“One hundred years later [after the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863], the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination.
“One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.
“In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, Black men as well as White men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
“It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.’ But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.”
— Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “I Have A Dream,” 1963
Today, 148 years later, our babies are still waiting for the promises made to our ancestors. They are still holding a bad check. Regardless of the false divisions we create in the village, or that we more often let others create for us, we — their parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins — are still holding the bad check, too.
Last week I was in a meeting with some staff of the Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) about our babies and their tutoring. In a room filled with people wearing badges advising visitors of their names and positions, all I heard was, “Oh, I can’t authorize that,” “Oh, that requires board approval and it will take until March 26 [24 days later, after the MCA tests]”…blah, blah, blah.
No solutions — and ain’t this a blip? No solutions from the educators themselves! Wait, let me rephrase that: There are no solutions for our babies, while all other students are getting tutored. The MPS data proves that this is true.
This doesn’t mean that we don’t want the other students to be tutored. It does mean we want our babies to be tutored, too. Can the superintendent, or anyone else for that matter, tell us why this can’t happen?
Do you know the superintendent? Perhaps you could call or email a school board member and ask them why our babies are still waiting. I know I’ve been asking.
One member of the meeting told me essentially, “The MCA tests are in a few weeks. There’s nothing we can do about that. I called you to talk about summer.” I almost lost my dignity. Did I hear you right? Let our babies fail when we know they’ve been denied their tutoring resources? When grants and funding requests have been written for millions of dollars constantly promising to “fix” the African American achievement gap?
The MPS knows that the program they prescribed was so flawed that the 16 African American organizations standing ready to serve chose instead to partner with the Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches and withdraw from the process. They said no more to the wrong solutions for our children. We need to do this right.
Rep. Tony Cornish wants 10-year-olds to serve time in adult prisons for certain crimes. We are openly disrespected by this seated state representative and told not to testify on behalf of “little Johnny.” Is this respect?
Our education system is unraveling. Our babies are suffering right now in education, in economics and in health. Those are our babies sitting in Minnesota’s jails and detention centers. Those are our babies living in someone else’s houses without the love only the village can give.
Are you tired of waiting? What story will we be able to tell our children and grandchildren about that day when the village united in solidarity to demand an education for our babies that makes good on the promises of America, about the day when we could finally take them to the bank to cash their checks.
Lissa Jones welcomes reader responses to ljones@spokes man- recorder.com.