On Monday, September 26th, millions of Americans gathered in homes, restaurants, community spaces, and more to see the highly anticipated first showdown--whoops, I mean debate--of major party presidential candidates Sen. Hillary Clinton (D) and Mr. Donald Trump (R). Hosted by Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, many wondered what issues would be debated by the two candidates. However, for many organizers and community members across the nation, one issue they already noticed had been largely ignored by both candidates is one of the most pressing issues of our day--that of public education.
Monday, September 26th was also the day that the Journey for Justice (J4J) Alliance organized hundreds of Black and Brown concerned community members from cities such as Chicago, Detroit, Camden, Wichita, New Orleans, and Minneapolis to name a few, to travel to Hempstead to launch their Education Platform and send a clear message to all presidential candidates to prioritize public education issues among their candidate platforms. Myself and NOC member Ngeri Nnachi represented NOC and Minneapolis in Hempstead.
(NOC with organizers from New York, Wichita, Milwaukee, and New Orleans at Hempstead High School)
The day started at Hempstead High School, a predominantly-Black and Brown high school in the Hempstead school district. Large groups arrived after driving 15+ hours from the Midwest to immediately participate in a press conference outside the school speaking to the reasons why J4J came to Hempstead. Led by Jitu Brown from Chicago, J4J’s Executive Director, we heard from organizations in New York like the Alliance for Quality Education and and NYC Coalition for Educational Justice about their #EdWalk from New York City to Albany to push the governor to prioritize education. We heard from OPEN in Oakland who held sit-ins in a local school for three weeks straight fighting for equity in the schools. Even with little sleep, everyone had high energy and high spirits.
(News conference with hundreds of J4J members outside Hempstead High School)
We then travelled to the State University of New York (SUNY) - Old Westbury’s campus. Walking around, I definitely back at home in Chicago, at my mom’s alma mater Chicago State University. Not only where the colors the same (green and white) and it was during their Homecoming, but all I saw was young Black and Brown students. Our J4J crew ate box lunches and quickly segued into our Public Education Nation, where we released the J4J Platform. At the forum, I presented J4J’s demands to all presidential candidates to round out the event. You can watch the entire forum from the livestream NOC posted above.
(Anti-Trump sign found outside Hofstra University, site of the first presidential debates)
The grand finale was the rally at Hofstra University in the hours before the debate. Because of inordinately slow security lines, it would have taken us hours to get our crew into the perimeter around the university. On top of that, when we tried to leave the perimeter, we were redirected to a three-block detour, even though we had people in our crew who had physical injuries. Nonetheless, as we came back out, we saw the larger J4J crew shutting it down. From organizers kicking it off, to Brother Jitu giving us a history lesson, to Camden’s youth performing traditional West African drumming and dance, to even the youngest bringing us the truth, it was a beautiful way to end the day.
(Rev. Robert C. Jones from Chicago hunger striked for 34 days with other community members to successfully keep Dyett High open)
The funny thing about my day in Hempstead was that I didn’t even watch the debates. I was way too hungry and tired, but more importantly, I knew the center of gravity was not on Clinton and Trump, but on the people. The mothers, fathers, children, teachers, and leaders among us reaffirmed the need for us to be engaged in this fight for public education and racial justice, and we won’t waste another day not making sure every child receives the high-quality education they deserve. We just need our deserved seat at the table.