Here in Washington, a statue of Rosa Parks, the first full-size statue of an African American in the National Statuary Hall Collection, was unveiled in the Capitol building during the final week of Black History Month.
Rosa Parks unintentionally became the “mother of the freedom movement” by refusing to give her seat to a white passenger while riding the bus home in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955. Her courage and passion for social justice is celebrated each February during Black History Month when we come together as a nation to commemorate the social contributions of the African American community.
The event began in 1926 as Negro History Week. It was celebrated during the second week of February, the birthday week of President Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. The occasion expanded to the entire month in 1976.
As the 86th formal celebration of African American history comes to a close, I say it’s time to keep the call for equality and justice alive throughout the year. Let us work throughout the year to overcome the social injustices of today and make America live up to its reputation as a land of opportunity.
I strongly believe that today’s greatest inequalities in the US stem from the achievement gap and circle of poverty that keeps millions of children from reaching their full potential. The percentage of people in the African American community living below the poverty line from 2007 to 2011 is 20.4 percent, far more than the national average of 14.2 percent.
Of these children born at the bottom of the income level, only 42% transcend from lives of poverty. In addition, more than 50 percent of African Americans stay in poverty compared to 31 percent of white children.
The achievement gap occurs because parents are increasingly becoming a personal resource to their child and supplement their offspring’s opportunities to learn and develop. As a result, it is harder for a child from an impoverished family to compete at the same level as a child with help and resources from home.
The President in his most recent State of the Union Address, agreed. He emphasized that a child’s roadmap to success begins with early childhood education. That is why we must support programs like Head Start and public schools.
If the members of the far right allow sequestration to occur we will see nearly $87.6 million in cuts to funding primary and secondary public education which would jeopardize more than 1,200 jobs. In addition, about 320 schools would not receive funding and nearly 187,000 students would not be served. Cuts to the Head Start Program would also keep more than 8,200 children from getting the primary education they need thus deepening the achievement gap. While I have always supported robust public education for all children, I also believe that students must be healthy and in the right frame of mind for these programs to be effective. Children simply cannot focus in class if they have grumbling bellies or if they are stressed about issues beyond their years; like where they will do their homework and sleep that night.
As the Ranking Member on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development and Food and Drug Administration, I have long supported programs that bring fresh produce and nutritious foods into school cafeterias and the homes of underprivileged children.
Rosa Parks once said, "I would like to be known as a person who is concerned about freedom and equality and justice and prosperity for all people.”
I am delighted that Congress could honor a woman who spoke such admirable words during Black History Month. I hope my colleagues will keep her words in mind as we work throughout the year.