Harriett Tubman, Civil War freedom fighter
(Background: According to Change.org, Ohio resident Kelley Williams-Bolar is "an African-American single mom living in public housing. She was convicted of a felony for listing her father's address as her daughters' place of residence and sending them to school at nearby Copley-Fairlawn schools, a suburban school district, for two years.")
Dear Ms. Williams-Bolar,
Zip codes have replaced “separate but equal” within our American education system and you chose to do something about it. You chose to “underground railroad” your children to a better education and towards a better future. You are my hero. You are my Rosa Parks. You are my Harriet Tubman.
My name is Kalimah Priforce and I am a social entrepreneur who works to match the dreams of our tomorrow’s leaders – our kids, with every career possibility, using today’s professionals and the internet. When my 18 year old brother was killed in 2000 right behind our old elementary school, I decided to dedicate my life towards transforming children's lives through education so that others would be deterred from getting swept up in the violence that gripped his life.
When I first learned about your story, like many people, it was through a tweet followed by a post on my Facebook. I assumed it was another tale about a middle class parent attempting to get their children enrolled into some exclusive kindergarten program. It wasn’t until I read a few blogs that detailed the social injustices inherent in your case that I decided I wanted to stand up for you and your two girls.
Fifty years after Brown v. Board of education, our schools remain separate and unequal. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall predicted in his 1991 dissent (Board of Education of Oklahoma City v. Dowell) against the abandonment of dismantling school segregation policies so that we don’t become an America that fails to live up to Dr. King’s dream of a more just and integrated nation.
I grew up in a group home in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, New York less than a mile from ground zero of the 1968 Ocean Hill-Brownsville school wars that pitted a teachers union against parents and the local community. Ultimately, the parents lost that battle, but the message it sent to parents of poor kids was clear – that we are not to exercise any self-determination when it comes to the condition of our schools, and that our home addresses would mean that those classrooms which are nearest to our homes remain the furthest from our hearts.
For kids without parents, we were expected to be undereducated and academically under-stimulated. We wished we had someone like you fighting for us, because that is what a good parents does – fights for the future of their kids. When my father resurfaced into my life at 14, I was living in Miami where they have school policies very much like Akron, Ohio and all over our country. If there was anything that I most admired in the brief time I stayed with him was when he arranged for my home address to be substituted so that I could attend a better school than the one that was closest to our home. He broke the law, and if he could do it all over again, he would. He came to this country as a Haitian man in hopes that his kids would be given the right to a good education.
He wasn’t the only one who broke the law. Millions of parents all over the country are underground railroading their children into better schools and winning their children’s future as President Obama stated so eloquently in his 2011 State of the Union address. You are joined by millions, and just like Rosa Parks, the difference between you and those parents who used substituted address to admit their children into the Copley-Fairlawn District is that you chose to fight the system. They took it very personally.
I watched the video as Judge Patricia Cosgrove stated that because of your felony conviction that you will not be allowed to get your teaching degree that you were only 12 credits shy from, under Ohio law. Your trial was a witch hunt and legally setting you ablaze for other parents to see was their intention. To hire private investigators to track and follow your interactions with your children as you made sure they got from school to home safely is appalling. This isn’t about tax dollars, and this isn’t about money. At some point they determined that your girls didn’t belong in their schools and rather than meeting with you to determine a way for your children to stay with the same teachers and classmates they become accustomed to, they hunted you down and threw you into prison.
Ms. Williams-Bolar, I hope you never apologize to them. Never apologize for doing right by your kids even if it means breaking our increasingly apparent “separate but unequal” laws. Separate is unequal! That was what that 1954 landmark case determined and it made a lot of people in this country upset, but we wouldn’t be the innovative country that we are today if we didn’t have policies in place that celebrated and strengthened diversity across race, creed, culture – and now so more than ever before, class.
Will the NAACP come to your aid as they did for Rosa Parks? Will First Lady Michelle Obama support your stance as I feel in my chest that former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt would? Will the leaders and activists of our day dust off those old civil rights books and prepare for the greatest education-based Supreme Court case on education since Brown v. Board?
Like Rosa Parks, you are a symbol of what is wrong with our education system, and you can be a symbol for what is right about our American spirit when we witness grave injustice at the hands of laws that punish the weak and defend the strong. If we courageously gather in strength and numbers across all our differences, Black, White, rich, poor, parent and child, and stand behind our principles then we will remind the world that what makes America great isn’t its technological or financial advances but that we still remain "number one" throughout the annals of recorded time as a nation of social innovation where every child’s dream is lifted so that his or her future can soar.
You are my hero…and I’m not the only one.