Submitted by Prudential Financial, Inc.
“The Brown decision was important to South Africa because it helped us see that all was not hopeless,” said Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu. “Education is of utmost importance because educated people will not accept being oppressed. When people have a good education, they will be creative and innovative. Education can help them find a way out of poverty.”
Yesterday’s event was held leading up to May 17, 2004, when the country will mark the official 50th anniversary of the landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education that declared unconstitutional the concept of “separate but equal” in America’s schools.
“Brown arose in the context of the struggle for quality education and that struggle ushered in the challenge to and uprising against the racial caste system in the United States,” said Theodore M. Shaw, president and director-counsel elect of the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc. “Brown was the beginning. Fifty years later, while progress has been made, the quest for quality public education for all our children is a goal largely unrealized.”
The 1954 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, which ended officially sanctioned segregation in public schools and ultimately dismantled the Jim Crow system of American apartheid, is considered one of the most important judicial decisions in American history.
“As the official anniversary approaches, there remains a critical opportunity to encourage renewed national commitment to public education,” said Gabriella E. Morris, president, The Prudential Foundation. Bolstering this focus is a recent study by the Harvard Civil Rights Project that noted over the past ten years, schools in all parts of the country have become more segregated. In addition, the vast majority of intensely segregated minority schools face conditions of concentrated poverty, which are powerfully related to unequal education opportunity. “The Prudential Foundation is committed to supporting programs that work to stem these trends and build on the promise of Brown,” said Morris.
“From the beginning, this administration has been committed to providing every single child in New Jersey with an education that prepares them to succeed in the 21st century,” said New Jersey Governor James. E. McGreevey. “That is what makes this Brown v. Board celebration so important. We have an opportunity to recognize one of the most important legal cases in history - one that made sure every single child, regardless of race, receives the education they deserve. This event represented a unique opportunity to learn from past lessons and make sure the students of today and tomorrow continue both on a path of diversity and of learning the best lessons from one another.”
‘To all on equal terms’ is the heart of the Brown decision. It represents a promise to provide equal opportunity in education, to close achievement gaps, and to awaken in every child a spirit of curiosity and a lifelong thirst for learning. And by extension, it’s a commitment to build a strong society, rich in diversity of opinion and thought.
“Like all social justice movements, keeping the promises of the Brown decision is, and will always be, a work-in-progress, one whose momentum will only be as strong as our ongoing commitment,” said Arthur F. Ryan, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial, Inc.
With more than 1,000 attendees, including 400 New Jersey students, the program also featured special performances designed to highlight the significance of the historic decision. Performance groups included: dance company Ailey II accompanied by children from Newark’s own Quitman Street School; noted attorney, musician and educator Junius Williams and the Return to the Source music ensemble specializing in the history and performance of African American music; and a selection by the Camden Children’s Choir.
“I am so very pleased to have welcomed Desmond Tutu to New Jersey so that he could express the views we need to hear regarding the 50th-anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, as important a legal decision in shaping public education as there ever was,” New Jersey Commissioner of Education William L. Librera said. “Mr. Tutu certainly has much to offer the students and leaders of New Jersey. His efforts in race relations are unparalleled, and his own experiences, when passed on to the youths of this great state, will surely make a difference.”
Founded in 1977, The Prudential Foundation is the nonprofit grant-making organization of Prudential Financial, Inc. It is part of Prudential’s Community Resources Department, a strategic combination of three units: the Foundation, which strives to build children and families’ self sufficiency; the Social Investment Program, which originates and manages socially beneficial investments; and Local Initiatives, which coordinates employee volunteerism and fosters community outreach. For more information,
Editor’s Note: The Prudential Foundation executives are available for interview to discuss the commemoration event. High-resolution event photography is available for use and publication. Contact Sheila Bridgeforth, 973.802.6852.
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