One grass-roots advocacy group used the anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birth to build support for public school reform, saying “We as a community have lost our passion. “United Neighbors Improving Today’s Equality lived up to its slogan, “Silent No More,” on Monday as several of its members, most of them minority pastors, gave impassioned pleas for more parental involvement in schools where the mostly black and Hispanic students, as they see it, are being neglected. Comparing the minority community to Rip Van Winkle, James Waters, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Lakewood chapter, said: “Dr. King would be very disappointed if he saw that we’ve been sleeping since his death. Wake up Lakewood.”
The group was born out of protest last year over the township Board of Education’s decision not to keep Eugenia Lawson, a black and Cuban Lakewood native popular among many parents, as superintendent. Since then, it has evolved into a watchdog of the public schools, often complaining about unfair treatment and a lack of basic school supplies.
Its effort, while focused on education, has spilled over into other issues such as gang violence and affordable housing. At Monday’s rally, 16-year-old Sarai Simpson, daughter of a Lakewood pastor, lectured the some 80 adults in attendance about raising a child, standing up against corrupt pastors and maintaining a cohesive family.
“I want to ask you why our country is in despair and what we can do to fix it,” she said in a prepared rendition titled “Our Future.”
Board member Leonard Thomas urged more parents to attend school board meetings and to come out to vote for Tracy Tift, the other black member besides Thomas, in the elections April 20.
“They say, “Once they’re not mad anymore, they’ll go away,’ ” he said, referring to comments from fellow board members about angry residents at meetings. “We have to get to a state where we don’t go away anymore.”
Near the end, Pastor Glenn Wilson, UNITE’s founder, gave what amounted to us-versus-them battle cry.
“Please join us in this fight,” he said. “I guarantee you we are going to win.” Zach Patberg/APP