The words of the late civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. resonate with us today as we celebrate Black History Month: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
These words help put into focus the importance of the Alexandria City Public Schools’ 2025 Strategic Plan as its vision is to provide an equitable education for all students no matter the color of their skin or ethnicity. Falling short of that would be an injustice.
From the days of the slave trade to the Civil War and the civil rights movement to present day in our city, African American history is a fundamental part of Alexandria’s story. This is reflected in the five ACPS schools named for Black men and women who helped to remove barriers for generations to follow. These individuals include Alexandria teacher and community leader Naomi L. Brooks, Ferdinand T. Day – who was the first African American to be elected chair of a public school’s board in the Commonwealth of Virginia – Charles Hamilton Houston, the first general counsel of the NAACP, local educators of color Rozier D. Lyles and Jane A. Solomon Crouch and civil rights attorney Samuel Wilbert Tucker.
“Resistance” is this year’s theme for Black History Month and these noted Alexandrians, for whom our schools are named, were part of the movement. They resisted the norm of the day to prevail against discrimination in all sectors of society including education, employment and housing. Resistance has also been reflected in the Alexandria Community Remembrance Project to honor the victims of lynchings in our own community: Joseph McCoy in 1897 and Benjamin Thomas in 1899.
With the pilgrimage last fall to the Equal Justice Initiative’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice and Legacy Museum in Alabama, ACPS staff and students reflected on the pain of our history while also realizing this is a means toward opening the conversation and collectively saying never again. The truth is, in looking back at our past we can learn from it, enabling us to move toward a future that will offer equity for all in our schools and in every aspect of our daily lives.
As ACPS’ interim superintendent, my task is to make certain all our students are provided with the equitable education they deserve within our school division. Marking Day 100 this month in our schools serves as not only a time to look back at our many accomplishments but also to look ahead to the work that needs to be done to benefit all students in terms of academics and social and emotional support. In keeping with our strategic plan, our ACPS staff is here to address barriers to learning as we work to empower all students to successfully make their way in our diverse and ever-changing world.
That is why this month, ACPS is engaging in its third annual Equity Climate Survey which serves as a system of checks and balances for our 2025 Strategic Plan. This survey offers our families the opportunity to let us know if our schools are providing an equitable learning environment with the academic, social and emotional support needed. This will help us measure progress on division efforts at reducing disparities in outcomes across all student groups.
Removing the inequities of past generations, ACPS leaves behind the days when Black students were separated by race and could only attend Parker-Gray to get an education. Students at that school could only dream that one day some of our division schools would bear the names of Parker-Gray students – yet they do. In the words of African American poet Langston Hughes, “Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly.”
The writer is interim superintendent of Alexandria City Public Schools.