The African-American community’s fight for quality education requires constant dedication and reflection on successful strategies to educate our children. Donald Hense and the Friendship Charter Network is an example of success worthy of recognition.
Hense is the founder and board chairman of the Friendship Charter Network, the largest African-American-led charter school network in America. Hense’s accomplishment is significant, because, while over 80 percent of charter school students are Black or Latino, fewer than 10 percent of charter schools are founded and led by Blacks or Latinos, according to a study by the Brookings Institute.
Three-quarters of the students enrolled in Friendship schools in D.C. are from Wards 7 and 8, the city’s two poorest areas, and nearly all are African-American. Their achievement is reflected in their continuous improvement on standardized tests. Most recently, Hense and his team celebrated, when five of Friendship’s 12 D.C. schools were rated Tier 1 by the Public Charter School Board – the highest of three ratings a charter school can earn.
As a native of St. Louis and graduate of Morehouse College and Stanford University, Hense has long understood the power of a quality education. But for years he had no interest in working in K-12 education. He was serving as executive director of Friendship House Association, a non-profit serving low-income families in Washington D.C., when he was approached by an executive from a local charter operator about using Friendship House to charter a school. After some reflection, he agreed to transfer his experience fighting intergenerational poverty to the fight for quality public education.
Hense made history as the first African American to win a grant from New Schools Venture Fund, which supports charter school founders. Friendship was among the first group of schools chartered by the D.C. Public Charter School Board in 1998. Twenty years later, it has12 campuses for students in grades Pre-K3 to 12 in D.C., an online school, and schools in Baton Rouge, La., Baltimore, Md., and Little Rock and Pine Bluff, Arkansas.
Hense is proud of Friendship and of education reform efforts in Washington, but he is not ready to celebrate. “We declared victory too soon,” he says. “Fifteen years of education reform is not an institution.”
To Hense, the fight to reform school systems serving African-American students should include more leaders of color. For years, he held a monthly meeting of black charter school leaders in D.C. to talk about their experiences and discuss lessons learned, but it “fizzled out” after young leaders lost interest. “We brought in second and third generation [leaders] and forgot to show them that [African-Americans] need to work together to get things done,” he says. “New [leaders] have to participate in black organizations.”
In spite of a few setbacks, Hense is still dedicated to supporting African-Americans interested in opening their own charter schools. The greatest obstacle to their success, he believes, is lack of experience in management. A potential founder needs “a good plan and a good board of directors. It’s best to go in [to the charter application process] with a strong [management] team.”
Fortunately, there are positive examples of young, African-American charter school founders to emulate. In 2017, Dominique Lee of BRICK Avon Academy in Newark, New Jersey won a Promise Neighborhood grant from the U.S. Education Department. Dominque aims to use the grant to educate 3,000 students in Newark over the next few years, making BRICK the state’s third-largest CMO and the only one led by a person of color.
Hense recommends that other African Americans interested in starting charter schools apply for funding fromthe New Schools Venture Fund or for charter school design grants from Friends of Choice in Urban Schools (FOCUS), if they are in D.C.
At 75, Hense says he is not done. The Friendship Education Fund continues to identify opportunities to replicate their model around the country. Friendship’s goal is to bring what Hense and his team learned in Washington to the countless districts struggling to grow African-American student achievement. As DCPS welcomes a new chancellor with experience championing school choice, there may be new opportunities in D.C. as well.
This article is a part of The ‘Reinventing America’s Schools’ series. This series highlights Change Makers from our community who are walking reflections of what’s possible when we place Accountability and Autonomy at the forefront.
By Barbara D. Parks-Lee, Ph.D., CF, NBCT (ret.), NNPA ESSA Awareness Campaign
Teaching is a multi-faceted calling for many and an occupation for some, but how can teaching and learning effectiveness be measured without testing?
There must be some way—or ways—to measure what and whether students are learning, and teachers are teaching. Rigor, high standards, curriculum design, learning and teaching styles, and external demands all must be considered in any teaching and learning situation, regardless of location and resources.
As the teaching population becomes more monocultural and the school-aged population becomes more multicultural, teaching materials, beliefs, and techniques tend to rely too heavily on standardized tests and testing materials. In order for education to capitalize on the strengths and talents of learners and the skills and professionalism of their teachers, what kinds of additional progress measures might be employed?
