Rev. Al Sharpton's Weekly Blog

50 Years of Progress Should Not Be Erased With One Ruling

Oct 04, 2012

Fifty years ago this week, James Meredith integrated the University of Mississippi when he became the first black student to enroll at the prestigious school. At a time when many, including Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett, opposed integration as some sort of 'federal government intrusion,' Meredith pressed on, escorted by soldiers and police as mobs of angry whites gathered outside of the university. It's ironic, and yet tragic, that 50 years later, the notion of inclusion and diversity is once again being contested and now finding its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. On Oct. 10th, oral arguments in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin begin. A challenge to affirmative action in higher education, the outcome of this case will have national repercussions. That's precisely why it's vital for all of us to be there in Washington, D.C. next week and let our voices be heard.

On the morning of Oct. 10th, National Action Network will join other civil rights groups, representatives of educational institutions, and community leaders from around the country for a 'Day of Action for Opportunity' on the steps of the Supreme Court. We will organize buses and modes of transportation for all those that would like to convene at the highest court in the land to show our support for the University of Texas and for educational equality for all. As one of the pivotal gateways for prosperity, higher education should be accessible to all and should reflect the diversity of the United States. As oral arguments in Fisher v. University of Texas begin, all those committed to justice in education need to join us, for the future of our children and the country as a whole are hanging in the balance.

In 2003, the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) ruled on another affirmative action case regarding universities in what was known as Grutter v. Bollinger. In a 5-4 decision, SCOTUS upheld the affirmative action policy in institutes of higher learning in the interest of creating diversity in college classrooms on a multitude of levels, including geographic, religious, gender and racial. The University of Texas carefully practiced SCOTUS's own guidelines as outlined in this case, as well as in Gratz v. Bollinger in that they did not admit students based solely on their race. Nor did they deny a student based solely on his or her race. Translation: no quotas.

The plaintiff in Fisher v. University of Texas, Abigail Fisher, claims that she was denied admittance into the school in 2008 because the policy that considered race violated her constitutional rights. But what's important to note here is the fact that race was never the sole determining factor. If it were, I would be the first one advocating for Ms. Fisher's civil liberties. But let's remember that a host of criteria -- including GPA/SAT scores, extracurricular activities, experiences and more -- are weighed when considering a candidate for acceptance, especially when the pool of applicants these days is so competitive. Just because one is not accepted into the school of his or her choice, we cannot blame a program designed to balance the blatant inequities prevalent in society.

A few years ago, President Obama asked former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and I to conduct a national education tour designed to raise awareness and spark reform in our alarmingly imbalanced education system. Usually on opposing ends of the spectrum, Gingrich and I put our differences aside because we both understood that education remains one of the greatest civil rights issues of our time. If a child has ineffective teachers, crammed classrooms, lack of textbooks and improper curricula, how can we expect him/her to succeed in life? In order to try to combat some of these nuances that most certainly fall along racial lines, affirmative action is not only necessary on moral grounds, but on practical grounds as well . As our demographics continue to diversify, do we really want to let our black and Latino students fall behind? Without higher education and a level playing field, we're setting them up for failure; and in turn setting ourselves up for failure too.

We cannot allow 50 years of progress since the day Meredith enrolled in the University of Mississippi to be erased with one ruling. Far too much is at stake for us to remain silent. Join NAN and organizations, students, parents and teachers from diverse backgrounds as we demonstrate in front of SCOTUS on Oct. 10th to make sure that we remain an inclusive nation.

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