By Mrinal Gokhale
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan delivered his last speech out of 257 speeches on Dec 30 at 11 a.m. at Saint Sabina Church’s basement in Chicago.
The speech was broadcasted via Facebook Live on the U.S. Department of Education’s Facebook page with hundreds of views.
Duncan is one of the longest serving members of Obama’s cabinet.
He is moving back to Chicago upon ending his position, and he is highly passionate about ending gun violence and improving children’s’ lives in Chicago and in other communities.
Christina Waters, a college student who attended a Chicago public school, introduced Duncan.
She said she experienced a church picnic shooting years ago, and Duncan met her in a hospital bed, supporting her family during that tough time.
“I have known him since elementary school and he always checked in with my family to see how I progressed after the shooting,” she recalled.
Upon Waters’ introduction, Duncan started by addressing the subject of gun violence and children.
He added that although high school dropout rates decreased and college enrollment among minorities has gone up, violence is still problematic.
“16,000 children were killed by guns in six years I served,” he said while fighting back tears.
Duncan is passionate about improving the lives of children and he gave a specific example of how he feels youth are at risk.
He said that children at risk of gun violence typically come from impoverished neighborhoods, being bounced around from foster homes and school systems.
“In Baltimore, I asked a sixteen year old girl how many of her friends feel she will make it to age 23. She said 60 percent.” He believes that giving children mentors, after school activities and other resources will help keep them off the street and teach them that they don’t have to turn to gangs or selling drugs.
He also recalled a Tasmania mass shooting where gun control laws were changed after the incident.
“Since then, there haven’t been any mass shootings but it’s a weekly occurrence in America,” he said.
He cited term limits and gun safety as two issues, saying Congress has disobeyed the American people in keeping them safe.
He also condemned the “code of silence” for police misconduct, saying police officers can easily get away with wrongdoing when no one speaks up.
“Police officers must be taught when it’s appropriate and not appropriate to use guns and we can’t allow the wrong people to use guns,” he said. Towards the end of the speech, there was a question and answer session. Waters’ grandmother was the first to speak, saying “too bad you’re not running for governor here!”
Another audience member asked Duncan what he thinks about public versus charter schools.
“Bad charter schools are bad, and good charter schools are good,” he said.
“We need to add more good teachers and programs to all schools, and we can’t wait until a child’s junior or senior year to do it when they’re more likely to drop out.”
The last audience member to speak asked Duncan if he plans to run for office.
“That’s not my plan,” he said. “Education is my passion and I’m going back home to Chicago to try to help with this national issue.”