I owe you an apology. I watched you show up in Cincinnati, Ohio for the NAACP's national board meeting, yearning to be heard by board members, prior to their vote
ratifying a resolution for a national moratorium on charter schools. You felt blindsided and unheard. You were threatened, and the police were called on you for fighting for what you felt was right. I am a member of the NAACP and contrary to many other Black folks; I do have a profound respect for them and what they are meant to stand for. My letter to you is not an entryway or access point for non-Blacks to use to attack the NAACP. My Blackness just won’t allow that. Think of this as a family meeting where we have some things to address amongst ourselves. I am not interested in watching Black leaders eviscerate each other at the entertainment of other folks. However, I do feel that we did you a disservice today. I have never worked for a charter school nor did I attend one. I have nephews that are currently thriving in one. I do not believe charters to be the Christ of education that can baptize our communities to academic heaven. No. However, I am an ardent supporter of your right to make a choice on your own. I believe that you deserve a level of dignity and agency when it comes to how your children are educated. I believe you deserve the right to have an option when one system or school is not up to your standards. I live my life working to improve traditional public schools. It is a hard and difficult grind, but I see it as a duty for what God has personally pulled me through and I thoroughly feel blessed to be able to do it daily. I want the mark of improvement in those schools to be academic improvements that can lead to a better life for Black students. Let me be clear; I want us to build traditional public schools that Black parents
want to send their children to, not ones that they are forced to. I have failed you though because even with all of the degrees, the access to information, the connections I have worked to build and the social privilege I now possess, you still have not been served as best as you should be, and I have little to show for how I’ve improved that. In a world where no one wants to take the blame, and everyone loves pointing the finger elsewhere, I know that part of this is my fault. When I look at the mothers that drove seven hours to Cincinnati from Memphis just to be shut down and shut out, I think about my mother feeling helpless and aimless in my education. I think about the insecurity she must have felt not understanding how to guide my education. I think about the double-digit number of schools I attended across the country and her fear that my educational life may end up like her’s.
This country could’ve done more to serve you. I could’ve done more. At the very least, today, we (and I say we because I’m a supporter of and paying member of the NAACP) could’ve made sure you were treated with more respect and dignity than you were. Today could’ve been a day that restored hope rather than one that left you feeling like an orphan with no home or protection. I watched with a clinched fist the live streams of police being called on Black parents today in Cincinnati. I would have preferred the NAACP to call out the entire system of education as it relates to Black people on the whole. Black parents, I am sorry that you will have to listen to non-Black people quote the NAACP to you as they basically tell you that you do not have the right to choose what you feel is best for your children. It bothers me to my core. Black people, I will be better for you and not as some savior, because (1) I can’t be that and (2) you don’t need that. I still do not totally know how, but I will do my damnedest to find out and walk in that. It starts with me. Would love to see other leaders take a similar stand publicly for our people because on the whole, this entire thing could be better for our people.
Photo of Memphis Lift parents confronting NAACP officials.
Charles Cole III is an educator and media producer focused on the advancement of all youth of color, but more specifically Black males. The passion comes from his own experiences growing up without proper support. His life’s goal is to better the communities he grew up in through his work. He has served as a social worker, a director for Teach For America, the vice chair of the ...