Nearly 50 years after landmark civil rights marches throughout the region, deep, entrenched poverty still persists along racial lines.
From Birmingham to Selma, corps members are helping to prove that all kids can achieve at high levels, even those living in poverty.
The story of Alabama is a story of triumph. African Americans consistently and continually triumphed in the face of hundreds of years of actual and political violence perpetrated by their own government and their fellow citizens, ultimately reaching a point when their inalienable human rights were protected by the law. We serve in the shadow of these giants, often in the very same communities where their movement began and thrived. The most significant unfinished business from that era is equal access to an excellent education for their actual and spiritual grandchildren. Teach For America's charge is nothing short of ensuring this comes to pass, so that in 2019, when we begin our third century as member of the Union, the story we are writing is that Alabama became the first state where every child can confidently say they are getting a transformational education.
This was certainly part of the vision that the community members of the Black Belt had when they first sat down at Mustang Oil, a diner in rural Alabama, and decided to work to bring Teach For America to the state. Despite many obstacles, they were able to secure everything necessary to guarantee thirty teachers a place to work in Alabama’s Black Belt beginning in 2010. Since then, the Alabama region has rapidly expanded to 130 total teachers across the Black Belt and in four of our five largest urban areas. Our alumni are already taking on major policy roles statewide, becoming principals, and bringing AP classes, ACT prep, and college-level work and leadership opportunities to their schools, often for the first time. While we have a long way to go to build the movement necessary to see the transformational change our students deserve, we have maintained the grassroots spirit that first brought us here, and we are committed to partnering with our communities, joining their movement, ensuring the lasting impact we have is in empowering, and working with the leaders who have been dedicated to our students for decades.
If education is truly to be our generation's civil rights struggle, we must work where the civil rights leaders we so admire first worked. That place is Alabama and the time is right now.
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Prior to his current role, J.W. was a litigator for the Birmingham law firm of Walston, Wells, and Birchall, LLP. He taught math at Lee High School in Marianna, Arkansas, where he coached the school's state champion quiz bowl team as a 2001 Teach For America corps member. J.W. earned a B.A. from Boston College and a J.D. from the Georgetown University Law Center. He and his wife live in Birmingham.