Fifty years after the March on Washington, educator and activist, Geoffrey Canada is frustrated with education in America. This week on Bloomberg Radio's Bloomberg EDU with Jane Williams, we asked Canada, president and chief executive officer of The Harlem Children's Zone, a comprehensive compilation of social and education programs for Harlem's children and parents, to talk about how Dr. Martin Luther King's dream looks right about now. "... What Dr. King wanted for this country was one America," said Canada. "... we are not close to that today."
Jane also had a chance to talk with Joe Brewster, a psychiatrist and filmmaker, who together with his partner and wife, Michèle Stephenson, directed "American Promise," a documentary film, 13 years in the making, about two African-American males who attend one of Manhattan's elite independent schools. "These boys have an issue that needs to be discussed, " says Joe.
Mocha Moms Cheli English-Figaro and Sheila Gardner tell Jane about the non-profit organization's "Occupy Schools" initiative to promote parent involvement and engagement in their children's education. They talk with Jane Williams on Bloomberg Radio's Bloomberg EDU.
Geoffrey Canada Discussion Highlights
On the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington
"... I've been thinking-- if Dr. King were alive, would he be thrilled to see all of the changes? 'Cause they're dramatic changes, right? I mean, we're talking about-- colored drinking fountains and integrating Woolworth's. You couldn't-- I mean, we're talkin' dogs and jails.
"But what Dr. King wanted for this country was one America. An America that you could not predict how someone was gonna end up based on the color of their skin or based on the ZIP code they lived in. And he thought that was the American dream, that's what he dreamed about, an America where every American had an equal chance to be successful. And, Jane, we are not close to that today."
On Education Today
"We have, I think, refused to understand that education is the lever for equality in this country. And, therefore, it ought to be the highest priority in our nation. That young people have a right, I think a constitutional right, to a quality education. And it's not happening.
"And part of the reason it's not happening is that we refuse to change a system that isn't working. And it's just shocking to me that you could have decades of data that suggest we're not doing a good job. And yet any time you try to change this system, it is met with real anger. I mean, people get mad when you try and change failing schools. It is like, we don't care how many millions of our children we fail, as long as we don't change a system that is broken. And it drives me up the wall."
On Social Mobility
"It is clear that, depending on the ZIP codes you're born in, your chances of becoming middle class really are diminished. And that's a huge swath of this country. And people confuse this with race, right?
"If your parents do not have a college education and they are the working poor, your chances of becoming middle class are just about nil. And -- the only way you can move from-- poverty into the middle class is through education. There is no other way.
"They -- African-Americans are on the bottom of that totem pole when you look at the percentages -- that they are in this country and then the percentage they are of being poor, of being incarcerated, of being sick, of dying young. I mean, you look at a terrible outcome, and you will find that African-Americans are at the bottom of that. And this is one of the things I think with -- that we need to revisit with Dr. King because he wanted to make sure we understood that this group needed special attention."
On African-American Males
"...you have a group of young people, African-American boys, who are really I think in trouble almost from the moment they come in contact with the outside world. So, if you look at suspensions in school, they are off the charts. You look at expulsions in school, it's off the charts.
"When you look at juvenile detention, a white boy does one thing, the black boy does the same exact thing, who ends up going into the institution? The black boy. So that you end up with a set of circumstances that pile on top of one other-- and it's a problem.
On The Trayvon Martin Case and The Talk
"I think the one thing... the press didn't focus on was the fact that Trayvon actually ran away. A man was following him, and he ran. And you can hear the the man saying, 'He's running.' And so, if you're 15, 16 and a strange man is chasing you, what do you tell your kids?
"Do you tell them, 'Get on your knees and put your hands up and let him do whatever he wants to you?' What do you do? So, this is one of these really tough circumstances where I sat down with my kids, and I'll do it again. And I'll explain to them that this time when you feel threatened and how you defend yourself and what you say and what you do in those circumstances is something that we need to think about and talk about because you are not gonna be treated the same. My kids are famous for sayin' that every time they run into a police officer, 'I know my rights.' That's what they say. And immediately, they get handcuffed and they go--and I tell 'em, 'You may know your rights. But that's not the time to talk about it. What you say is, 'Yes, officer. No, officer. It's 'yes, I'm happy to do that, officer.' I said, 'This whole concept is usually a misunderstanding and unfortunately you're the kid. But you're gonna have to take responsibility of managing this process.'"
On What Needs to Change
"...the possibilities don't seem real to a kid when you go to a young person and you say, 'Do you know anyone who's African-American and in college?' And they have to think really hard, and they say, 'Well, I think-- I know this kid, like six blocks away.
"...then you say, 'Can you go to college?' And they say, 'No, no. I'm not a genius.'
" I think part of this is we need to surround these kids with role models of success. And you have to start small, but you have to make sure those young people come back in your community and become these living role models of the possibilities."