Wade Henderson, President and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, was recently honored by the Education Law Center with the Education Justice Award for national leadership in educational equity. Before receiving the award at a special reception, Mr. Henderson delivered ELC’s annual Education Justice Lecture at Rutgers University’s Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy.
This renowned civil rights leader declared organizing, writ large, as the key to moving toward equity in education. He urged his listeners to join together and act in the interests of equal opportunity. Now is the time to “seize the moment,” he declared.
The need is urgent, Mr. Henderson added, because young people without a high school diploma are doomed to a life of poverty. He said the nation’s structural inequalities create extreme barriers for black and brown kids trying to break out of poverty, and noted that in America jobs no longer exist for people who have not had an education.
Mr. Henderson touched on a range of education topics, from achievement gaps to the importance of preschool and the “silent scandal” of many school districts’ suspension and expulsion policies that feed “the prison-industrial complex.” He noted that American schools are highly segregated by race and class, and bemoaned the fact that African Americans and Latinos are over-represented in the prison population and under-represented in higher education.
Mr. Henderson spoke about the Leadership Conference’s many goals, including education equity and excellence, working with America’s great diversity, and encouraging voting (If you don’t vote, you don’t count, he said.). The organization’s current short-term goal is passage of a comprehensive immigration reform bill. We cannot have a strong nation when 11 million people are on the outside looking in, Mr. Henderson explained.
On a positive note, Mr. Henderson mentioned the federal Equity Commission Report, which concludes that resolving the substantial financial inequities in school systems is paramount. In fact, the Leadership Conference issued a Call to Action in response to the Equity Report, in “Reversing the Rising Tide of Inequality: Achieving Educational Equity for Each and Every Child.”
The Education Justice Lecture was a homecoming of sorts for Mr. Henderson, who studied under Arthur Kinoy at Rutgers Law School in Newark, graduating in 1973. There he also met Marilyn Morheuser, ELC’s previous Executive Director, who was in his law school class. Eliciting pride in his audience, Mr. Henderson acknowledged that New Jersey is far ahead of most other states in establishing educational equity for students.
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