Photo: JPEF President Rachael Tutwiler Fortune, left, with Carlotta Walls LaNier, center, and Sheila Spivey, Senior Director at the UNF Department of Diversity Initiatives.
As a part of Black History Month, the University of North Florida honored the ideals and teachings of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the 38th Annual MLK Luncheon last week.
This year, the featured speaker was Carlotta Walls LaNier, the youngest member of the Little Rock Nine. This courageous group of African American students integrated Central High School in 1957 following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education.
I was delighted to attend and receive inspiration from a woman who was a girl when she first took a stand in pursuit of her right to a high-quality public education. She and her peers were not the first African American students to integrate a school in the south, but they garnered the most attention.
“Central High School was the most expensive public school in America [at the time],” Ms. LaNiersaid, “and the governor deployed the National Guard to try to prevent the integration.”
Jacksonville, like any Southern city, has its own history with limited access to the highest quality educational opportunities for students of color. Students from low-income backgrounds, students with disabilities and English language learners have also faced fewer opportunities than other children.
For years, local education advocates have championed equity in education, and while we’ve experienced steady progress, we cannot stop until every child and young person in our city receives an education that puts them firmly on the road to success.
I am encouraged by our ever-increasing graduation rates, and I hope our young people are graduating prepared for the opportunities they pursue after receiving their diplomas.
Every one of us can play a role to ensure improved educational outcomes and greater educational equity. Ms. LaNier offered the following calls to action during the event, and I believe they have application for education advocates today, including our young people:
- Participate in simple but meaningful acts.
- Have a day that matters.
- Give of yourself.
- Do something.
May we each “do something” meaningful this month and beyond to make a difference in the lives of children and youth most in need of our support. JPEF is committed to amplifying teacher and parent voices and supporting them to act to guarantee a more equitable future for our young people.