Good morning education leaders,

For 246 years of slavery (1619 – 1865) and an additional 99 years of failed reconstruction, Black codes and Jim Crow laws (1865 – 1964), Black Americans lived under severe deprivation, degradation, threats and extreme violence. These horrible laws and acts were sanctioned by, supported by and made law by White policy makers and courts at the federal, state and local levels in our country. 

For our first 365 years, or 17 generations, this was our experience in the United States of America, the county that our ancestors built, with their bare hands, for free. 

17 generations. 

We have only lived in the Civil Rights era for 56 years, or a little less than 3 generations. 

3 generations.

I often asked my friends and colleagues after sharing these facts with them, “Knowing this, do you believe the United States of America has done enough in 3 generations to help Black people in this country move beyond the severe state-sanctioned pain, suffering, loss and trauma that was imposed upon us during our first 17?”

Additionally, when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, and after a legendary 54-day filibuster by elected members of the U.S. Senate, did those who voted against the bill, and those in general public who did not support it either, immediately turn around and become champions of life, liberty, equality, justice and reparations for Black people? The Senate vote on CRA 1964 was 290-130 in the U.S. House and 73-27 in the U.S. Senate.

Furthermore, do you think America has done enough to move Black people beyond the conditions and conditioning we were subjected to for so long? If your answer is “yes”, can you please share what these things have been? 

It wasn’t long ago that Jonathan Kozol was publishing books like “Death at an Early Age” in 1967 and “Savage Inequalities” in 1991. There was also the Kerner Commission of 1968, commissioned by U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson after riots broke out in cities across America after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. The commission acknowledged the sources and roots of Black tension, rage and suffering in America. I hope you read these too. Black folks have been protesting the same thing for 401 years – freedom, justice, fairness, opportunities and equality. Ain’t nothing new.

As I tell my staff, when you look into the eyes of the Black children in your classroom, and the ones who give you the greatest behavior challenges, look deeply and try to connect with their hearts, minds and their souls. For many of them, their bloodlines have never known prosperity – only struggle and suffering in this country. Their parents, grand parents and great grandparents never enjoyed the level of prosperity that many mainstream Americans were endowed with at birth. 

Like all children, at birth, Black children are bright, talented, precocious and inspired about the world around them. Their experiences and environment, along with the trauma their parents experience or subject them to during childhood, shape their world views, their identities and beliefs about themselves, their perceptions about their opportunities (or lack thereof), and their motivation and desire to persist and succeed through life’s challenges and struggles. 

Is the Charter School Movement in America in 2020 fielding and operating schools that are liberating chained minds to discover and realize their full potential? Are these schools providing a liberating education that can prepare our children to change and improve the world around them, for their families, neighborhoods, cities and the world? Are our schools preparing our children to become the leaders, innovators, actors, agents of change and healthy and capable stewards of their families and communities that the world needs them to be in the future?

Our children will inherit the earth. All of them. 

Let’s give them an inheritance to work with – a high quality, liberating education that prepares them to reach their full potential, from birth through higher education.

Let’s focus our policy initiatives and messaging for public charter schools around ideals like this so our movement has real meaning and contemporary value, and not just for us, but for our children. 

America owes my people a debt – a big one. If we can write checks to 80 million Americans, many of them who don’t need it, bail out billion dollar banks and subsidize billion dollar sports teams, we can invest more in our children. 

In the spirit of my ancestors, God Bless you in your efforts to inspire, cultivate and empower unchained minds and prepare the next generation to build and lead a country where all of us have an equitable opportunity to succeed. 


P.S. The attached photo is a picture of my great-great-grandmother Hettie Pierce standing on East Williamson Street in Madison Wisconsin when she turned 100 years old. She was born on a planation in North Carolina in 1829 and died here in Madison, Wisconsin in 1944. She is the oldest person to have died in Wisconsin – 115.

After Grandma Hettie was freed from the Goldpoint Plantation in what is now Shreverport, Louisiana, enslaved by James Belton Pickett Sr. and James Belton Pickett Jr. and their family (co-founders of Shreveport), she ensured that every one of her children received an education. She and her husband John Pierce – they could not read or write because they were prohibited by law from doing so.

Also note, when your great-great-grandma describes her slave master as “a fine man” because he never sold her husband and children, what does that tell you about what plantation life was like for Black folks, and how it shaped our expectations? BTW Hettie and John’s granddaughter, my cousin Marcelle Porter of Chicago, was one of the plaintiffs filed in the U.S. District Court in New York in 2002 to secure reparations for the descendants of slaves in this country.

Kaleem Caire is the founder and CEO of One City Schools, the operator of two preschools serving ages 1 through kindergarten that are focused on getting young children ready for school success. Prior to One City, Kaleem was the President and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Madison in Madison, WI and chair of the National Urban League’s Education Committee.


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