Two weeks ago, I had the privilege of introducing my friend Dr. Howard Fuller at a standing room-only event that packed Malandra Hall full of over 150 community members—including parents, teachers, students and clergy. Dr. Fuller is a civil rights activist and education reform advocate who speaks passionately, with conviction and urgency for more high-quality school options for our children, “our most precious gift from God.” The event was co-hosted by Camden Mayor Dana Redd, who graciously invited JerseyCAN to participate by introducing Dr. Fuller to the Camden community. We were also joined by Mayor Redd’s Congress of community leaders.
Over the last fourteen years, I’ve probably heard Dr. Fuller speak at least twenty times. With the release of his new book, “No Struggle No Progress: A Warrior’s Life from Black Power to Education Reform,” I thought this would be a perfect opportunity for him to visit Camden. But this time, his words seemed to take on even more meaning and more urgency than ever before. He said that in this struggle to provide high-quality educational options for all of our children, “we’re not just doing this for their future; we’re doing it for their present.”
This resonated with me with me because the students of the Camden School District deserve a better present. In fact, they’ve deserved a better present for a long, long time. For those of us who want to fight to change this, Dr. Fuller had some words of advice: Camden can be transformed, but change doesn’t come easy. Change is hard.
One week ago, the New Jersey Assembly passed amendments to the Urban Hope Act, which will facilitate the growth of high-quality Renaissance schools in Camden. Just as a reminder about the definition of hope, hope is “an optimistic attitude of mind based on an expectation of positive outcomes related to events and circumstances.” Nearly 500 families have chosen Renaissance schools because of the hope that they will provide better educational opportunities for their children.
I have seen a series of events and circumstances in Camden change in a short period of time, which I think gives hope to the possibility of every single student in Camden having access to a high-quality education. In the past year, parents have been given access to more high-quality school options than they have had in many years. And district schools are now better positioned for success because of numerous improvements that have been made—including upgrades to security, investments in technology and new parent centers.
Yesterday, the Governor made good on this hope and these changing circumstances by signing the Urban Hope amendments into law, giving more students in Camden access to a high-quality education. My hope is that we can continue to be mindful of how we can bring more people to the table. Through productive dialogue and discussion, we can build on the progress that has been made and keep kids at the front of the conversation. As Dr. Fuller said, “Camden can be transformed.” My question is, are we up for the challenge? #NoStruggleNoProgress