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October 21, 2014 | 27th Tishrei 5775

Commemorating The 50th Anniversary Of Brown V. Board Of Education and Furthering Its Vision

Adopted by the Executive Board of the
Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism
March, 2004


50 years ago, on May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down one of its most profound decisions, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, KS.

Oliver L. Brown's daughter had been refused admission to third grade at her neighborhood school because of the color of her skin, and the Brown family had the courage to take their fight for equal opportunity to the highest court in the land. When asked by Supreme Court Justice Frankfurter for his definition of "equal" during oral arguments in the case, counsel Thurgood Marshall replied, "Equal means getting the same thing, at the same time and in the same place."

This is the legacy of Brown -- that "separate" is inherently unequal. It represents the nation's commitment to equal educational opportunity for all children. Though we have made great strides in the fifty years since this historic decision, the vision of Brown has yet to be fully realized in our nation. Schools in many areas of the country are "resegregating," and many public schools, particularly in minority communities, are failing because of inadequate funding, neglect, and violence. A "culture of failure" that undermines too many schools in this country maintains a tragic cycle of missed opportunities and wasted potential. Our nation is beginning to realize that education begins well before school starts, so that we must extend the hand of equal opportunity much earlier in children's lives.

As America's minority population continues its rapid growth, we must work to build a society in which differences are embraced and opportunities truly made equally available -- a society enriched by racial diversity, not segregated by it. As Jews, we have known overwhelming discrimination and segregation in our own history as a people. It is therefore particularly imperative that we do all we can to build a society that will leave no one behind. THEREFORE, The Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism Resolves to:

  1. Commemorate the Brown v. Board decision on the occasion of its 50th anniversary by:

    1. Recognizing the contributions of civil rights leaders as well as the legal strategists, parents, and students who by their courage and conviction made Brown a reality;
    2. Developing programmatic materials to aid our congregations and youth groups in organizing speaker forums, workshops, direct service projects, and advocacy efforts to further the promise of Brown;
    3. Publishing these materials online as a "Brown v. Board Online Resource Guide for the Jewish Community" with background information, program suggestions, and sample sermons and biblical texts on race relations and education;
    4. Encouraging synagogues to designate Shabbat Behar (May 14-15) 2004 as a movement-wide day to commemorate Brown's 50th anniversary in their prayer services and community programs, as that Torah portion teaches, "You shall hallow the fiftieth year. You shall proclaim liberty throughout the land for all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you..." (Leviticus 25:10); and by
    5. Encouraging our congregations to strengthen relationships and develop new partnerships with schools that serve low-income communities, guided by For The Sake Of The Children: A Synagogue Guide To Public School Partnerships (CSA 2003), and to form cooperative alliances with congregations, churches, mosques, and other like-minded organizations to achieve these goals;

  2. Celebrate the impetus provided by Brown not only for the development of the African-American Civil Rights Movement, but also for its inspiration and galvanization of other minorities in their struggles for equal rights -- women, aliens and immigrants, people with disabilities, and gays and lesbians; and remember that Brown's legacy continues to inspire us in the ongoing struggle for social justice; and

  3. Advocate for the realization of the dream of Brown to ensure that quality public education and related public programs are available to all children -- regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, family structure, income level, gender, and disability or other special needs by:
    1. Reaffirming our commitment to providing all children with a high quality, appropriate public school education and working to help close the achievement gap by advocating for increased funding for education, reduced class size, qualified teachers and administrators, modernized school facilities, dropout prevention programs, services for pregnant and parenting students, after-school programs, delinquency prevention programs, school safety programs, and increased parental involvement;
    2. Strengthening our commitment to helping all young children prepare to succeed in school by improving the quality of and increasing access and funding to Head Start, Early Head Start, early childhood care and education programs, parental coaching programs, and comprehensive services for pregnant women, while making progress toward the establishment of publicly supported, high quality, comprehensive universal pre-school/pre-kindergarten programs;
    3. Reaffirming our opposition to school voucher programs which divert desperately needed funds and attention from true public education reform, leaving behind those most in need of a quality education;
    4. Supporting the maintenance of national, uniform quality standards, in federal programs, that encourage the optimal growth, development, and education of all children;
    5. Ensuring that accountability systems for education and early childhood programs primarily serve to further the goals of education and that they receive adequate funding, use research-based assessment tools, account for graduation rate, accommodate students with special needs and students whose primary language is not English, are sensitive to the cultural and linguistic diversity of students, and include safeguards to protect the children most at risk of school failure from exclusion from early childhood programs and from dropping out of school;
    6. Reaffirming our commitment to helping more students access higher education through increased federal support such as Pell grants; and by
    7. Reiterating our commitment to maintaining affirmative action and fostering vibrant diversity and the full participation of minorities in all important aspects of society.

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