August 29, 2013 17:26 Age: 4 yrs

Keeping Dr. King’s Dream Alive at AF Amistad High’s New Home

Category: News, Home

By Candice Dormon, Associate Director of Parent Engagement

“We cannot walk alone." -Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Fifty years ago, standing in the symbolic shadow of our nation’s great emancipator, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. sounded forth a new birth of freedom—a freedom that rang through every state and every city, through every street and every school. Last Tuesday, as I stood on Dixwell Avenue in New Haven’s Newhallville neighborhood, I wondered if I could still hear his freedom ring.

Along with other members of Achievement First’s Network Support team, I joined our Newhallville neighbors Alderwomen Brenda Foskey-Cyrus and Delphine Clyburn at the site of the former Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. School (MLK School)—and the future home of AF Amistad High. Years ago, on the now-vacant building behind us, a local artist had painted portraits of civil rights crusaders, courageous trailblazers from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to Arthur Ashe, Booker T. Washington to Oprah Winfrey. As more than 60 members of the community gathered for the evening’s event, I imagined the future leaders who would soon stand in my place.

In January, 2015, AF Amistad High students will walk down the clean, bright hallways of a new, modern building into the bright futures built by a great education.

“We cannot walk alone,” Dr. King warned the millions marching on Washington as he dared the nation to dream. Those words, born from the sweltering summer of 1963, from the Molotov cocktails of Mississippi and the bitter blasts of Birmingham, from our forefathers’ first fight for justice and the deepest depths of the American dream, still echoed on Tuesday through New Haven’s row houses and bodegas, its street corners and crowds. The truth of those words poured through the speeches of State Senator Toni Harp, AF Amistad High Principal Chris Bostock, and the other leaders who preached faith in Newhallville’s future and in new opportunities to work together, sweat together, struggle together, build together. The importance of community was driven home by two students who recited lines from Dr. King's famous speech.

The new building will mean many things to many people. After spending years in a too small, two-building site, our students are excited to have space for science labs and soccer fields. In Newhallville, residents welcome the transformation of a dark, underutilized property into a school and community space whose windows will illuminate, in photographic relief, the same leaders the MLK School has long honored. But the more than 60 members of the neighborhood who dedicated their Tuesday evening to the community event did not come merely to bid goodbye to an old building or to celebrate a new, state-of-the-art space. They came to reclaim a promise.

For Achievement First and the Newhallville community, demolishing the walls of an old school named in honor of Dr. King is an opportunity to build a new, vibrant school that honors his dream. The sad truth is that, while the searing manacles of segregation have shattered, the shameful yoke of injustice still strangles. Half a century after Dr. King challenged America to judge her children by the content of their character, not the shade of their skin, too many kids of color still lack access to the high-quality education necessary to compete on a level playing field with their affluent, white peers for admission to top colleges, competitive careers and the gilded gates of the American Dream.

That’s why, at AF Amistad High, we aspire to continue the march Dr. King started, so powerfully, 50 years ago this week. Like the millions who forged the trail of freedom before us, from Dr. King to history’s lesser-known heroes, from the brave men shackled in Georgia’s jail cells to the bold women battered by the storms of persecution, we march forward with the "fierce urgency of Now.” Achievement First believes that all children—regardless of the color of their skin, the contents of their pocketbooks or the numbers on their zip codes—deserve access to an excellent, public education that opens opportunity’s doors.

This week, as our nation stands in the symbolic shadow of the great Dr. King, we do not walk alone. We march steadily forward, but we do not walk alone.

The MLK School building may be gone. But for Achievement First and the Newhallville community in New Haven, Dr. King’s dream lives on: we do not walk alone.


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