Originally published on Newsweek - January 16th, 2023
During his 1964 acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize, Martin Luther King Jr. said, "I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality."
More than five decades later, our society is still struggling to separate objective truth and reality from fantasy; fact and veracity from fiction. From disputes over the seriousness of climate change to COVID-19-related misinformation to debates about how slavery is taught in classrooms, we're at a crossroads in American public life. And the battle for equity is at the crux of these vital conversations.
Study after study shows that inequity has had dire social, economic, and educational consequences for our country. A 2020 report by Citi indicated that "Black students could have increased [their] lifetime incomes $90-$113 billion" if equity issues related to higher education had been adequately addressed over the past two decades.
This statistic represents a flood of issues we've failed to confront as a nation. It also highlights one complicated truth: We're missing out on valuable opportunities to bridge the differences that divide us. However, by honoring King's legacy and upholding truth when it comes to educating our students, we can strengthen our country and get back on the path toward true equity.
Students—and adults for that matter—simply cannot understand the conflicts we have today without understanding what caused them in the first place. That means we have a responsibility to help them make connections between U.S. history and current events. It also means giving them the tools they need to address inequity and bias in their own lives. Adherence to these principles, along with an ongoing commitment to truthful dialogue, can help every student gain a better appreciation for how far we've come and more clearly see the roads we've still yet to travel.
With more truthful examinations about unequal access to tech resources, we can finally narrow the digital divide. With more truthful analysis of the need for more qualified, diverse educators, we can finally improve our recruiting, training, and retention strategies for schools across the country. More truthful assessments of others' lived experiences can help us create more accessible learning opportunities that appeal to students of every background, color, and creed.
Unfortunately, our deeply rooted divisions are delaying these advancements. A recent survey found that 77 percent of Americans believe the nation is "more divided than before" the pandemic began in 2020. But reports of increased polarization shouldn't persuade us to look away from one another. Instead, they should compel us to address our shared issues head-on and teach our students how to do the same.
We are not, as some would suggest, living in a "post-racial society." We simply cannot afford to keep our heads buried in the sand when it comes to racial inequity and the legacy it rests upon. Unless we get real about historic inequities, unless we get honest about bigotry, bias, and how these social diseases impact the ways we treat one another, injustice will continue to haunt us. But our children and our grandchildren deserve better.
On this MLK Day and beyond, let's commit to working together to disrupt the status quo. Let's continue to build a better, more inclusive nation; and in the words of Martin Luther King Jr., "A society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience."
Kevin P. Chavous is a former District of Columbia City council member. He is an attorney, author, education reform activist and is a member of the executive leadership team at Stride, Inc. Follow him on Twitter @kevinpchavous.
The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.
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