due to lack of heat and the overall deterioration of the buildings themselves, an inevitable consequence of disproportionate funding to underserved, high-minority neighborhoods.
This lack of investment in the education of these communities is reflected in the academic success of students affected by the negligence of our political leaders. Baltimore students who attended the schools that closed due to poor conditions performed near the bottom in reading and math scores compared to other students in Maryland. 28% of low-income Maryland students scored proficient on PARCC exams, compared to 62% of students not classified as low-income, with this gap only widening.
Education equips a child with the opportunity to build a life for themselves, and the ability to contribute a unique part of who they are to the world. When our government fails to uphold the concepts outlined by King Jr. and The Constitution – that all men are equal – the suffering of innocent children becomes blatantly pronounced.
Every child has dreams for themselves and their family. It is a tragedy that these dreams are more challenging to attain for people of color, simply because of the continuous, lackadaisical behavior of our political leaders.
Although disparities in the education system are not always the headliner for most news stations, I truly believe that if more attention and funding were given to schools that are consistently given the short-end of the stick, we would see positive change towards a more equal society.
Lastly, despite the disturbing and frustrating information that seems to jump from every screen we turn on these days, we must continue to advance in this fight for equity with the same grace seen in Martin Luther King Jr.’s leadership. Why? Because the world has become hostile, angry, and divided. Voices of change will not stand out if they fit the same severe approach as used by everyone else.
“Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred,” as King Jr. puts it. Instead, let us empower, educate and love one another.