Opinion: Inspired By Muhammad Ali to Confront the Civil Rights Issue of Our Time — Education
We continue to reflect on the extraordinary life of Muhammad Ali, both privately and through public commemorations. Rather than simply celebrating his achievements as an athlete, a poet, and a civil rights activist, let us challenge ourselves to embody the same spirit of courage that he exemplified throughout his life. We must confront our society’s difficult social issues head-on, starting with acknowledging that education is the most pressing civil rights issue of our time.
Ali once said, "A man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years." This statement highlights the importance of constant growth and development, rather than accepting the status quo. We must embrace the possibilities for change and improvement.
For many years, our public education system has demonstrated a lack of equity, resulting in significant achievement disparities among communities across the country. We cannot ignore the existence of an achievement gap and a school-to-prison pipeline that disproportionately affects certain groups.
Ali grew up during a time of deep racial segregation and discrimination in America. The idea of a Black President seemed unimaginable, and acts of racial violence, such as lynching, still occurred. Our nation had to undergo substantial change to address the systemic racism, unfairness, slavery, and hate that permeated society.
Ali emerged as a powerful voice that challenged and dismantled the walls of hate that divided our society. He defied conventional norms and fearlessly expressed his beliefs. His fight for equality and human rights played a vital role in advancing the civil rights movement. Today, his courage inspires us to closely examine specific issues like public education and demand higher standards and expectations.
Similar to Ali’s spirit, our public education system must be bold, courageous, and adaptive. We cannot remain stagnant in our approach to critical issues like education for decade after decade.
Issues evolve over time, and so must our solutions. It is widely acknowledged that our public education system has failed urban, suburban, and rural communities because decision-makers cling to outdated perspectives. As Ali once said, "A man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years."
If we continue to adhere to stagnant approaches in public education, we waste precious time. We must modernize our focus and develop practical ideas so that black and brown communities no longer remain trapped in a cycle of disadvantage. Collaboration and customized solutions are essential to ensure that all young people in our country can compete on a global scale.
Generations of disadvantaged communities have witnessed the failure and deterioration of public schools that serve their families. Parents are demanding more, but their voices are not being adequately heard. In places like Newark, Patterson, Camden, and Jersey City, there is an urgent need to address the status quo in public schools.
Whether they are district, charter, community, or magnet schools, our public education system should prioritize academic preparedness for all students so they can engage, contribute, and thrive in the future. If a public school fails to provide equal opportunities for every student, parents have the right to demand innovation, change, and solutions. It is a parent’s responsibility to fight for educational justice when their child is being left behind.
We must listen to the needs and actions of parents as they are the ones directly advocating for their children’s education. Politicians and government officials should not dictate the direction of our most critical civil rights issue, education. If we are to effect real change, we must disrupt the status quo, following Ali’s example.
Racism continues to persist in our society, an unfortunate reality that even Ali could not eradicate. However, he did inspire activism and change within our broader societal fabric. Now, it is upon us, the new generation, to move beyond abstract ideals and start focusing on specific issues, such as education.
Drawing from Ali’s legacy, parents, decision-makers, and all of us must fight for the improvement of our public education system. Providing parents with strong public school options, ensuring adequate funding reaches every classroom, and recognizing the need for fundamental change are all crucial aspects that require attention.
Muhammed Akil holds the position of Executive Director at the Parent Coalition For Excellent Education (PC2E), a non-profit organization situated in New Jersey. The primary objective of PC2E is to empower every parent by ensuring their voices are heard effectively in discussions and deliberations related to education.
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