NAACP, Don’t End Up on the Wrong Side of History

Oct 11, 2016 12:00:00 AM

by Duncan Kirkwood

The NAACP has always stood for hope, promise, equality and a brighter future. But now it stands in the way of those very things. A proposed moratorium on charter schools is putting the NAACP at odds with hundreds of thousands of Black families around the country who have demanded a better education and a better future for their children. For decades the NAACP fought injustice. Now it’s on the cusp of endorsing it. This is why I joined 160 other Black education leaders across the nation on a letter urging the NAACP to reject this resolution when it votes on October 15. As a Black man who has spent his adult life advocating for families of color, it hurts to see an organization that has meant so much to people, like me, opposing something so important to Black families. Bad schools, generational poverty and systemic racism are the norm in low-income communities of color. The injustice is so entrenched that too many in power or who seek to be in power have become desensitized. A key to fixing these problems is great schools. All kids deserve one, and families know when they find one because it just fits. For some it’s a traditional district school, or maybe a magnet school. For many, it’s a public charter school. [pullquote]Almost 700,000 Black families around the country have chosen charters for their children.[/pullquote] Tens of thousands more are on waiting lists. Poor families surrounded by failing schools don’t have the option to send their children to a nice private school, but charters give those families hope. Charter schools fix systems that have been broken for decades and show children they are not victims of their ZIP codes.

Failing Thousands of Black Students Every Year

I grew up in Buffalo, a city that fails thousands of Black students every year. I was fortunate to attend a quality school, but I know the story is much different for thousands like me. That inspired me to act. I work in Buffalo on behalf of low-income, working class families who are failed day after day by the schools in their communities and want options. I fight to make sure they have them. That’s why I am advocating day-in and day-out for charter schools—some of the only real, quality options that parents of color have in this city. This is also why I send both of my daughters to a charter school. My wife and I exercised our right to choose and picked the school we knew would fit our girls best. We wanted to find the best option to make sure our children could succeed, and we found that in a charter school. That is something families like ours value and want more of. But you can’t offer that by defending the status quo.

Defending a Broken System

The NAACP has spent over 100 years fighting for those who have been forgotten, left behind, or consciously ignored or oppressed by those in power. It would be tragic if they joined forces with those who let oppression continue. [pullquote position="right"]Defending a broken system is not a step forward.[/pullquote] If the NAACP drops this bomb, its repercussions will be felt nationwide, especially in cities like mine that cannot afford the denial of great educational options. I am fortunate my kids got into a great charter school. But what about my neighbors stuck on wait lists or in failing schools? I think about the fight for equality in the 1950s and 1960s, and I see that fight continuing today. Access to high-quality education is the civil rights issue of today. We need to do everything we can to make sure Black kids succeed, not end up in prison cells. I hope the NAACP understands they’d be on the wrong side of history with this vote. I urge the NAACP to reconsider this moratorium and listen to the people who for so many years have been guided by their leadership. Rejecting schools of choice is simply not the way to give future generations a shot at equality.

Duncan Kirkwood

Duncan Kirkwood is Western New York advocacy manager for the Northeast Charter Schools Network. Before joining NECSN, Duncan was the Alabama State Director for the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), a national Black-led advocacy organization designed to increase access to high quality educational options for low income and working class families. As the director Duncan helped lead the effort to pass a charter school law in Alabama, an effort that failed twice before Duncan’s arrival to the movement. Duncan attended Alabama State University in Montgomery, receiving his degree in public relations and serving as the student body president. Duncan also has a Master's Degree in public administration from Ashford University, and served six years as an Army officer in the Army National Guard. He is also a proud member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity incorporated. Duncan brings a wealth of experience and passion to the charter school movement. Duncan is the father of three children, two in traditional public schools, and one in a charter school, so he deeply understands the power of education options. Like LeBron James, Duncan is bringing his skills and talents back to his home town to improve the community that has shaped the person he is today.

The Feed