The American Dream Lives on with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday

By Vincent Lyles

Vincent Lyles

Vincent Lyles

On January 20, millions of people across the nation celebrated the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In Dr. King’s speech, “The American Dream,” delivered to graduates of Lincoln University (a historically black university) in 1961, he said “The American Dream reminds us that every man is heir to the legacy of worthiness.”

He spoke of the vision our nation’s founders had that

“‘We hold these truths to be self-evident – that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’ This is the dream.”

Today, so many people of different races and ethnicities are heirs of the legacy Dr. King spoke of – The American Dream.

However, equal rights challenges remain, and one of the biggest challenges is access to a quality education.

Education has long been the route for Americans to be able to pursue careers that provide family-supporting wages and a way to position the next generation to advance economically.

In comparison to 1961, there are more educational opportunities today than ever before.

Students can attend public, private, voucher, charter or online schools.

Despite all of these educational options, learning gaps in achievement still exist between black and white students.

Known as the nation’s report card, the National Assessment of Education Progress released last fall showed Wisconsin’s students overall remained flat in reading and continued to do well in math, but scores for black students were very poor in both subjects.

Eighth-grade reading scores for black students were the worst in any state by any ethnic group and fourth grade reading scores for black students were second worst in the nation.

In math, Wisconsin’s Black students in fourth and eighth grade had lower average math scores and were the fourth lowest in the nation.

To make sure all children have the opportunity to be part of the American Dream, we all must work together to close these learning gaps.

As parents, guardians and concerned adults, we can aid our youth at home, in school and in the community.

At home, there are things we can do such as:

• Designate a time and place for homework.

Have a space free of distractions and identify a time that works best for your child.

For some, it’s after dinner and others it’s when they first arrive home from school.

• Make sure our students do their own work.

Homework is for students to review what they learned in class.

We can help them learn by asking questions and checking assignments – not doing the work for them.

• Be their cheerleader and motivator.

Praise your student for his or her efforts.

Ask him or her how was that quiz or test?

• Be a good example. Learning never stops.

We can be good examples at home by setting aside time to read the newspaper or books for leisure.

• Seek help for learning problems.

Discuss your child’s learning challenges with his or her teacher.

Solutions might range from needing reading glasses to being evaluated for and receiving assistance with a learning disorder.

At school and in the community, there are a number of things we can do to support equal access to a quality education for all children:

• Regularly attend parent-teacher conferences.

Students do better when parents and guardians are involved with their academic lives.

Parent-teacher conferences also help create a positive partnership that can help teachers know our children better and help us keep track of their progress.

• Volunteer at our children’s school.

Whether it’s helping with a bake sale or chaperoning a field trip, our actions say we care about our students’ entire learning experience.

• Be a voice for children. One person really can make an impact.

No special training or title is required.

We can be a voice for our children by attending school board meetings, voting in local, state and federal elections and even writing lawmakers about our concerns.

• Seek community organizations that can add to or enhance your child’s classroom learning.

Organizations such as Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee, Children’s Outing Association, Journey House, Running Rebels, United Community Center, YMCA and others known for their programs that positively influence a child’s personal development.

Equal access to a quality education was one of the issues Dr. King and others fought to obtain during the Civil Rights Movement.

Now it’s our responsibility to continue that fight so all youth are able to pursue and obtain the “American Dream…filled with life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Until my next column, you’re invited to visit a Boys & Girls Club nearest you.

Visit our website at to find a location. Keep up-to-date about Boy & Girls Clubs and other youth-related news through, on Twitter at @bgcmilwaukee, or at