Ending generational poverty begins with education

Ending generational poverty begins with education: by Glenton Gilzean Jr.

As published in the Orlando Sentinel, August 11, 2020

With all that’s happened in 2020, it’s hard to believe that we’re already in back-to-school season, but our students are returning to classes in the coming days. 

Throughout my career, I have been a lifelong fighter to end the school-to-prison pipeline. This advocacy stemmed not just from my desire to lift up my community, but from my personal life experience.

In my opinion, there are two major anchors of the African American community: our schools and small businesses. When I sat on the Re-Open Florida Task Force earlier this year, the reopening of our schools and investment in the Black community were my two priorities. Organizations like the Central Florida Urban League, the Black Business Investment Fund and the African American Chamber of Commerce can help rebuild our businesses, but without our schools, many of our youth could be lost — some forever.

While we live in a very polarized political time, but I hope that we can all agree that our youth deserve every opportunity we can provide for them. For low-income African American youth, this begins and ends with school. Not only does school provide a structure and education for them, but in some cases, it is the safest place for them to be during the day. Furthermore, schools remain the only place where many of our children can get a nutritional meal. 

As a child, if it was not for my schooling, I would not have been fed an adequate meal daily. My mother dropped out of high school and worked multiple jobs in order to properly care for her four children. I witnessed how difficult this was during normal times, could you imagine doing this during a pandemic? It would be impossible. In my case, in addition to her jobs, my mother would have also been tasked with the responsibility of teaching.

Provider, caregiver, teacher and mother. We all know mothers are superheroes, but even this might be asking too much.  

Now for those thinking that this is merely a hypothetical situation, I assure you that it is not. Members of my community, whom my organization helps daily, are trying to cope with this exact situation. What parent working two jobs can leave their eight-year-old at home to learn for themselves on Zoom?

School provided me with the social, emotional and nutritional support I needed — and there are countless low-income African American children today who need the same support. 

To put it bluntly: those who oppose allowing low-income Black children the access to education they deserve are potentially creating a road map to further feed the school-to-prison pipeline.

If we are to realize our communal goal of ending generational poverty, we must ensure that we give our youth every opportunity to succeed. In some cases, this cannot be done in the home, but in the educational and communal environment only offered in the classroom.

The future of our youth depends on it and we owe our children every opportunity to succeed.

Glenton Gilzean Jr. is president and CEO of the Central Florida Urban League and a former Pinellas County school board member.