Different kinds of professional development programs and materials may be needed to provide more sufficient and culturally responsive information about the teaching and learning process.
One way of assessing whether students are actively engaged in learning on a high level might be using multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary materials such as those in an original textbook of poems, shorts stories, and essays.
The book, Connections: A Collection of Poems, Short Stories, and Essays with Lessons, became part of a study in the Washington, D. C. schools and surrounding Metropolitan areas of Prince George’s County, Maryland, and Alexandria, Virginia, from 1996-2001. (Parks-Lee, 1995)
It addresses some of the challenges Gloria Ladson-Billings pointed out when she quoted Jonathan Kozol, saying that “…Pedagogic problems in our cities are not chiefly matters of injustice, inequality, or segregation, but of insufficient information about teaching strategies.” (Ladson-Billings*, 1994, p. 128)
Both neophyte and experienced teachers participated in a study that provided them with information, materials, and teaching strategies to employ with urban, poor, and predominantly, but not exclusively, African American youth.
The idea for the study originated with a concern that an increasingly middle class or suburban teaching force often seems unable to meet the needs of diverse students who are different from them in class, socioeconomic status, geography, ethnicity, and/or culture.
The Connections materials were intended to help address ways to foster a positive impact upon all children, but particularly upon children of color. In addition, teachers using these materials might also feel more empowered to think creatively and to utilize students’ strengths and talents as they incorporate high and rigorous interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary lessons and higher order thinking skills in order to increase academic achievement.
Effective teachers believe that we must produce and use materials that encourage students to be able to read, to write, to speak, to be creative, to understand, and to interpret what they hear and read. If students can develop these proficiencies, they may experience greater success on standardized tests.
Success breeds success, and if our students are to be involved learners and thinkers, we cannot keep doing the same things the same ways and then blaming students and teachers if standardized test scores are not optimal. There must be more inclusive ways of tapping into and measuring what is taught and what is learned. Standardized tests are but one way and should not be the only way to validate the teaching and learning processes.
There are three domains to teaching, the cognitive, the affective, and the psychomotor. The one that is not easily addressed by standardized testing is the affective domain.
As Sharon M. Draper says, “You must reach a child before you can teach a child.” (Draper, S., November 2002). The challenge comes when trying to measure the affective domain. However, affective success is often reflected in student attendance and behaviors that are involved, on-task, and diligent.
There is often a spirit of collaboration and cooperation between the teacher and the students. Fewer discipline problems are observed when there is a positive classroom community involved.
When diverse students are allowed to utilize their talents and skills, they often become self-motivated, because they feel affirmed, valued, and respected.
*Ladson-Billings, G. (1999). (Notes from speech delivered at Howard University).
Osmon Best carefully looked at the eight steps to make a paper football.
After successfully crafting the football, the 12-year-old Thomas Johnson Middle School student stood it on a makeshift Washington Redskins table and plucked it to the other side. Touchdown!
Best and 39 other students from Thomas Johnson and Oxon Hill Middle School participated in various STEM projects Wednesday at the Howard B. Owens Science Center.
“I made a touchdown, but missed a field goal,” Osmon said while smiling at the engineering station.
The sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade participants, decked out in blue “Pepco STEM All-Stars” T-shirts, were recognized for their academic achievements. The schools they attend are recognized as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) buildings.
The students from Thomas Johnson in Lanham would matriculate to DuVal High School, which has an aviation program. The Oxon Hill students would feed into Oxon Hill High School and can enroll in its science and technology program.
“This is intentional,” said Monica Goldson, interim CEO for the county schools system. “We hope at sometime during this three-year experience that something has grasped them to give them the courage they need to say, ‘I can do that, too.’”
During Wednesday’s event, students dispersed to four STEM stations, which all focused on a football concept.
At the mathematics station, Thuy Pham, 12, answered three questions based on a touchdown equaling seven points, a field goal equaling three points and a safety at two points.
One of the questions: If a quarterback completed 80 percent of the 35 passes he threw in the past three games, how many did he miss? The answer: seven.
“This was fun. I want to be a math teacher,” said Thuy, a seventh-grade student at Thomas Johnson. “My parents used to be math teachers, so it’s kind of a generational thing.”
