When the faith based community organizing effort we are part of, Oakland Community Organizations, holds a meeting or public action I am sometimes asked to bring a faith reflection to open the meeting. The following is a reflection I offered last week at a meeting with Oakland Unified School District Superintendent Tony Smith to discuss our “All Children, All Schools, Our Decisions” campaign.
Though the Declaration of Independence states clearly that we humans are endowed by our Creator with the “certain inalienable rights, among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” and though our Constitution enumerates many of our civil rights quite clearly, it can be said that the history of the United States is the story of a people trying to get their rights right.
This is especially true in the realm of education. It is likely that everyone in this hall agrees that education, a quality education, is a human right and a civil right. However, our presence here also indicates that there is an ongoing need, as well as an ongoing commitment, to get this right – right. In our presentation to Superintendent Smith it will be clear that we have a plan for getting the right to a quality education right for all the students of the Oakland Unified School District.
In her book “The Warmth of Other Suns” author Isabel Wilkerson writes movingly of the Great Migration, the movement of African Americans out of the American South in the years following World War I and continuing into the 1970’s. The migration of millions of people up the Atlantic Coast to Newark and New York, up the midsection of the country to Chicago, Detroit and Milwaukee, and west to Oakland, Los Angeles, Seattle and Portland, is the story of persons moving in search of places where they could get their rights right.
Let me read Wilkerson’s words about two families who moved from Monroe, Louisiana to Oakland. “A toddler named Huey Newton was spirited from Monroe to Oakland with his sharecropper parents in 1943. His father had barely escaped a lynching in Louisiana for talking back to his white overseers . . .Another boy from Monroe who migrated with his parents to Oakland took an entirely different path. He would go on to become one of the greatest basketball players of all time. Bill Russell was born in Monroe in 1934 and watched his parents suffer one indignity after another . . . his parents packed up the family and moved to Oakland, where a colony of people from Monroe had fled. Russell was nine years old. He would go to better schools, win a scholarship to the University of San Francisco, and lead his team, the Dons, to two NCAA championships, a first for an integrated team, collegiate or professional. He would join the Celtics in 1956 and lead Boston to eleven championships in his thirteen seasons.
A family fled the south. They came to Oakland and found better schools. Their son went to McClymonds High School and from there he achieved greatness. It seems that at that time Oakland was doing a much better job of getting the right to a quality education right. It would be an overstatement to say that then, or now, we ever get human rights completely right. Still, then and now, when we get the right to education even close to right, it is a significant pathway to opportunity, it is a pathway to potential greatness.
We are here tonight because we want to get human rights, civil rights, the right to a quality education, right. We are here because every child in the city deserves a clear pathway to opportunity, a proven pathway to achievement. Let’s get our rights right.
Prayers of the Congregation
- Rhonda Sato Ransom and Steve Ransom on the death of Steve’s mother
- Helen and Marc Harrison for Chris Rynders and family, Ty Whitehead and Marc’s dad
- Mary Karne – recuperating from surgery
- Carol and Steve Leichter
- Dick Ice – San Leandro Hospital
- Edna Dorenzo – Kaiser Post-Acute Hospital, San Leandro
- The people of Syria
- The people of Myanmar, including the Kachins
- The San Francisco Kachin Baptist Church
- Al Johnson and Roy Browner as they move to Southern California (will be greatly missed at Lakeshore)
- Georgia Upshaw for Ginny
- The people of the central states starting to rebuild after being hit by tornadoes
- Ann Fields for Bertha Miller
- Rick Mixon as he leads the congregation at FBC Palo Alto
- Joshua Ross (recuperating from a concussion0
- Ruth Smith
- Shirley Jones
- Dwight Dickerson for his family
- Rae Rita Thompson for her dad
- Susan Joachim
- All our shut-ins
- The Reverend Cherie Smith, Hospital Chaplain in Baltimore, MD
- The Sims Family
- The work of OCO, PICO California and the PICO National Network
- Chris Boisvert in a time of transition
- Jessie Guiton as she takes on new work responsibilities
- All our students, school employees and their families
I look forward to seeing everyone in church on Sunday. My sermon will be “Guilt Is Not God.” The text is Matthew 9:2-7. The theme sentence, taken from “Whistling in the Dark” by Frederick Buechner is “The danger of our guilt, both personal and collective, is less that we won’t take it to heart than that we’ll take it to heart overmuch and let it fester there in ways we ourselves often fail to recognize.”