We Need the Black Church and its Clergy in this Fight for Better Schools

We often emphasize the significant role that the black church plays in our community when it comes to the myriad of issues that affect us. We highlight the great work that the church has done in past years and undoubtedly celebrate the black church’s contributions to the former movements that make up our historical legacies. We also note how instrumental the black church continues to be in modern-day versions of movements. We recognize that the church is still, in some regards the cornerstone of our communities, the weekly meeting place for parishioners and the safest place (so we’ve assumed) to be, to gather and to worship.

We want to believe that the black church is quite relevant and up-to-date on what’s occurring in our city, across communities and, also give insight into national issues. In the realm of education reform, we see many churches have stepped up to the plate of not just discussing issues but also being proactive around solutions such as: hosting well-attended community meetings and forums, bridging the gap between church and community with wide array social services-meant to benefit families, conducting after-school programs to give students a safe environment after the school day is ended, among other activities. Being a native from Memphis, I have witnessed churches in this city willingly open their doors to external organizations in collaborative efforts to simply understand the educational landscape better and then to become more equipped with how to tackle what is seemingly an ever-evolving educational eco-system in this city as we continue to close schools, transition from arm of governance to another, tear down schools, disrupt what we all knew as “traditionalism” and ultimately leave communities confused, in some cases divided and broken and families left with inquiries; questions that simply need answering.

The first stop is the church.

The person who is asked the questions about education and reform is the Clergyman or woman, who must now, if he or she hasn’t already, lend a voice to what may now seem as the uprising issue now spilling into the pews affecting the constituents of the church-its parishioners and going beyond the walls of the church. The education reform lingo, the conversations, the issues that as quiet as it may seem, rings loudly in the ears of community members, parents like myself daily.

What becomes the role of the clergy in the conversation of education reform?

Like many, who have already approached me asking this question, I find myself saying the same response: “do you want to continue discussing the problem? Or would you like to hear possible solutions?” In my opinion, the problem is that there aren’t enough clergy members asking the question and though there are quite a few who are involved in the movement, some more publicly than others, I wrestle with the fact that not every clergy member is using their platforms and influence to lend voice and insight to the movement that affects us all, whether we want to admit or acknowledge or not.

For the clergy that are involved, how wide is their influence? Do they attract others to get involved or have they been taking the approach of “this is my corner, I’ll stay over here and you stay over there?” If so, does this keep clergy divided with issues unaddressed and parishioners left still without answers to their questions, still needing our clergy to lead, guide and direct us? Or is the bigger question, are clergy members still as relevant to today’s movement as we believe?

I would argue that a solution could be that all voices of clergy must be raised up and added to conversations of injustices and social justice, but more specifically what happens next with our children and what are we going to and/or planning to do about it. History shows us that we cannot have a movement about freedom without the black church’s involvement. If this is a movement, then I submit that we move forward as a sector in our communities to engage our members of the clergy and empower them with information and our support to become advocates of the education reform social movement. Together, we can help ensure that all our children have access to the best educational options available for them.