Bernice King: Atlanta Public Schools dropout rate is ‘appalling’

MLK’s youngest and former president Jimmy Carter kick off 50th anniversary of March on Washington with a round table on education


Bernice King was only an infant when her father delivered his famous “Dream” speech at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, but she can recite its lines with authority. And so, welcoming civic leaders invited to the Carter Center for a discussion on education and civil rights, she said she would like to focus on the portion of the speech about the “red hills of Georgia.” Her father’s dream that one day “the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood” seemed to be embodied in this gathering. And, she noted, “I might add, it includes also the table of sisterhood.”

Last night’s Carter Center gathering marked two kickoffs: the King Center’s 50th anniversary celebration of the March on Washington and a local debut of the “Sunday Supper” conversation series. The Suppers are organized by Points of Light and the HandsOn volunteer network founded by Atlantan (now senate candidate) Michelle Nunn, and sponsored, as attendees were reminded frequently, by Target; three feel-good Target ads were played during the introductory remarks.

Carter told the attendees that he owed his presidential career to the man who delivered the “Dream” speech. “I would not have been a viable candidate for president were it not for Martin Luther King Jr.,” he said. Carter and King never met; the former was elected governor three years after the latter’s assassination. But Carter referenced King’s work in his inaugural address as governor, stressing that the time for racism in Georgia was over, and riled dissenters by hanging MLK’s portrait in the Capitol. “He was transforming,” Carter said of King. “Especially for me personally, and for the country.”

The premise of the Sunday Supper events is simple: get a bunch of civic leaders in a room, feed them, and have them discuss a topic of concern in their community. Last night’s theme was education, and King, who’s made kids and young adults a focus of her work, was characteristically forthright.

The graduation rate in Atlanta Public Schools—just over 50 percent—is “appalling” she said, and should have the community outraged at a “9-1-1 level of alarm.” Rather, she said, Atlanta residents, “in one of the greatest, most progressive cities” are complacent while “in our front yard we have a serious issue.”

Bernice King moderated a discussion on education with a panel consisting of Doug Shipman, director of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, Dione D. Simon, principal of the Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy middle school, and C.T. Vivian, a veteran of the civil rights movement who was just awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Shipman reminded the audience that the theme of 1963 March being commemorated was jobs and freedom. The connection between economic justice and civil rights needs to be stressed, he said. “You cannot take apart the politics and the economics.”

Vivian, referring to his own work with gangs, said, “I am not as concerned about those in school as those who drop out.”

The evening wrapped up with a recitation of the “Dream” speech by Zaqary Asuamah, now a third-grader at the Museum School in Avondale Estates. (The clip above is from Zaqary’s performance back in second grade.)

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  • Abraham

    Few questions for Bernice King….
    1. Isn’t it appalling that APS has spent $147 million for a corporate style building and area, to start a high school for just 1400 students? And the North Atlanta High School is among the most expensive schools in the whole of the country.
    2. Isn’t it appalling that the APS administrative staff at the headquarters are getting paid, (as per a recent news article : ) more than twice that of the frontline teaching staff?
    3. Isn’t it appalling that the APS administrative staff are three times the number of equivalent school systems ?
    4. Isn’t it appalling that APS hasn’t paid any living cost increase to school staff including drivers, janitors and teachers for over 5 years (Several bus drivers told Channel 2 Action news they are overworked and underpaid. Several said they haven’t received cost of living pay raises in seven years. )?
    5. Isn’t it appalling that experienced teachers are leaving, class sizes are 35 and even in high schools all over, most teachers are not subject certified?
    6. Isn’t it appalling that inexperienced, TFA – Teach for America, not even subject relevant, teachers are replacing the much experienced teachers who are leaving, so that TFA teachers can be paid less?
    7. Isn’t it appalling that teachers have no appreciation, recognition or reward for the work they do? At the same time, the workloads, evaluations and reporting has only multiplied.
    8. Isn’t it appalling that APS had put the Buckhead buildings and school of the Atlanta international school for a meager value?
    9. Isn’t it appalling that the new HS at North Atlanta HS went over budget by $50 million, and nobody asked as to why?