t_willard_fair_3.jpgMIAMI — All parents should have a fair chance to ensure their children get a quality education, regardless of race, class or zip code. That’s what the American Federation of Children (AFC) believes and the Urban League of Greater Miami agrees.

And that’s why AFC national education reform leader Kevin Chavous was featured in the latest installment of the League’s community conversations on education in the black community held at the League’s Freedom Hall in the northwest Miami area.

Thus far, discussions have centered on education equality and reform, the new Common Core standards, what parents should expect  and the controversial topic of school choice. School choice allows parents the option of receiving vouchers to send their children to charter schools and makes a direct correlation between teacher job security and student performance. It’s controversial because it is seen as rivaling and draining funds from public schools.

According to T. Willard Fair, long-time president of the Urban League of Greater Miami, and former head of a charter school in Miami, the overall goal is for the community to take responsibility for improving the way black youth are being educated.

“I’m not anti-anything. I’m just pro me. We’re going to believe that all the answers rest with us,” Fair said. “If whatever is broken in our community stays broken, it’s our fault. As long as we don’t believe education is important, the children we produce won’t.”

Some 50 people turned out for the latest discussion on March 12, including residents, community activists, educators, parents, representatives from various non-profits, Miami-Dade County School Board Member Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall and state and Miami-Dade NAACP President Adora Obi Weze.

After a brief introduction from Fair, attendees were shown a short AFC film highlighting what was said to be the positive effects of school choice on urban children in New Orleans. Afterwards, citing statistics such as a 47 percent graduation rate for black male students in Miami-Dade County, Chavous unapologetically advocated for school choice, which he termed “parent choice.”

“Parent power is by definition the essence of educational choice. We have to put all options on the table. We don’t have the luxury of waiting for one system to fix all of our needs,” Chavous said.

Not everyone in attendance agreed with Chavous, calling, instead, for fixing the existing public school system.

“We are the answer to what’s going on in our schools. We can change them by doing what needs to be done. I believe the system can be fixed,” said Brian Person, who works at Booker T. Washington High in Miami’s historic Overtown neighborhood and serves as a Big Brother in the Big Brother, Big Sister Program.

“I believe that you have to create options but one of those options has to continue to be the public schools,” added Doreatha Nichson. 

Chavous responded by saying he wasn’t ruling out public schools as an option but argued that, for too long, people have accepted and celebrated mediocrity. He added that everyone is an asset in the effort to give minority youth a quality education.

“Vision is seeing beyond what you can see. I think we have to figure out an all-hands-on-deck approach to the problem,” Chavous said. “We have too many people who talk a good game but really aren’t vested. If you don’t passionately believe that, regardless of your zip code, you can be anything you want to be, then you shouldn’t be here.”

Fair said this was the fifth in the series of “conversations” on improving the education system. He said in partnership with the AFC, the League plans to travel around the state and move into a full-scale national campaign to spark serious discussion about school choice by the end of March.

“This is an issue that has emotional ties to it,” Fair said. “Many members of the [teachers] unions are black. It’s not unusual for our ethnic ties to overpower our good judgment,” Fair said. “What we’re saying is there has to be something bigger than those ties and that something is the children. So, if the system is broken fix it but, in the meantime, I am not going to sacrifice another child in the interest of waiting on a system to be fixed.

“It’s going to be tough. It’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be confrontational and it should be. It’s incumbent upon the Urban League and other organizations to challenge the system to change.”