Tonight I got the opportunity to meet and speak with Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark. Yes the rumors are true—he is quite inspiring. And even though he is having a hectic week due to Whitney Houston’s Funeral (RIP) occurring in Newark this Saturday, he took time out of his schedule to speak at the annual OBS Kent Lecture. He reminded me (over everything else) to remain honest and authentic. It made me think about my dedication for educational equality and how I will be traveling to Mumbai India this summer, to engage in this topic. Mayor Booker received a 100 million dollar grant from Facebook for his education system in Newark. The Mayor, in his talk on education and urban America, spoke about the sedimentary agitation. He defined this as happening when people sit on their couches watching social issues on their news stations, while doing nothing. I refuse to be plagued with this syndrome.
A social issue that has shaped my academic and social interests is the lack of adequate, equal and fair education that students across the country—and world— experience. In my high school, I was not properly educated, and when I came to college for my undergraduate degree, I felt the harsh realities of unequal education in the United States. I am a black male from the inner city of Cleveland, a place where only half the students graduate from high school and where only three out of every one hundred black men will graduate from college. It was only when I came to college and had to play “catch-up” with my classmates that I personally experienced how severe the problems were with the public education system. This desire to serve others, particularly inside of an educational context, has marked my engagement in educational systems around the world.
It is no secret that in the slums of India there are multiple levels are marginalization and poverty repercussions. These repercussions impact the disadvantaged communities immensely on the island that was once called the land of “Bombay,” now known as Mumbai. In a locale that is stressed by developmental problems, population congestion, housing shortages, infrastructure inadequacies and transportation hassles, it seems that education has unfortunately been left in the hands of those privileged enough to provide their children with opportunity. According to an Indian newspaper’s report, the education system in India still accounts for one quarter of the worlds 104 million out-of school children, a female literacy rate of only 54 percent, and nearly half of the children drop out of school by the 5th grade.
It continues to amaze me that regardless if we are looking at statistics in Newark, Mumbai, Cape Town, or Chicago many of the implications remain the same. If education is a mechanism to ending poverty then why is it so low on society’s priority list? Why are resources in education systems across the world so skewed? Why are many of the problems of segregation, class, and inequality in the education system today, the same problems we were fighting in the education system half a century ago?
Cory Booker called it a sinking cynicism that is occurring across the country. And I believe it is a justified cynicism, one that needs to be chipped away at one grassroots movement at a time.