Friday, June 18, 2021

As Reformers Go Back and Forth on Social Media to Prove a Point, Children Wait

I loathe going on long road trips with other people, especially if I’m driving. Everyone has a different opinion on how to get there, someone always needs to go to the restroom, and someone always wants to control the music (no one gets the AUX cord while I’m driving). With so many distractions, I would rather just drive alone. Unfortunately, this is where I think the school choice movement is right now.

Everyone in this movement understands the value of educational freedom, otherwise, we wouldn’t be in this line of work.

Lately, I’ve noticed a lot of shade thrown around within the ed reform space. I am quickly growing tired of it. Everyone in this movement understands the value of educational freedom, otherwise, we wouldn’t be in this line of work.

I grew up in a rough area in Columbus, Ohio. I was surrounded by crime, poverty and low expectations. Kendrick Lamar said, “I remember syrup sandwiches.” That was literally my life. 

I didn’t care if my teachers were Black or white or what my grades were. I was worried about making it home without black eyes or ripped clothes that my mother worked two jobs to afford.

I know first-hand what it’s like to be drowning in a school. I didn’t care if my teachers were Black or white or what my grades were. I was worried about making it home without black eyes or ripped clothes that my mother worked two jobs to afford. 

These experiences helped me appreciate my new private school when I finally caught a break. I went on to graduate high school and college. Now, I have the tremendous honor of fighting for the same young scholars that are in the same exact position I was in many years ago.

Since starting this work in an official capacity two year ago, I have seen the movement from behind the curtain. We all travel and mingle with powerful and influential people. We sit back and have drinks and live a good life as we plan to help uplift communities and students from backgrounds many of us cannot relate to. We are equipped with talking points, salaries and, sometimes, massive egos.

While that’s fine and dandy, it’s not enough for the children who need help right now. It doesn’t matter to parents struggling and desperate for a solution. As reformers go back and forth on social media to prove a point, children wait. 

School choice allowed me to escape a horrible situation. It also allowed me to travel to Europe, play multiple sports and instruments, and be in a musical. All things young Walter could have never imagined. Most of all, school choice allowed me to truly make a difference in this world, which is the most important thing to me. 

Without school choice I wouldn’t have found myself sitting next to the President of the United States at the age of 25. If we learned anything from the Trump administration, it’s that it’s much easier to focus on what separates us than what unites us. And if we always focus on the separation, we will never truly accomplish anything. 

We are encouraging families not to accept the status quo and reject a return to normal, so why are we choosing to go back to the old, less effective ways of fighting for children?

When COVID hit last year, the movement was in lockstep. We were all working together to address glaring inequities. We have since witnessed a massive expansion of choice programs. But I can already see organizations and individuals breaking off and going back to the old ways of operating. We are encouraging families not to accept the status quo and reject a return to normal, so why are we choosing to go back to the old, less effective ways of fighting for children?

While people engage in high level “discussions” from their thousand-dollar cell phones, who is truly fighting for students? Who is fighting for the Walters in the world? A kid who just wanted to go to a better school where he wasn’t beaten to a pulp almost every day. Who is fighting for the Ashleys? A young woman born addicted to drugs but who has found a way to break generational curses due to her education? Who is there for the Ashalahs? A daughter of two felons who was able to make something of herself and have her own business because of her education? We all see the power of school choice, so why are we fighting amongst ourselves?

On some rare occasions I get in my car with other people and the ride is smooth. We get to where we need to go while listening to good music and making good memories. Those are the moments I live for. This is what we need within our movement: quick, effective, and innovative initiatives to truly put children in a better place.

We all can do better. We HAVE to do better. This issue is much bigger than any organization or single personality. We all need to put our differences and opinions aside and focus on what really matters: the children.

Photo by twenty20photos, Envato Elements.

Walter Blanks Jr
Walter Blanks Jr. is the Press Secretary for American Federation for Children (AFC) and a private school choice program beneficiary. From a young age, Walter recognized that many children are still stuck in underperforming schools and wanted to do something about it. Before joining AFC full-time, Walter was chosen for the first cohort of the American Federation for Children Future Leaders Fellowship, a year-long advocacy and professional development program for graduates of private school choice programs. Before moving to Washington, D.C. to join the national team, Walter championed educational freedom and shared his story across the country serving as a 2018 50CAN National Voices Fellow, an advocacy fellowship that aims to find, connect and support young leaders in education. At AFC, Walter leads both the Voices for Choice and Future Leaders Fellowship programs. These flagship programs of the National Communications team elevate the voices of students, parents, and educators who have benefitted from school choice programs across America. Walter also serves as a spokesperson for AFC and frequently appears in local and national print and news media. A gifted and in-demand speaker, Walter travels across the country sharing his story and advocating for expanding educational opportunities to more children and families. Walter received his bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Media Production from Mount Vernon Nazarene University in Mount Vernon, Ohio.

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