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Brown v. Board of Education: From Progress to Reality
6/4/2014 2:40:08 PM

Anthony Hyland
By Anthony Hyland

By 2043, America will be a brown nation - at least as far as race is concerned.

But to me, a brown nation isn’t simply derived from race and numbers.

It’s about whether or not each person in our country - regardless of their ethnicity, zip code or socio-economic status- has an equal chance in life. It’s about the degree to which we will live up to the values outlined in the historic desegregation case Brown v. Board of Education.

The Brown decision held that educating students separately is inherently unequal; that it communicates a sense of inferiority and has a detrimental impact on student learning. Although these words were written in 1954, they have remarkable resonance today.

As we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Brown decision, we have made a lot of progress but we’re still a long way from fully embracing the opportunity and equity of a Brown nation. My own education story is reflective of both, the progress and problems we’ve encountered along the path toward true equality.

I grew up in north Philly, but I also attended schools in Coatesville, Penn. and Frederick, Md. My schools in Philly were predominantly black.

My schools in Coatesville and Frederick were predominantly white. I was ostracized by my black peers for “acting white” because I was serious about my academics. Yet, I also felt inferior to my white peers and out of place as one of only five black kids in my class.

But, despite these challenges, because of the tenets of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, I was afforded the opportunity to attend high achieving schools that helped to open many doors for me. And for that I’ll always be thankful. I recently graduated from Voorhees College, and in the fall I will begin my career as an English teacher in South Carolina.

Unfortunately, many of my counterparts cannot tell the same story.

Poverty, cyclical barriers and access often times determine the trajectory of a child’s life. In my eyes, we won’t truly be equal until all students are afforded an excellent education and achieving at the highest levels. These are the barriers that court decisions and laws were unable to erase, but that we have the power to help overcome.

As a teacher, I’ll have the opportunity to serve as a role model of what is possible for my students. By sharing the background and experiences of many of my students, I hope to dispel the feelings of isolation that I felt as a child and instead create a shared space of opportunity, learning and success within my classroom. I will also encourage my students to truly embrace and get to know people of varied cultures and diverse experiences - their hopes and dreams, their successes and failures.

This is the key to breaking down psychological and systemic barriers that stand in the way of becoming a truly Brown nation. This is the unfinished business that my generation has to tackle and serves as the impetus for me deciding to join Teach For America. We must keep pushing and pressing forward until the spirit of the Brown decision becomes a reality in our lives.

*Anthony Hyland is a 2014 graduate of Voorhees College and an incoming Teach For America-SouthCarolina corps member.

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