OPINION: Social justice in the age of Trump
For many of us, even the words are hard to say: “President Trump.”
After eight years of a progressive, African-American president in the White House, many in our community are scared about what the next four years promise for people of color. We see the statements key advisers make about the sweeping changes they want to usher in during the first 100 days. And we are right to wonder: Will our civil rights be protected? Will all of our children see themselves as part of our country’s future, no matter who their parents are? Will a half-century of progress be reversed in the blink of an eye?
I refuse to believe that. To be sure, when we see injustice, we must stand up. We must reject fear, intolerance and bigotry wherever they may be.
But at this moment, I believe we also must continue the march toward social justice wherever we can. And as much as things have changed these past few weeks, one thing has not:
The march begins in our schools.
For me, education is personal. Along with our church, we also lead a parochial school, Battalion Christian Academy for the Arts, Science, and Technology in East Flatbush. Many of our families choose to send their children to our school because their local schools are failing. The achievement gap for black and brown children is getting larger there. We are proud to provide a better option to as many children as possible, but not every family has the opportunity to send their children to a parochial school.
That’s why public charter schools are so important. No matter what your income or zip code, you should have the choice to send your children to a high-quality public school.
Public charters are among the most important tools we have to lift up low-income children of color. While traditional district schools enroll about 16 percent black students, in public charters our children account for more than one-in-four students.
And when black students attend charter schools they learn more — acquiring two extra weeks of learning in reading and math annually compared to black students in traditional district schools, according to Stanford University.
Public charter schools are good options for our highest need children. They are public schools, open to any child. We know that parents want to choose charter schools because there are 44,000 kids on waitlists in New York City alone. These are kids in the lowest performing districts of the city.
Many members of our congregation live in neighborhoods where their local schools are failing. These parents care deeply about having more than one public school option because it means the difference between their child getting a quality education or just getting passed along.
President Obama and Secretary of Education John King have been strong proponents of public charter schools. They understand what parents in our congregation understand: that public charter schools and school choice are vital to closing the racial achievement gap.
And perhaps surprisingly, so does Donald Trump. For all of his rhetoric during the campaign, he is a strong supporter of public charter schools — and believes the status quo must change.
In the months ahead, we must remain vigilant, and be prepared to challenge the president-elect whenever he proposes a policy that threatens our communities. But we can’t let that stop the progress we know we can make and must make. And nowhere is the need to push forward together clearer than with charter schools.
If President-elect Trump is truly willing to support policies that give the highest-need children the school options that they desperately need, we should be willing to listen. That does not mean compromising our values — rather, it means authentically representing the needs of our communities, whether fighting back against a policy we disagree with or advocating for one we believe will help our children.
That’s the balancing act we face moving forward. And we cannot pretend it will be easy. But we owe it to our children to attempt to navigate the next four years with eyes wide open, and with their interests always front and center.
Rev. Cockfield II is an Associate Pastor of God’s Battalion of Prayer Church in Brooklyn.
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