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Rev. Al Sharpton, Dr. Boyce Watkins Speak at Ohio Education Rally

By Boyce Watkins, PhD on Feb 18th 2011 12:16AM

Filed under: News, Politics, Race and Civil Rights

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Most of you know about the case of Kelley Williams-Bolar. You also know that I’ve taken a personal interest in Kelley’s case since we first hit the issue on Black Voices.

Kelley, in case you are unaware, was convicted of a felony after sending her children to a school district that was not her own. This case against a single Mother seeking a better educational situation for her kids set off a firestorm of international support.

I traveled to Akron yesterday to prepare for the rally on Kelley’s behalf with Rev. Al Sharpton. When we arrived at the church, the parking lot was full, the news trucks were everywhere and police were on hand to control us “rabble-rousing black folks.”

The National Action Network was responsible for creating the infrastructure for the rally, for which I was extremely appreciative. The community was particularly gracious in coming out to take a stand for educational equality, which I found to be quite impressive.

A glaring absence from the room was Ms. Williams-Bolar, but the issue is bigger than just one person. I honestly can’t say why Kelley wasn’t at the rally or why her attorneys advised her not to show up, but I hope it was for a good reason. I also hope that they will one day allow her to thank the citizens who came out in bad weather to support her case.

In my opinion, Kelley’s done her part in the struggle, for this has never been about the integrity of Kelley Williams-Bolar or why she did what she did. The truth is that the symbolism behind her actions, as well as the consequences, inspired passion in millions who are concerned about the education problem in America.

The nitpicky details about what Kelley did and did not do, and the gossipy aspects of local politics were never of much concern to me. Also, I’ve never felt that there needed to be a face on this movement other than the faces of millions of children having their lives destroyed by inadequate public school systems.

I was at the scene for all the Mothers out there who want their kids to have access to schools that are as good as the ones in the suburbs. That was also, I suspect, why Rev. Sharpton was there too.

“I think this woman should be saluted, not arrested,” Sharpton said at the podium. “This is an issue that everybody ought to get mad about. White, black, whatever.”

Sharpton made the point that the Williams-Bolar case is similar to the concerns that drove African Americans to action in the 1960s. He mentioned that the issue is about equal education and equal protection.

In a very powerful speech, Rev. Sharpton laid out the groundwork for community action and also created a chapter of the National Action Network in the city, so that the organization could commit to further progress.

I spoke to the crowd as well and found that they were sick and tired of life as usual in Ohio. As outsiders to this town of hard-working people, our goal from the beginning was to use our experience and perspective to provide a vision, where the community’s citizens could address the educational issues in their own state.

The Ohio Supreme Court has ruled that the funding mechanism for public schools is unconstitutional, but rather than actually enforcing that ruling, they’ve simply continued to allow the futures of inner-city children to die a slow death.

I believe the rally was a complete success. While the local media may choose their own take on how things went down, those who were in attendance were clearly ready for change. I believe that this passion for a better life and the chance to make things right for their children will inspire Ohio citizens of all backgrounds to face up to their legislatures and create a path toward true equality.