The Black Church's Role in School Reform

The Washington Post/Getty Images
The Washington Post/Getty Images

(Special to The Root) — Education is the civil rights issue of our time. President Obama rightfully made this assertion in 2011, but local leaders — specifically in black-American communities — have faced this harsh reality for decades.


While strong public schools have played major roles in transforming neighborhoods and spurring local economies, African-American communities have been continuously plagued with poor-performing schools that fail our children.

Recent statistics from the U.S. Dept. of Education paint a vivid, yet sobering picture of the state of education in these communities. Almost 85 percent of African-American fourth-graders and nearly 90 percent of eighth-graders in our public schools are not proficient in reading or math.

We are too great a nation not to provide a high-quality education for every child, especially those in our most vulnerable communities. As bipartisan support for meaningful education reforms to eliminate these ills continues to build momentum and expand, it is vital that the role of the faith community also increases.

Our historic and powerful constituency provided key leadership during the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. During these tumultuous times, pastors provided leadership from the pulpit, becoming a catalyst for eradicating injustice and inequality across society. Given the state of public education in our country, black America needs that same orchestrated guidance to overcome this generation's education crisis.

With this in mind, faith leaders from across the country convened in Atlanta on Sept. 21, 2012, for the National Faith Leaders Education Policy Summit. This single-day event, hosted by Stand Up for Great Schools and StudentsFirst, engaged and mobilized more than 130 faith leaders across 35 states around the education crisis that our children face.

In this endeavor, Stand Up and StudentsFirst partnered with Church of God in Christ, African Methodist Episcopal, Baptist and other denominations to coordinate this timely discussion. In addition to the faith community, CNN education contributor Steve Perry, Shirley Ford of Parent Revolution and Howard Fuller of Black Alliance for Educational Options also attended the summit as keynote speakers and panelists.


This landmark event was momentous for the education-reform movement. More than 100 influential members of a concerned faith community were transformed into activists, unified to push for change and encourage their congregations to follow suit.

The authors of this editorial are in full agreement: The black church has the power to be a beacon for the education revolution and a driving force in urging meaningful education reforms. If we truly believe that education is the civil rights issue of our time, we must step up to the plate and demand justice. In order to ensure that our children receive the high-quality education they deserve, it is critical that parents are empowered with the necessary tools to demand change.


As faith leaders, we must mobilize and employ our collective resources to their fullest potential to ensure that we're providing all children with equality of opportunity. And by encouraging legislatures to put measures in place that will empower parents and guarantee great teachers in the classroom, we have the ability to educate every child in our communities, regardless of ZIP code.

Overcoming obstacles that impede progress and maintain the status quo is not an easy task. But for our children, we urge leaders to keep the faith and fight the good fight. We invite faith leaders across the country to participate in this movement by advocating for legislation that implements the essential changes. In addition, we should utilize the Stand Up and StudentsFirst websites as resources for learning more about how to advocate for education reforms in our communities.


We must come together and stand tall for the children in our communities. Students in failing schools need change now — it's too important to wait.

The Rev. Floyd Flake is the senior pastor at Greater Allen AME Cathedral in Jamaica, N.Y., and a former U.S. representative. Charles E. Blake Sr. is presiding bishop and pastor of West Angeles Church of God in Christ in Los Angeles. Kevin Johnson is the mayor of Sacramento, Calif.


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