Education reformers have always known that they should have natural allies in the black community. Inner city minority kids are the ones most hurt by failing public schools and their parents should be the ones most interested in programs like vouchers as well as charter schools. And every few months you read a "strange-bedfellow" kind of article about a left-wing black politician joining forces with some dorky free-market white guy in an education reform campaign. But there never seemed to be enough traction. That may be about to change.
After Sunday night's BET awards, the phrase "charter school" should be on the lips of much of black America. The humanitarian of the year award was presented to singer John Legend, who has been a big supporter of Harlem Village Academy, a very successful charter school in New York. Here's what he wrote on the Huffington Post in honor of Martin Luther King Day a few months ago:
The arc of the moral universe, as Dr. King said, is long, but it bends toward justice. An arc that stretches from Brown v. Board of Education more than half a century ago to these children here today. I sincerely hope that the legislative leadership in the New York state Assembly and Senate will step up and help bend that arc just a little more. Justice requires that the New York legislature lift the cap on charters and make more, not fewer, schools like this one possible.
And that wasn't all. The BET awards also honored Geoffrey Canada, the founder of the Harlem Children's Zone and the Promise Academy charter school. Canada, for those who haven't read the profiles of him everywhere from US News to the Wall Street Journal is a 57-year old social worker who has transformed a large section of Harlem into a place where kids might actually have a chance of getting an education and leading a successful life. According to the Wall Street Journal:
He courted large financial institutions, Wall Street executives and other power brokers to finance his project, which currently serves 8,000 children across 97 blocks of Central Harlem. His budget has grown at least 15% annually in eight of the past nine years, to $68 million from just under $12 million. His charity's endowment stands at around $94 million.
Canada has been featured in American Express commercials for the past few months, but his presence at the BET awards, along with Legend's is a sign that education reform is a very hot issue for blacks now. Now I'm just waiting for Eva Moskowitz to be a guest at the Oscars next year.