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Trey Cobb - A New Black Civil Rights Movement

As a 17-year-old African American student, I spent last month learning about Black History Month. From my research, I can clearly see the history of oppression that left our neighborhoods poor, my peers incarcerated, and our schools failing. However, rather than remaining in the past, I look to the future to ensure the promise of the American dream won't be denied to another generation of black children. But it's hard to be hopeful when far too often, my community has compromised our ideals and allowed politicians to assume the mantle of civil rights through their identity while they abandoned us through their actions.

In my home of Chicago, 52 High Schools are among the lowest performing 10% of schools in the state. A quarter of these schools hold the name of a prominent Civil Rights figure.

Jackie Robinson served as a model of perseverance to the black community, and yet, the school named for him has been on probation for the last 5 years, qualifying as the worst elementary school in the city. 98% of Jackie Robinson students are black. Without the resources to find alternatives, an entire class of low-income students of color has been put at a permanent disadvantage relative to their luckier peers.

Our children deserve a new Civil Rights Movement. It is no longer enough for elected officials to say that they "speak for the black community" without advancing policies that cure the status quo disease ailing our neighborhoods. Support of the black community is taken for granted by politicians whose skin color may resemble our own, but whose votes contradict our interests.

Jackie Robinson is in the 26th district, represented by Christian Mitchell, a politician who understands the imperative of educational choice for black students. Mitchell's support of high quality charter school authorizing through the Illinois Charter School Commission illustrates his support for expanding quality options for black kids. The Commission gives students in failing schools like Robinson other options and expanded choice.

Like Mitchell, Representative John Anthony and candidate Mark Batinick have education platforms beneficial to black students. Batinick prioritizes accountability, and just this month Anthony introduced "parent trigger" legislation, which would give parents control over their low performing school if 51% of them sign a petition.

Mitchell, Batinick, and Anthony represent the new civil rights leaders that give me hope. These men are different from the leaders our community is familiar with today. Two are black, one is white. One represents black communities whereas two do not. They represent the Republican and Democratic parties. Even though these pioneers do not mirror our community, they stand for students like me.

They understand the plight of students in Jackie Robinson Elementary. They accept the responsibility of representing those who need change most, and advance policies beneficial to students in the black community. They understand that just as Jackie Robinson demonstrated extraordinary success despite extraordinary odds, so too must our schools.

As a 17-year old who escaped schools like these through scholarships to private schools, I hope you remember me and my peers who need your help most, but don't have the same legal voice as the adults who make decisions for us. I urge you to support policies that will push for increased choice and innovation and people who refuse to submit to the status-quo who will tirelessly advocate for education reform in our communities.

Trey Cobb is 17 Years Old, a Junior at DePaul University and Ed Choice Illinois Youth Director 


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