This week we went to “ground zero” for our second stop on the listening and learning tour. We listened to a community hobbled by the decline of an industry that was once the engine of the city’s economy, a housing market bust as bad as it gets, recent political strife the likes of which one couldn’t make up in a Hollywood screenplay, and a school system suffering beyond compare. Today we listened to Detroit.
We heard heart wrenching stories about unfulfilled dreams from policy-makers, community leaders, educators, parents, and student themselves. We heard from teachers struggling to teach with few needed supports. Teaching, for example, rigorous high school science using a laboratory that is devoid of even the basics, like running water. We listened as high schools seniors told us that more than half of their peers starting with them in the 9th grade were either dead or in jail by the 12th grade. We heard from community activists and elected officials begging for national attention and support in their moment of urgent crisis.
But today, we also witnessed hope, responsibility and courage. Hope that finally the forces were aligning for positive change and sustainable reform. Hope in a new Mayor with the will to do whatever it takes to fix an utterly broken school system. Hope in a Governor with the passion and commitment to help an ailing people. We witnessed courage by everyone to confront the challenges head on; steely determination by students to thrive, no matter what; parents taking ultimate responsibility for their children’s future; and teachers finding creative ways to restructure their schools to meet their students’ needs. More than anything, we saw an entire community united with the spirit of survival.
Today we listened to a city ready to transform its schools from a national disgrace to a national model. And, albeit with a heavy heart, we were inspired.
Assistant Secretary, Office for Civil Rights