Take Martin Luther King’s fight for justice to the classroom

DeLano Ford is the executive director of Teach For America-Metro Atlanta.

By DeLano Ford

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s example is deeply personal and inspired me to commit my life to educational equity — today’s social justice fight. As we celebrate Dr. King today I am reminded of his Letter from Birmingham Jail, and his clear call to serve, which remains relevant today.

During my freshman year at Morehouse College, I lived on the second floor of Robert Hall, directly across from one of King’s early dorm rooms.  This was a daily reminder of what I needed to do to meet his expectations of me as a Morehouse Brother.

Martin Luther King Jr. (AJC File)

Martin Luther King Jr. (AJC File)

Nearly 20 years later, my home is just a few yards from the basement Dr. King rented in his final years at Morehouse. This ever-present neighbor challenges and inspires me to continue the work to dismantle the social inequities that divide our city and country. We still have work to do.

As the executive director of Teach For America-Metro Atlanta, I see the critical need for all of us to engage in this work every day: the lives of our most vulnerable students are at risk, classrooms across the city lack equity and families living in poverty don’t have a clear path to middle-class opportunities.

After graduating from Morehouse, I realized the work I was doing in management consulting was rewarding and challenging but something was missing. While I was able to volunteer and contribute financially, I felt like my impact was tinkering along the margins. I changed careers and made a commitment to education. It is difficult, but perhaps the most rewarding, work I know.

When accused of being in too great a hurry for equal rights, Dr. King wrote in his Letter, “human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men…and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation.”  I believe we can realize equity in our lifetime, but it will take all of us working together to get there, and I’m humbled to work alongside incredible people doing this work every day.

At TFA–Metro Atlanta, we believe your classroom is your march and your torch of justice. This belief is rooted in the lessons of our past and a magnetic pull to a future that we know our students deserve. We partner with schools, organizations, and families across our city who believe deeply in the possibility of equity and the potential of every child.

Alongside the challenges we face, I’ve also seen progress and that inspires me. It is critical people from all backgrounds join in this work, and I’m grateful to be among a diverse group of people who are choosing to work in education in our city. Among our TFA teachers in Atlanta, 16 percent are black men and 39 percent are career-changers – this brings me great hope at a time when only 2 percent of our nation’s teachers are black men, and fewer people are choosing to teach. And through partnerships with organizations like Alpha Phi Alpha, the world’s oldest fraternity founded by African-American men of which MLK was also a member, I believe more people will answer the call to teach in our highest-need classrooms.

There is a lot of good work being done, but we need more people to join the effort to build equity and dissolve the systemic problems that continue to create divided communities and a divided country. We need people to exert their energy and talent toward creating education equity.

While it is exciting for our city to see the growth of new businesses, housing and communities, I encourage you think about those who have been silenced or exiled from the mainstream economy because of their historical education. Will they be able to lead in such a demanding democracy or will it simply be hurtful they may never be prepared to run the businesses we see nor live in the luxury high rises that line our streets? And then ask what you are doing right now to improve our communities and help those most impacted by systemic injustices.

MLK was born here in Atlanta 87 years ago, and the work of living into his legacy continues today. So many people who have come before us have committed to this work. While we’ve seen progress, I hope an even greater number of leaders across lines of difference will lock arms and collectively usher in change for the good, committing to this work with passion.

Atlanta needs us to be as resilient and steadfast as King modeled for us from the halls of Morehouse, the Birmingham jail, the streets of Selma, and the streets of the Old Fourth Ward.

 

 

 

Reader Comments 0

23 comments
Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

Ah yes, mlk day.  A shining example of what fifty years of non-stop politically correct propaganda can accomplish.


In the 50's and 60's, the USA and communist Russia were engaged in a "Cold War".  This was not a war being fought on the field of battle, but by the KGB and the CIA, among others.  What better way to destabilize a first world, industrialized nation than to encourage equalization of a third world populace.  mlk's communist ties are well documented and are what prompted the attention of J. Edgar Hoover's FBI.


One has to wonder just what is in those sealed FBI files.  Seems like we would have had the opportunity to find out before a holiday to celebrate a sexual degenerate, a communist sympathizer, and religious fraud were perpetrated onto the American people.


BTW, the communist ploy worked beyond their wildest dreams.  America is but a shell of its former self.  We haven't put a man on the moon in over forty years.  We've spent trillions on never ending regional conflicts in which we have zero business.  We cannot secure our borders and tens of millions of invaders have waltzed across our Southern border.  The population of social parasites and welfare moochers has reached parity with the productive members of society.  Our treasury is forever indebted to foreign nations.


But, to speak out against this folly is to be considered "rayyyyccciiiissss".  Let the predictable screeching begin in

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OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@Lee_CPA2 

Yawn.  You are soooo 1950s. Cold War.  Commies. All those "Knee-grows" being un-American by asking for their rights. I remember growing up in the 1950s, and then leaving it behind for the 1960s, 1970s....Try it.