The climax of the day came when students worked together on a few combination locks to open a black box.
Goldson led a countdown to open the boxes, which were filled with clues to let the students know they will attend Sunday’s Washington Redskins game at FedEx Field in Landover against the Carolina Panthers. She said tickets will also be provided for the student’s parents, courtesy of the Redskins and Pepco.
“Oh, yeah!” one student yelled from across the room.
When asked about his childhood, Troy recalls “School was difficult. My classmates teased me due to my inability to comprehend written words. My teacher would call on me and I would have to endure an awkward silence until she moved on and called on another student.” By every measure we use to determine success and life outcomes in America, Troy Simon should be dead, unemployed, or in jail.
Troy believes a lack of parental engagement played a significant role in his low school performance and diminutive interest in education. Troy says, “My friends were always ahead of me academically because their parents were involved. My Mom and Dad both struggled with reading, but I had friends whose parents had them at a young age too, but they didn’t struggle like me with reading. Overall though, hardly anyone in my community had school spirit or happy feelings about school.”
Troy recalls, “There was a gap where I could go to school and then go home and not hear anything about school. Maybe I was supposed to be the middle man to bridge the gap between my teachers, my parents, and my community but I didn’t—or I didn’t understand how to.”
As a result, Troy found acceptance outside of school; snatching purses in the French Quarter and as a street tap dancer after teaching himself to dance. But following Hurricane Katrina, a short stint in Houston and what Troy describes as a “spiritual experience,” he began to take school seriously. Troy returned to New Orleans and enrolled in the new Recovery School District(RSD).
The RSD, administered by the Louisiana Department of Education, was created to take over and improve schools failing to meet minimum academic standards for at least four consecutive years. But after Troy discovered that the large class sizes and lax curriculum offered were not conducive to his learning needs, he enrolled in Abramson Sci Academy, a public charter high school that emphasized college readiness. Founded in 2008 with only 80 students, by 2009 Abramson Sci Academy students ranked second in Math and first in English in the RSD
Troy excelled. He graduated from Abramson Sci Academy and earned a prestigious POSSE Scholarship.As a Posse Scholar, Troy could choose from 54 different colleges and universities. Troy selected Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York. Despite the early challenges of transitioning to college course work, Troy graduated with honors from Bard College and is currently a joint Nursing/Divinity graduate student at Yale University.
Evidence is clear about the impact of parental engagement on student discipline and student achievement. The United Negro College Fund found a link between parental involvement and positive educational outcomes including higher grade-point averages; increased achievement in reading, writing and math; lower dropout rates; and academic self-efficacy. Although all students benefit from parental involvement, research by ProfessionalSchool Counseling shows that parental involvement for students of color and those from low-income backgrounds significantly impacts their children’s school performance.
But Troy, does not let policymakers and school leaders off the hook. He believes that the future of New Orleans and the Orleans Parrish School System depends on school accountability. “Failing schools would not be tolerated in privileged communities; and therefore, it should not be tolerated in minority communities as well because minority students deserve the same privileges, opportunities, and access to a quality education like any other privilege community and school.
The national education law, ESSA, now requires that school reporting must show improvement for all groups of students and faster improvement for groups that are behind. School rating systems must also reflect the progress of underperforming student subgroups and schools can no longer depend on overall “good averages;” while neglecting or failing to facilitate academic achievement for their most vulnerable students.
Fortunately, Troy plans to use his Yale Degree to support other young Africans-Americans. Troy’s goal is to work in schools to support youth traumatized by violence, but he believes it will take schools and school systems giving him and other educators autonomy to be able to develop relationships with students. Troy believes, “If I am able to connect with the students and their parents, I am able to fully assess what the student needs (partly) and what they are going through and how I can be of any assistance to ensure their success.”
This article is a part of The ‘Reinventing America’s Schools’ series. This series highlights Change Makers from our community who are walking reflections of what’s possible when we place Accountability and Autonomy at the forefront.
More than half a century ago, my parents and a wonderful teacher named Mr. Hollis Posey followed their hearts and championed my right to learn. As a result, I received the empowering education in our City’s public schools that would transform my life.
