This year’s NAACP Human Rights Dinner fell one day after Pittsburgh civil rights activists suffered a harsh blow. On May 5, they learned three police officers involved in the alleged beating of CAPA High School graduate Jordan Miles would not be prosecuted.
“I have been with the Miles family from the beginning. We have to do something about this not just as individuals, but together. This was like a modern day lynching. And the officers have not been punished,” said NAACP President M. Gayle Moss. “Justice was wearing a blindfold. Somehow, some way, we must remain vigilant in our quest to make certain that these kinds of beatings stop in our neighborhoods. Yes, we may have lost this single battle, but we are not throwing in the towel. We will continue to monitor and wage war against similar and other signs of discrimination and poor practice.”
This year’s dinner on May 6 focused on another kind of discrimination, inequity in education with the theme “Transforming Education in pursuit of a strong America.”
“We know that education is the key to success. Education is a civil right and the NAACP has always stood as a warrior in the fight that was won and positioned to address inequalities in educational access, many African-American, Latino and Native American students continue—in 2011 to be plague by inferior academic resources and opportunities,” Moss said. “These realities are pushing many of our young people from the school house doors straight to the jailhouse. And most recently practices and policies similar to those occurring in Pennsylvania that further increase the problem by pulling needed financial resources from our public school systems, seem to indicate there is much work to be done.”
True to their commitment, the NAACP awarded 12 students with scholarships. They also received a down payment on next year’s scholarships when the event’s honorary co-chair, local entrepreneur, and former Steelers football player Chuck Sanders donated $25,000 on behalf of his new restaurant Savoy.
The dinner’s keynote speaker was John Jackson, president and CEO of the Schott Foundation for Public Education, who served as the NAACP’s chief policy officer and national director of education.
“We must begin to find ways to provide all children with a sustentative education. Our challenge becomes indentifying what are those policies that predict whose more likely to succeed, who’s more likely to achieve and removing them. We’ve got to make the commitment to representing all, not just the ones with the 4.0,” Jackson said. “This issue of performance is not an issue of race and ethnicity; it’s about providing the opportunity to learn. We don’t need people to be critical of this generation; we need individuals who are willing to rebound for this generation.”
Jackson was especially critical of Pennsylvania’s Senate Bill 1, which proposes a voucher system for schools. He said the three quarters of $1 billion that would be spent on tuition for students at private and religious schools would only impact less than 10 percent of students.
“You’ve got to push this state to a large vision. Brown vs. Board of education was about standing for education for all people. We’re going to find out who’s for kids and whose just kidding because some elected officials are just kidding,” Jackson said. “Challenge the state not to pass legislation that wastes money. I’ve seen a lot of voucher bills, but that bill is not about helping.”
In keeping with the night’s theme, this year’s Judge Homer S. Brown Award recipient was Regina Holley, a former principal of Lincoln Elementary School, and 35-year educator. During her time as principal, Holley raised achievement at an overwhelmingly low-income school.