Jasmine Tucker: Religious Organizations and the Education of Black Children

By Jasmine E. Tucker

Nuns on a Bus Tour led by Sis. Simone Campbell

Every morning when I walk out of Union Station, I always grab a newspaper from the vendors outside on Massachusetts Avenue. One morning a few weeks ago, I opened a Washington Express paper and saw a group of elderly women on the inside. The women were just not brochure-peddling evangelists, but these nuns had created the Nuns on the Bus campaign. Sister Simone Campbell led a bus tour throughout the Midwest visiting cities such as Philadelphia, Columbus, Toledo, and concluding in Washington, D.C.

Their goal was to educate the community about the current House budget created by House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. Ryan’s budget, entitled “The Path to Prosperity, is going to raise taxes on 18 million low-income families while cutting taxes for millionaires and big corporations. It would also push the families of 2 million children into poverty and kick 8 million people off of food stamps and 30 million off of health care. The Ryan budget would ultimately affect residents of Ohio, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin only.

Most importantly, the budget is going to completely reshape the education field. This budget will especially hit home for me, because I am a native of Columbus, Ohio. The budget will cut $72.6 million out of Ohio’s Head Start budget, which will result in 10,416 Head Start preschool slots being eliminated, and 3,300 lost jobs over the next two years. More than $110.8 million will be cut out of special education funding affecting over 60,000 special education students in the state of Ohio. Title I funding, which is used to aid low performing schools, will also be reduced immensely. Over 65,000 students will be affected by this change, and over 1,500 jobs will be lost with a reduction of Title I spending.

Rep. Paul Ryan holds a copy of the House budget

With the partnership of various Christian, Jewish, and Muslim organizations, the Faithful Budget was created. The Faithful Budget, endorsed by the Nuns on the Bus campaign, is an alternative budget that provides a compromise that allows the wealthy to retain their wealth while uplifting the poor at the same time. In the education component of the Faithful Budget, the aims are to continue expanding education reform rather than allow Congressman Ryan to debilitate it.

I applaud Sister Simone’s efforts to reform education through an alternative budget, however I think the private religious sector may underestimate its power. If it reappropriates its efforts in a way that does not involve politics, it has the possibility of creating substantial social change. In a world where Washington politicians make all of the major decisions, the well being of African-Americans will always be last on the agenda.

A new source of power needs to be reintegrated into the African-American community. There was once a time when religious groups were able to create and sustain institutions that benefited the well being of the African-American community. Religious organizations have the capability to unite and make some major changes for the education agenda. One organization made a key impact on education for African-Americans, and its evidence is still manifesting today.

During the late 1860s and 1870s, Northern churches and religious societies established dozens of normal academies and colleges in the South. A majority of the institutions taught elementary and secondary education. Only a small amount of Black students were prepared for college level work. The American Missionary Association – an abolitionist and Congregationalist organization – collaborated with the Freedmen’s Bureau to create Fisk in Nashville, Hampton in Virginia, Tougaloo in Alabama, and Avery in South Carolina.

The American Missionary Association

These institutions implemented a curriculum based on elementary and secondary education, liberal education, and vocational education. AMA’s primary goal was to train black students to become teachers. AMA was instrumental in sending teachers and clergymen to the South to cater to the spiritual and educational needs of the freedmen.

AMA made a significant contribution by stepping from behind the pulpit and going into the community and creating sustenance. The church was able to fundraise by holding bazaars, hosting bake sales, and creating missionary and quilting societies to pay for their major projects. Some churches are doing great things by creating Christian academies and summer education programs, but collectively they can do so much more.

Imagine if Potter’s House, World Changers Church, Greater Allen A.M.E. Cathedral of New York, and New Birth Missionary Baptist were to establish a campaign to raise funds for new Christian schools across the country. With the revenue that they earn in their churches and from fundraising, they could afford to maintain schools that teach African-American children. The Christian churches have the revenue and members to contribute a great deal to providing an alternative education program for African-American children. If they can feed the poor, conduct missionary trips, and still place ATMs in their churches, then they can create schools and provide books and teachers for our Black children.

Jasmine Tucker is a senior sociology major/African-American Studies minor at Howard University. She is also an educational issues intern at the American Federation of Teachers. Follow Jasmine on Twitter @YourQueen2Bee.

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