Although I am grateful that I received the “thorough and efficient public education” that is guaranteed to every child by Article VIII of Maryland’s constitution, I am deeply troubled that all of Maryland’s children are not receiving this most basic foundation for successful, productive lives.
A widely acknowledged study in 2016 found that Maryland’s public schools are under-funded by $2.9 billion each year.
In response, the Maryland Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education [typically referred to as the Kirwan Commission] has determined that significantly more funding will be required to give every Maryland child a reasonable chance in life, especially children living in those communities with the deepest concentrations of poor families.
Both our values and our long-term self-interest demand that we speak truth to power about correcting this failure.
Far too many of Maryland’s children are being relegated to a future devoid of competence or hope. This is an unacceptable failing – and it’s up to us, as voters, to assure that those we elect in November are committed to providing our children’s public schools with the funding that they need and deserve.
Although public education is primarily a state and local (rather than a federal) responsibility, the President and Congress have an important role in funding the public education of economically disadvantaged students (Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act) and students with disabilities (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act).
Currently, annual federal education funding for Title I and IDEA is significant (just under $16 billion and $12 billion, respectively). However, these appropriations have not kept up with the rising cost of educating our students, nor with the legitimate needs of states like Maryland for a more robust and realistic federal partnership.
The President and his Republican congressional allies have failed to adequately address this challenge. Democrats in Congress have had to fight just to avoid significant cuts in federal education funding.
As a result, our nation’s schools are no longer the envy of the world, a reality that threatens our long-term national security.
Maryland’s Democratic delegation to Washington understands that we must significantly expand federal education funding – but only by electing a Democratic majority to the next Congress can we make this commitment a reality.
Despite Governor Hogan’s assertions that Maryland is devoting more support to public education than ever before, the Kirwan Commission has acknowledged that far too many of our school children are being short-changed, especially in jurisdictions like Baltimore City.
On Election Day this year, we will decide whether Republican Larry Hogan or his Democratic challenger, Ben Jealous, will make the education of our children his top priority and fulfill our constitutional duty.
As a Maryland voter, I am a strong supporter of Ben Jealous’ candidacy to become our next Governor. Maryland’s teachers, through their Education Association’s endorsement, are supporting him as well.
As a Past President of our national NAACP, Ben Jealous is painfully aware (as am I) that the percentage of Maryland public school students living in poverty has more than doubled since 1990 (from 22 percent to 45 percent). We understand that properly educating all of our students, as well as meeting the rising cost of special education, will require a substantial and sustained infusion of additional state funding.
Drawing upon the Kirwan Commission’s upcoming final report and recommendations, our next Governor and State Legislature will have the duty to revise Maryland’s school funding formula for the first time in nearly two decades. The Commission is expected to recommend increasing the base, per-pupil state funding from $6,860 to $10,880 for each school child.
These challenges, I believe, are why Mr. Jealous has publicly committed (1) to fully implement the Kirwan Commission’s recommendations during the upcoming 2019 legislative session; (2) to raise our teachers’ salaries by 29 percent; (3) to implement full-day, universal Pre-K; (4) and to more effectively target state education funding to those school districts with the largest concentrations of poverty.
On Election Day, our voters can also approve an amendment to Maryland’s constitution that will guarantee that public education’s share of the state’s casino revenues is fully committed to funding public education (Question 1). This guarantee will provide an additional $500 million in annual state funding for our schools, an important first step toward closing the current $2.9 billion funding gap.
Both Ben Jealous and Larry Hogan have declared that they support Question 1. However, Governor Hogan has yet to adequately explain why he diverted $1.4 billion of our State’s casino money from public education (as voters were originally promised it would be invested) to other purposes.
When I visit our children’s classrooms, I look into our students’ eager faces and know that we must act with a sense of urgency to adequately invest in their future. On Election Day, God willing, Maryland’s voters will commit our State to a better future for us all, one filled with confidence, competence and hope.
Congressman Elijah Cummings represents Maryland’s 7th Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives.
This post originally appeared in the AFRO. The opinions on this page are those of the writers and not necessarily those of the AFRO.
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The question: This one comes from a school-based leader who preferred to remain anonymous. This leader wants to know “What are the federal guidelines for ‘testing transparency?’ Schools are mandated to get 95 percent participation, but how is that possible is we tell parents of their opt out rights?”