Truthyness
Truthyness

Mr Ford, I agree the fight for civil rights need to carry to the class room. As director of TFA please take these little nuggets of wisdom from me and use them. The school drop out rate for children of color is too high. But, have you ever heard a child of any color, that has dropped out of school state they do not want to learn anymore? I doubt you have. Children want to learn, I believe and have experienced that they drop out of school, because they do not like the school environment. The slights, the heavy handed and biased distribution of discipline toward children of color. Also, in that regard please implement the rule that your teachers will not require children of color to read the book; To Kill a Mockingbird. That book is racist and no child should have to sit through hours of class, while people who look like them are called racist names, and are portrayed as less than. I have had children of color tell me they loath having to read that book and others like it in front of snickering class mates. If the roles were reversed and it referred to white people in a racist and demeaning way I can guarantee you it would not be on a school reading list, and they would be right! 

he_of_stinky_wind
he_of_stinky_wind

Maybe starting in the home instead of with the teachers union.

Mustang100
Mustang100

Oh yes, the same classrooms patrolled by policemen.

Infraredguy
Infraredguy

I wanted to do a civic duty today to honor Dr. King's legacy but I did not have the address on where to send Dexter's commission beforehand

gactzn2
gactzn2

@Infraredguy The center does not run itself. It is a non-profit. Speaking engagement fees are the norm for most prominent speakers- no difference.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

Beautifully written essay and so appropriately published on the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s National Holiday.


DeLano Ford: "While we’ve seen progress, I hope an even greater number of leaders across lines of difference will lock arms and collectively usher in change for the good, committing to this work with passion."

zekeI
zekeI

Take it to the classroom? Are you totally ignorant or most probably totally racist and against the idea of Constitutional USA? Our children are already bombarded and indoctrinated in a any pro socialist, anti USA agenda scheme that can be dreamed up, instead of actually educating them, preparing them for life after school! I have no problem rationally honoring those like MLK, but, WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO HONOR IN THE SAME MANNER THOSE WHO WERE/ARE REALLY IMPORTANT TO OUR GREAT COUNTRY? WASHINGTON, JEFFERSON, THE ADAMS, MONROE, MADISON, FRANKLIN ARE FAR MORE IMPORTANT THAN MLK! Except of course to about 12% of the population who are continuously bombarded by so called leaders who are nothing more than racist, race baiting extortionist!

gactzn2
gactzn2

@zekeI We are already bombarded by white patriarchal notions of Old America within our classrooms- hence Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Monroe, Madison, Franklin, and others still dominate, unfortunately, a great deal of that discussion.  However, unlike Martin Luther King, they were working within an established construct that carried over from Europe and was passed down from one figure head to the next in the establishing of a new America- that did not regard blacks.


MLK idealized, defined, and created a construct for change through purely organic methods, and these changes would impact not just America- but the entire world. I would daresay that his contributions within 39 years of life have been more significant than any of those who you list, and while not a perfect man, showed a passionate one who dedicated his life to a cause that called for justice for all human beings- not just white.  

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@gactzn2 

They were all great men.  I believe that humankind has been in a constant evolution toward the Godhead since the beginning of time and that our Founding Fathers had played their parts in this advancement, Abraham Lincoln played his part, and Martin Luther King, Jr. played his part.  Each generation has had its great leaders who have built on the spiritual advancement of the others as humanity itself has advanced with them. Barack Obama has played his part in the ongoing realization that we are more than physical bodies and that we are more than a survival of the fittest consciousness. Thanks be to God for the reality of love and of grace.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

I figured this topic would bring out the "hooders."

Wrecker
Wrecker

@Wascatlady I hope you are not talking about me.  Personal attacks are ignorant and unavailing.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@Wascatlady 

Such posters always seem to unintentionally demonstrate the truth of topics about the continued racism in education that still needs to be addressed.

Legong
Legong

Like nearly every other article appearing in this space, this one seeks to attribute the problems of the black community to outside forces.

It blithely ignores the immense disadvantages suffered by children growing up without a father in the home -- currently seventy-two percent of all black kids.

Political correctness thus victimizes them a second time.

gactzn2
gactzn2

@Legong Whichever way- the problems are here- the question is how do we address it?  Not so sure that having a "father" in the home is always what it appears to be- a stable loving home and family is what makes the difference.  Access to economic opportunity can also make a difference.  Notice I said- access- not always an option in Georgia- particularly, if you are a black male. I wonder how that FACT impacts the family structure?

Wrecker
Wrecker

It would be nice if we could get one blog about education not filtered through the lens of perceived racism.  What our school system needs is students and parents who value education and achievement.

General Concern
General Concern

"Will they be able to lead in such a demanding democracy or will it simply be hurtful they may never be prepared to run the businesses we see nor live in the luxury high rises that line our streets?"


Well, let's see. I am neither running the business, nor living in the luxury high rise, so I guess it will just have to be "hurtful" for those in Atlanta who choose to feel it as such. 

Legong
Legong

In King's day seventy-five percent of black children grew up with a father in the home. Now, nearly as many grow up without.

That's the social inequity he would have targeted.