This week, we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. My own journey—to provide an opportunity for quality education for all children—began in Little Rock, Arkansas. It continued in Washington, D.C., and has now brought me full circle back to Little Rock to stand with parents so that all children can have the chance for a great education.
In 1957, Little Rock’s Central High School became the center of the struggle for educational opportunity. Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus had blocked black students from entering Central High. President Eisenhower sent in soldiers from 101st Airborne to escort nine black students to their school. The controversy continued, and the school closed the following year.
A few years later, my twin sister and I were among the first black students to enter Central High in the wake of the controversy. My father became the first black assistant superintendent of the Little Rock public school system.
The pursuit of educational excellence and opportunity runs deep in my family.
Years later, as a mother living in Washington, D.C., I became involved in the fight for school choice in our nation’s capital. A private scholarship became a lifeline for my son, and I wanted other families to have the same opportunity. In 2003, that dream became a reality with the passage of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (DCOSP).
Rereading “I Have a Dream,” the speech that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered on August 28, 1963, I thought of my days at Central High and how that option made such a big difference in my life. It was an incredible school that offered the tools I needed to move forward successfully.
In the years I have fought for educational freedom for American children, much of Dr. King’s speech has resonated in my mind. This week, as we remember how proud we all were that day, I have reaffirmed my commitment to school choice and call on all Americans to do the same.
Though our work is not yet done, and we will still strive to realize the fullness of the dream, we are now seeing children who were failing in schools across the nation thrive in schools that their parents chose. In just one instance of that accomplishment, it was a special joy for me this year to celebrate with Jordan White, the first DCOSP college graduate. Now she’s headed to a job in Kagoshima, Japan.
As Jordan and others continue to advance the dream, Dr. King’s words inspire and energize me to continue to fight:
I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”
Dr. King’s dream that future generations of American children “will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character” rings especially dear to me.
Our children deserve a great education, and we can no longer stand by while they are condemned to a life of lost opportunities and unfulfilled dreams. School choice has provided a chance for a quality education to hundreds of thousands of children. What a wonderful legacy we leave to those who will come behind us and continue to fulfill the dream.
Virginia Walden Ford is a visiting fellow in Domestic Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation and the executive director of the Arkansas Parent Network.