By Harriet Sanford
Last week, the staffs of the NEA Foundation and the NEA took an hour away from our work to pay tribute to the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., whose birthday the NEA has celebrated every January for 28 years.
Central to Dr. King’s vision of justice, peace, and brotherhood was the dream of a quality education for all students regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or socio-economic status. An education that provides our young people with access and opportunity to make their place in the world. An education that values and strengthens their whole beings. An education that helps them think critically, serve boldly, and live unconditionally.
In the spirit of that hope, the NEA Foundation invited student performers and their teachers from the Milwaukee Public School District to Washington, DC to celebrate with us. Milwaukee Public Schools is part of the Foundation’s Closing the Achievement Gaps Initiative. This initiative supports partnerships of teachers, administrators, parents and the community working together to help educators improve their practice so that all students can achieve this essential American dream.
We were energized as we watched students from Albert E. Kagel Elementary School, led by their teachers, Master Drummer and Director Dr. Cecil Austin, and choreographer Director Yolanda Estante, chant, drum, and dance.
And we were inspired as the “brothers for human rights,” Zakareaun Q. Sanders and LeRoy Taylor, Jr., from Phillis Wheatley Elementary School, read from Dr. King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” (See video below)
“Let us all hope,” they read, “that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.“
Their teacher, Director Kimberly S. Haynes, said she chose the more difficult passage for her young students to give them a learning experience that was unique, that would challenge them to do their best, and that they would remember forever. This is the kind of teaching that the NEA Foundation wholeheartedly endorses.
Through their performances, these students, guided by their teachers, captured the diversity, richness, and academic excellence that can be found in many of our public schools today, and which is a direct result of Dr. King’s work.
Honoring them, we redouble our commitment to help teachers help kids know more.
MLK Jr. Celebration: 8:00