The year was 1963. 250,000 people marched on Washington for jobs and freedom while Dr. King delivered his historical “I Have a Dream” speech. Vivian Malone and James Hood registered for classes at the University of Alabama despite Governor George Wallace’s disapproval. Those two significant events not only helped shape Black America’s search for equality but put the spotlight on disparities in poverty and education that occurred in our country. Still, some of the same struggles that existed in 1963 continue today.
Fifty years ago, 48% of African American adults and 57% of African American children lived in poverty. Today, only 28% of African American adults and 38% of African American children live in poverty. Even though both numbers have drastically decreased we still have work to do. Renowned scholar Dr. Cornel West and Tavis Smiley continue to advocate for poor black Americans through their “Poverty Tour” in which they road trip to various states to highlight the plight of the poor. Dr. Cornel West describes poverty as “a moral, spiritual, and political issue” that must be addressed.
In 1963, around 25% of African Americans completed high school. Today that number has tripled with 85% of African Americans completing high school. However, despite recent gains, African Americans continue to lag behind other races when it comes to educational advancement and opportunities. According to the Department of Education, 1.3 million African American students drop out of high school each year, and only 50% of those who remain in school will graduate on time. The NAACP, National Urban League, United Negro College Fund, and the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund continue to work together to improve educational opportunities for African American students. Marc Morial, President & CEO of the National Urban League summed it up best, “As the nation faces changing demographics and future workforce needs, we must not shrink our responsibility to say that intelligent investment in our children’s education is our national interest.” We must redeem the dream.