I moved to Atlanta in 1964, at the age of 16, to attend Morehouse College. Like a lot of Morehouse men, when I graduated, I decided to stay in Atlanta; and this is the city I still call home. I raised my three daughters here, two of whom proudly attended Atlanta Public Schools.

Like every parent, I wanted my daughters to attend the most excellent schools. At the time, that meant traveling from our Southwest Atlanta neighborhood to the Northside to attend different — and to be very clear — better schools. I am fortunate that I had the luxury of being able to get them there each morning. It’s not something I take for granted and I know it’s not an option for every parent in Atlanta today.

All of my grandchildren have attended or are attending Atlanta Public Schools. This issue of excellent schools for all children in Atlanta is personal for me. Let’s speak truth. We should be able to keep one promise in this city: Every Atlanta student will be able to attend excellent schools. Unfortunately, because of a history of discriminatory practices that have marked urban centers around the country, your zip code often determines your ability to attend excellent schools. This does not have to be true in Atlanta.

In fact, right now, The Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education is taking steps to create a system that will define school excellence, identify how to measure school progress toward excellence, and how to respond when schools fall short of that vision. As a longtime advocate for advancements in education, I can tell you this moment would certainly be a terrible thing to waste. We must seize the opportunity, right now, to ensure every neighborhood is home to an excellent school. While stakeholders all across the city are finding ways to build affordable housing, more transit options and workforce opportunities, the Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education is taking steps to make all schools excellent. The APS plan will help define school excellence, ensuring that all of our students have access to the very best in education.

Of course, a common refrain at The United Negro College Fund (UNCF) is, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste,” and our motto is core to our belief that education is a wonderful investment that pays social, civic and economic dividends for generations.

We can speak to that like no other institution in our nation’s history. At our founding 75 years ago, we set out to ensure that every student would be able to attain a high-quality college education. UNCF was founded at a time when young African Americans with hopes to attain a meaningful education were locked out of many institutions in the United States. Our founding was a choice to seize an opportunity by investing in our most precious asset – the growing minds of ambitious young people.

Since 1944, we have raised nearly five billion dollars, benefiting hundreds of thousands of students attending historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and over a thousand colleges and universities across the country. As many Atlantans know, investments in a high-quality education start long before college. That’s why our mission has always included efforts to “support better education systems in our communities,”.

So, it should come as no surprise that we support a plan for Excellent Schools in Atlanta, and are joining with a diverse, growing coalition of community supporters, parents and civic leaders with a vision to realize one Atlanta Promise: every Atlanta student will be able to attend excellent public schools. 

Every Atlanta student deserves to attend an excellent public school. We are proud to come together for Atlanta students, with families, community supporters and educators at the table, to develop a shared vision for moving our schools forward.

As a father, grandfather and an advocate for justice in education, I believe now is the time for Atlanta Public Schools to deliver on the promise that we’ve made to families. Join the call to realize our promise: Tell Atlanta Public Schools you’re with them in the work toward making lasting change for our students.

Atlanta, this moment would be a terrible thing to waste. Let’s put into action a system for excellent schools.

Since 2004, Dr. Michael L. Lomax has served as president and CEO of UNCF, the nation’s largest private provider of scholarships and other educational support to African American students and a leading advocate of college readiness: students’ need for an education, from pre-school through high school, that prepares them for college success. Follow Dr. Lomax on Twitter at @DrMichaelLomax.

Dr. Michael Lomax

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