The answer: ESSA is actually really confusing when it comes to test participation. The law says that states and schools must test all of their students, just like under No Child Left Behind, the law ESSA replaced. Under NCLB, though, schools that didn’t meet the 95 percent participation requirement—both for the student population as a whole and subgroups of students, such as English-language learners—were considered automatic failures.
Now, under ESSA, states must figure low testing participation into school ratings, but just how to do that is totally up to them. And states can continue to have laws affirming parents’ right to opt their students out of tests (as Oregon does). ESSA also requires states to mark non-test-takers as not proficient.
State plans—44 of which have been approved by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and her team—are all over the map when it comes to dealing with this requirement…
Read the full article here: May require an Education Week subscription.
ANNAPOLIS — After more than three months of working on recommendations to improve the Prince George’s County public school structure, nothing will change for now.
A proposal to allow elected members of the school board to select a vice chair and create an inspector general office died in a Senate committee on Monday, the last day of the Maryland General Assembly.
The committee didn’t receive a letter of recommendation from senators who represent Prince George’s to state their position on the idea, so the current system of the county executive choosing the board’s chair and vice chair will continue.
In addition, two-thirds of the board, or exactly half its 14 members, can vote on any item contrary to the chief executive officer. The proposed change in the legislation was three-fifths, or eight of the 14 members.
The House unanimously approved both bills labeled HB 184 (inspector general) and HB 186 (school board structure).
Some blame longtime state lawmaker and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., who supports a hybrid structure over an all-elected school board. Miller resides in Calvert County but represents portions of Prince George’s and backs County Executive Rushern L. Baker III.
“I think it’s sad when one or two persons can set the agenda for all the elected officials who are here, and we would be deaf to what our constituents have asked us for,” said Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-District 26) of Accokeek, who presented legislation for an all-elected school board. “We’ve heard from hundreds from our constituents that they wanted change.”
The proposed changes stemmed from controversies such as alleged pay raises for high-ranking school staff and grade inflation among high school seniors that some officials, educators and residents have called lack of accountability.
According to a brief, historical analysis of the legislation, Prince George’s swayed through changes to the school board structure and a hybrid format with nine members in 2002.
In December 2006, the legislature changed to all nine members elected with five from a particular district and four at-large colleagues.
Based on a recommendation in 2012 from Baker, state lawmakers approved to add four appointed members and expand the board to 13. The county executive can currently appoint three members, select both chair and vice chair and the County Council approve a third member.
A high school student makes up the 14th person on the board, but she’s chosen by a regional Student Government Association and doesn’t vote on the budget, school closings and personnel matters.
The Prince George’s County Educators Association released a statement Tuesday, April 10 to express its displeasure with state officials who ignored the union’s no-confidence vote in February on the school system’s top leadership.
“Over the past few years, our educators have watched PGCPS lose $6 million in Head Start money, over 600 educators placed on administrative leave and a grading scandal that emanated from the [school system’s] central office,” said union President Theresa Mitchell Dudley. “There is no accountability to the PGCPS Board of Education.”
Belinda Queen, a member of the county’s Democratic Central Committee running for a school board seat, supports an all-elected board.
“The people wanted an all-elected school board,” Queen said in Annapolis minutes after the General Assembly’s last session ended after midnight Tuesday. “We should not be compromising on the backs of the voters. We have to learn as elected and appointed officials we have to fight for the voters. If we cannot be their voice, then we don’t need to be in office.
Hundreds of students from area high schools walked out of their classrooms today and took to the streets of East Baltimore to protest gun violence.
Students from schools including Paul Laurence Dunbar High School and Baltimore Polytechnic Institute marched down Fayette St., to City Hall in the spirit of the protests that have erupted around the country in wake of the massacre of 17 students and teachers at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, Feb. 14.
“End the silence, stop gun violence,” was the theme of the protest, demanding safer schools and better gun laws to prevent violent acts.
Baltimore high school students march to City Hall protesting gun violence on March 6. (Video by Sean Yoes)
While Maryland HBCU Coalition plaintiffs are in formal settlement negotiations with the state, the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland (LBCM), is following through on a promise made at the start of the 2018 session to, “actively promote legislation to support HBCUs” in the halls of the Maryland General Assembly.
