While celebrating the life and accomplishments of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday, African-American leaders in Johnston County made clear that “the journey for justice continues.”
And the next destination should be the county’s public schools.
During the 16th annual King Day observance at First Missionary Baptist Church, guest speaker Craig James, a Clayton attorney, said equality in education and access to jobs for all minorities are the next hurdles on the journey for justice.
About a dozen candidates for school board and county commissioner attended. Interest in the school board is high in Johnston, where nine schools earned a D on the state’s latest report card. Indeed, interest is so high that voters will go to the polls in March to whittle the number of candidates from 11 to eight.
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Asked about the election, James said the school board needs new leadership if those in office will not take a stand and make the tough decisions for equal treatment.
In his speech, James focused on areas of American culture where he believes racial discrimination is still persistent.
“We have earned many things,” he said. “We deserve and are entitled to the same rights as any other human being. We fought for the Voting Rights Act of 1965, but we are now dealing with voter suppression.”
“We fought, bled and died for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and yet race discrimination is alive and well in this America,” James said. “The struggle is not over.
“Police brutality is at an all-time high. Even when it’s captured on video and the victim is a black person, we are not holding the police officers accountable. In this America, we have more black males incarcerated than we do in college. We have to continue to fight the good fight and stand with one another.”
Former 2nd District Congressman Bob Etheridge attended the event and said it was terrific, informative and full of emotion.
He agreed that the road to greater societal equality starts with education.
“It’s the one place where we can democratize America,” said Etheridge, a former superintendent of North Carolina’s public schools. “The family structures are struggling in a lot of places. A lot of folks don’t go to church, but the public schools are the places children show up. We can change the future with our young folks. The public schools are doing a marvelous job, but they are under a great deal of stress.”
He added the bulk of people in jail or prison dropped out of school.
“Education is the one place where you can level the playing field for everybody,” he said. “And it’s a lot cheaper to educate than it is to incarcerate.”