Visitors pose in front of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial in Washington, D.C. The 50th anniversary of the March on Washington is Wednesday.
In his "I Have a Dream" speech, delivered Aug. 28, 1963, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King said this:
"When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
Wednesday marks the 50th anniversary of King's most famous speech. From the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., King shared with the world that the dream of equality for all was not yet realized, but it was possible.
King's speech followed a tumultuous period in our nation's history prior to the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Segregation was commonplace, where African-Americans were required to use separate restroom facilities, water fountains, transportation and entrances to buildings. In the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that separate school facilities for different races were by definition unequal and required schools to desegregate, however many states avoided desegregation with violent reactions.
As we prepare to start a new school year, it is important to reflect on Dr. King's dream.
Although racial tensions still exist today, we have made progress. Students from different backgrounds - regardless of race, national origin, religion, disability, gender or familial status - have rights and access to educational opportunities in our public schools. These opportunities are generated from a rigorous K-12 education that is focused on knowledge and skills that are equal in expectations for students going directly into the workplace or attending college after graduating from high school.
Wisconsin's public schools are doing good work, with some of the highest achievement and graduation rates in the country. However, we also have some of the largest racial achievement gaps in the country. We still need to address existing racial disparities to make King's dream a reality. And we are working on reforms that span statewide assessment, educator evaluation and increasing rigor in educational practices to close achievement gaps.
On this momentous anniversary, I encourage you to reflect upon equality, civil rights and King's message and dream. We have made progress, and we see that more work remains to be done. As school bells begin to ring again, think about your dreams, the dreams of students and families everywhere, and how we can work together to achieve them.
King encouraged everyone to have faith and demonstrate the courage to "let freedom ring" across the country. After all, in his words, "with this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood."