Over a hundred years ago, before the start of the Civil War, a middle-aged but free Frederick Douglass engaged in a series of written dialogues with white slave-owners who didn’t share his belief that the institution of slavery was morally wrong. Letter after letter, each tried to persuade the other of their convictions. In one letter, Douglass, having once been a slave himself, wrote something that resonates today as it did when it was written: “It is easier to build strong children than to fix broken men.”
When I think about the education of our children, no truer words were uttered by such a towering figure of not just Black history but American history. Not only was Douglass unwavering in his quest to free Black people from the physical and mental bondage of slavery, he believed very deeply that education was an essential component for the survival of our people, even if becoming literate meant learning unpleasant things about the world around us. How lucky are we to have Douglass’ home and many of his works and teachings preserved right in our backyard as an exemplar of black excellence to inspire the next generation.
But if we’re really honest about the current state of many of our schools, we have to admit that we have a ways to go before we can get each school to a state of excellence. We continue to live in a country where the black-white academic achievement gap not only persists but has widened in some places. In many communities of color, race, income, and class plays an outsized role in the allocation of resources. And, we live in a country where zip codes can determine how good our schools are. This is not the type of black excellence Douglass and so many of our civil rights leaders struggled for. We must change the narrative once and for all: our children deserve access to great teachers and a great education in their neighborhoods. We can do better. We must do better.
That’s why I decided to open Digital Pioneers Academy East of the Anacostia River in the fall of 2018. I believe every child in Ward 7 and Ward 8 is beautifully made with unique gifts and abilities. Our children deserve a school that not only nurtures their unique talents with the right academic habits for the modern world but also provides them with an environment where they feel known, loved and always respected.
Our children must be equipped with the skills necessary to succeed in this rapidly changing global environment. We must encourage collaboration and the development of critical thinking skills through computer science. Our school will prepare our children to harness the power of technology to develop the next generation of innovators. Our children will be prepared to meet or exceed the highest academic standards while cultivating the skills and character necessary to both graduate from four-year colleges and thrive in 21st-century careers.
As Malcolm X once said, “education is the passport to the future.” I know our children will solve the challenges of the future if given the right opportunity to learn and grow in a great school environment. I also know what an excellent education can do for our children. It’s time we provide every child in Anacostia and Woodlands; and in Benning Heights and Twining with a high-quality education that offers a passport to their futures as well.
Mashea M. Ashton is the founding principal and CEO of Digital Pioneers Academy. Learn more at www.DigitalPioneersAcademy.org.