“We must use all of the Democratic tools available to us to bring justice to Maryland’s HBCUs and the communities served by them,” said Rev. Kobi Little, political action chair of the Maryland NAACP Conference.
“We only have to look at the State’s federal appeal of Judge Blake’s decision to see that we can’t afford to limit our approach to the court,” Little said.
A half-dozen pieces of legislation impacting the state’s four HBCUs are under consideration in the Maryland General Assembly his year, including the HBI Comparability Program, presented each year for the past decade by Sen. Joan Carter Conway (D-43). Conway’s bill has not been voted out of committee yet, nor has its companion bill on the House of Delegates side, HB-450, whose primary sponsor is Del. Nick Mosby (D-40).
“At this stage of the legislative process, if a Senate or House bill has not reached the General Assembly floor, the bill is not “dead” but has a longer process to become law in the state of Maryland,” Little said.
Bills and amendments in support of HBCU’s proposed in the 2018 session of the Maryland General Assembly include:
HB450/SB252 –Blount-Rawlings-Britt HBI Comparability Program Establishing the Blount-Rawlings-Britt HBI Comparability Program to provide supplemental funding assistance to the State’s public 4-year historically Black institutions (HBIs) ensuring HBIs are comparable and competitive with other State 4-year public institutions of higher education. Primary sponsors: Senator Joan Carter Conway/Delegate Nick Mosby
HB1062/SB827 –Historically Black Colleges and Universities – Appointment of a Special Advisor – Development of a Remedial Plan (HBCU Equity Act of 2018). Primary sponsors: Delegate Charles E. Sydnor/Senator Joan Carter Conway
HB1753/SB776 -HBCU Internship in Maryland Government Scholarship Program: Establishing the HBCU Internship in Maryland Government Scholarship Program to award scholarships to HBCU students so that they may explore State government career opportunities: Primary sponsors: Delegate Cheryl Glenn/Senator Joanne C. Benson
HB1819/SB615 -Higher Education Cyber Warrior Diversity Program: Establishing the program at Baltimore City Community College, Bowie State University, Coppin State University, Morgan State University, and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (Senate Amended language): Primary Sponsors: Delegate Michael A. Jackson/Senator Barbara Robinson
HB1665 – Income Tax Credit – up to $250,000 of income tax credits for certain donations to Endowments of Maryland Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Primary sponsor: Nick Mosby
HB1630 -Higher Education – James Proctor Scholarship Program – Established. Primary Sponsors: Delegate Joseph F. Vallario (passed House of Delegates with amendments on 3/12/2018)
“This is where constituents of my district and Maryland residents across the state must become involved in the legislative process if they wish to see the change they want in the world,” said Mosby.
“Your presence here in Annapolis counts,” said Del. Charles E. Sydnor, III (D-44B), primary House of Delegates sponsor of the HBCU Equity Act of 2018 (HB 1062).
Sydnor said when Attorney General Brian Frosh filed a motion to have Judge Catherine Blake’s ruling in favor of HBCU plaintiffs set-aside, he knew legislation would be necessary to reinforce the ruling in the HBCU Equity lawsuit.
“To make Judge Blake’s ruling the law of the land, lawmakers need to see the people whom it matters to,” Sydnor said. ‘Testifying orally [at General Assembly hearings] means an awful lot to the General Assembly,” Sydnor told HBCU advocates.
MLBC Chair Del. Cheryl Glenn (D-45), urged citizens to contact their Delegates and Senators directly to support HBCU legislation.
In the wake of yet another mass slaughter of innocent Americans, I am writing to implore my colleagues in both the Congress and our state legislatures to go to CNN’s website and listen carefully to the words of a young American named Cameron Kasky. You can find his declaration of principle and truth on CNN.com.
This 17-year-old student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, is demonstrating more courage, moral clarity and determination about the danger of unregulated guns in America (and, especially, the danger to us all of high-powered, military grade, semi-automatic weapons) than are many of the women and men with whom I serve.
As most Americans now know, on February 14 (Valentine’s Day), Cameron Kasky, his brother, Holden, and all of the students and teachers at their Parkland, FL, high school were forced to fear for their lives. A deranged person had picked up a lawfully purchased AR-15, took it to the school, and methodically murdered 17 people, injuring another 14.
