by Rev. Dr. William Barber
President & Senior Lecturer, Repairers of the Breach
The fight to save the soul of our country is underway.
The U.S. faces a moral crisis where the poor are undermined and our children face the most uncertain future. If the country we promised to our children is to be realized, we need to run, not walk away from the extremist rhetoric and policy agenda coming out of the White House. In its place, we must return to the first emotion universally experienced by all. In order to win the fight for our nation’s soul and to render the promise onto our children, we must embrace love.
Since Brown v. Board of Education, the gutting of public education has only left a legacy of systemic racism. The policies of the past and present — ones rooted in racism and bias must be eradicated, and in its place, we need to create supports that institutionalize love in cities across this nation. When love, not hate, is the driving force, all students — regardless of their race, gender, sexual orientation, or where they live have an opportunity to learn and to succeed.
As a product of public schools, I am a champion of investments in these worthy institutions. However, education reform efforts of the past have failed because they solely looked at reforming education from within the classroom. In order to create true loving cities, we must challenge the notion that school-based reforms alone can provide all students a fair and substantive opportunity to learn.
A large and growing body of research shows a clear connection between economic and racial inequality and opportunity gaps in areas like housing, health care and community involvement. Yet, for more than three decades, too many city, state and federal systems continue to implement and institute policies that create opportunity gaps for poor black, brown, and white students who have significantly lower levels of access to resources.
For decades, parents, students, teachers and community organizations in our community have been calling for a more comprehensive approach to increase the opportunity to learn for all young people. To address those calls, The Schott Foundation has created the Loving Cities Index, which provides a quantitative measurement of the level of support in cities to provide children and families with healthy living and learning environments where they can thrive. The Loving Cities Index measures 24 different types of supports, like access to healthy food, affordable housing, sustainable wages and public transportation, all of which have a proven connection to academic or economic success. The Loving Cities Index provides a frame to align policy-makers, philanthropy and community members around a supports-based agenda, recognizing that the standards-based approach that has dominated education reform agendas for decades have failed to provide students an opportunity to learn.
The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call For Moral Revival is aligned with this approach. Already, we have united tens of thousands of people across the country to call for a moral revival to challenge the evils of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation and the nation’s distorted mortality. Hate retreats and love invades when we improve access and make considerable investments to supports like affordable housing, sustainable wages, public transportation and civic participation. Institutionalizing love means stopping a President who tells the international community that “every nation wants to be free from poverty” one day and signs a tax bill that hurts poor people the next. Institutionalizing love means creating a healthy living and a healthy learning environment that provides all students an opportunity to learn from birth.
The power to change course and wage a righteous war against extremism in our government lies in us all. This power resides with local mayors, county commissioners, school boards and community organizations. It lives in our houses of worship and lingers within the halls of elected power. This is a power that parents, teachers, friends, and neighbors all possess. The time has come for cities across this nation to assess the level of care, stability, commitment and capacity supports they provide to students as these are the components that create the loving system that all young people deserve and humanity and morality requires.