I am a proud native of the great city of Buffalo. I was born here, raised here and educated by Buffalo public schools. I went to school at a time when kids enjoyed going to school. We all desired to succeed, and the support was there to ensure our success. Unfortunately, looking at today’s educational landscape, it feels like this is no longer our reality.
When I look at our beautiful city I see hope and promise. However, the reality of our educational system and the continued failure of our students have cast a horrible dark cloud on Buffalo’s future.
Here is what I know. Nine in 10 black or Hispanic children are not proficient in reading and math, and our graduation rates are among the lowest in the state. Left unchecked and unattended to, this will lead to many of our students ending up in the “school-to-prison” pipeline. This is frightening.
As a proud Buffalonian and the proud pastor of Friendship Baptist Church, I can no longer remain silent. Now is the time. We need to have an honest dialogue about what is going on, because it simply cannot be ignored any longer.
That is why at 6 p.m. Monday our church, at 402 Clinton St., is co-hosting an emergency town hall meeting on the state of education in Buffalo. We are partnering with groups like the Northeast Charter Schools Network, Black Lives Matter, the District Parent Coordinating Council and many others. We want to hear from families, community members and, hopefully, representation from the district. We want to know what is or isn’t working, and we need to do it together. That is the only way we can ignite change.
Any time these conversations come up, people are immediately defensive. If we want to move forward, we can’t point fingers. There is so much that needs to be done, but for it to happen we need to come out of our individual silos and offer honest solutions.
That means things like finding ways to get parents more active, enhancing overall support for teachers, making teachers more culturally aware, having more people of color in the classroom, recognizing the value of charter schools and seeing them as allies in this work to educate our children. Lastly, we should provide families a choice in where their child is educated.
These are just a few solutions in my heart and mind. That’s why we need everyone to come out so that you can share yours.
In our world we all have a strong desire to win. In this educational debate and discussion, the group that needs to come out victorious is the one with the smallest voice. It’s not the grown-ups; it’s our children. If our children do not win, we all lose.
See you Monday.
The Rev. Edward Jackson Jr. is pastor of Friendship Baptist Church in Buffalo.
This piece originally appeared on the Buffalo News.