We also know that, in the era after the Columbine massacre of 1999 (13 dead and 24 injured), mass slaughters with semi-automatic weapons have become a harsh, terrifying and unacceptable reality of American life.
Just as we must redouble our efforts to reduce the violence in places like Chicago and Baltimore, we cannot – and we must not – forget the sense of loss and personal devastation that we felt after Virginia Tech (32 dead). We cannot brush aside the primitive brutality of Binghamton, NY (14 dead), or Aurora, CO (12 dead), or Sandy Hook (the lives of 27 children and teachers methodically destroyed).
We must act. Our national conscience and sense of security and self-worth cannot withstand any more breaking headlines – any more mass killings in San Bernadino, CA (14 killed), Orlando, FL (49 massacred), Las Vegas, NV (58 killed and 546 injured), or Texas (26 killed).
Now, if you think that this partial listing of the butcher’s bill from our failure to adequately regulate semi-automatic weapons of war is incomplete, you are correct. There is insufficient room in this newspaper to adequately remember all of the casualties from the gun violence that our nation has endured.
What should be heartening to us, however, is the determination and clarity that Cameron Kasky and young people across America are expressing in their challenge to their elected representatives, their governors and the President of the United States.
“At the end of the day,” Cameron observed in his CNN interview, “the students at my school felt one shared experience – our politicians abandoned us by failing to keep guns out of schools….”
“Our community just took 17 bullets to the heart,” he continued, “and it feels like the only people who don’t care are the people who are making the laws.”
I must agree.
There is no period of silence, no equivocating delay, no overreaching argument about the constitutional sanctity of our Second Amendment that is adequate to counterman a simple, compelling and unavoidable truth.
Cameron Kasky is speaking truth to power when he declares that, as a nation, we are failing to protect our people from this carnage. Most unforgivable of all, we are failing to protect the lives of our school children.
Every last elected official in America, and every last citizen who voted for us (or failed to vote at all), bears a measure of responsibility for this failure and its bloody toll on human lives. Yet, as Cameron Kasky also acknowledges, we are not all equally culpable.
“The truth,” he observed, “is that the politicians on both sides of the aisle are to blame. The Republicans, generally speaking, take large donations from the NRA and are therefore beholden to their cruel agenda. And the Democrats lack the organization and the votes to do anything about it.”
We, who have been elected to serve and protect our Constitution and the American People, can only stand before this challenge, acknowledge our failures and seek to reclaim our honor.
As a first honest step, we can acknowledge that before the federal assault weapons ban expired, it did not stop all killings, but it did significantly reduce the carnage. We who serve in the Congress have the power, right now, to renew those protections.
The proposed Assault Weapons Ban of 2018 [H.R. 5087], sponsored by my colleague, Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island, now has more than 173 co-sponsors. Senator Diane Feinstein’s companion bill [S.2095] has 29. I, along with all of Maryland’s Democratic Delegation, am fighting for its passage.
However, in proof of Cameron Kasky’s indictment, there are no Republicans in support of these modest, protective measures, only a few Republicans support strengthened background checks, and a Republican House and Senate leadership, beholden to the NRA, is denying us the ability to even have a floor debate and up-or-down vote.
Nevertheless, I am cautiously optimistic that the will of the American People will prevail. A recent Quinnipiac opinion poll found that 67 percent of Americans (including 43 percent of Republicans) now favor an assault weapons ban. Even more encouraging, the young people of our nation (along with many of us who are older) are mobilizing.
This growing movement for greater safety, security and sanity in our national discussion about guns – this March for Our Lives – will be bringing upwards of 500,000 Americans to Washington, DC, on March 24th – with companion marches across the nation, including here in Baltimore. For more information, go to https://marchforourlives.com/ on your Web browser.
Even if you can’t march on the 24th, please remember this. Our Constitution (including its Second Amendment) was not designed to be a collective suicide pact. It was designed to protect the safety, as well as the liberty, of the American People.
Above all else, and whatever political obstacles may be placed in our path, we must protect our nation’s children. Our sacred oaths and honor demand that – and more.
Congressman Elijah Cummings represents Maryland’s 7th Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives.