Barack & Michelle, Please Send Sacha and Malia to DCPS

Posted on January 19, 2009

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President Barack Obama
The White House

Dear Mr. President. First let me tell you how incredibly proud and inspired I am by your ascension to the Presidency. As the father of two African American boys with “funny foreign names”, your tenure is already a success in my eyes. When I tell Olu Femi & Dela Eden that they can be anything they want, even President of the United States, everyone can nod in agreement now, instead of saying patronizingly “awwww that is so cute”. Your presidency has not even begun, but I am writing to volunteer for your 2012 campaign, under the condition that you commit to sending your daughters to DCPS for high school!

That’s right, one of the fine public schools in the District of Columbia, like Eastern, Wilson, or Ballou. I could request a public school bail-out, lord knows that would be a much wiser and more beneficial investment than many of the failing businesses that have held their hands out on Capital Hill. But as important as an infusion of money to attract talented teachers and update 60 year old buildings would be, you sending your child to Roosevelt or Spingarn would signal a symbolic and literal togetherness this city and public schools nation wide would take to heart.

I’ve approached my friends and colleagues with the idea of sending an Obama girl to Banneker, Dunbar or McKinley for the last two months, and I must admit most of them have been mortified. Their concerns have included whether or not DCPS could challenge her academically, whether it would be a secure environment for the first daughter, and whether the culture of student life at any DCPS would be welcoming for such a privileged and famous child.

First, either of your daughters would be a perfect DCPS student. As everyone knows, parental involvement is more important than any teacher or facility. Having two stay at home parents (Michelle and her grandmother) there will always be an adult to augment whatever education she is receiving at school. She will have wise women to listen to questions and concerns in the quickly evolving life of a teenager. It is too much to ask for you to turn your life into more of a reality show than it is, but just knowing that 2 generations of family are working as a cohesive unit to guide their child through public school would be an outstanding example to the other millions of families experiencing the same reality.

Will a DCPS school be safe for an Obama girl? First of all, the idea that DCPS schools are breeding grounds for drugs and violence is COMPLETELY UNTRUE. Yes, like most inner city schools, our high schools deal with their fair share of delinquencies, drug abuse, teenage pregnancies, fights etc. But, as I’m sure you know, the average DC student is unfairly lumped into a caricature of inner city high schools. The vast majority of our students at schools like Phelps and Woodson want the same thing their private school peers want, a safe state of the art environment to discover themselves as individuals, and to develop as a positive contributors to their community. Secondly, I’ve seen the secret service in action, and the cliques and crews that exist in DCPS schools are no match.

Even if the stereotypes of DCPS were a true, you have exhibited the ability to mobilize people unlike anyone since Dr. Martin Luther King. Can you imagine the ripple affect you would cause when you announce that you are sending your daughter to a public school? The level of parent and community involvement at all of our schools would increase exponentially. The fast revamping of our school systems by Mayor Fenty and Chancellor Rhee would have an even greater sense of urgency, along with the support of a whole nation cheering on their success.

Washington DC is the seat of national politics that so badly needs changing. Washington DC should be the example of American society, shining a light to the rest of the country and the world. Washington DC is the home of thousands of African American fathers whom you have personally challenged to step up to their responsibility. Who better to lead the nation into a new era of public responsibility than the world’s most famous community organizer? Imagine a city where every citizen considers the school in their neighborhood as MY SCHOOL. It does not matter if I have a child in the local school; I take pride in the upkeep of the school building. I stop 13 year olds who are walking the street at noon and demand that they go to school. I attend and cheer at honor roll assemblies the way I do Friday night football. You, Mr. Obama, could lead that kind of community adoption of the public schools. Never before have I seen so many people claim someone as “My President”. Imagine if that energy was focused on Duke Ellington, Roosevelt, or the School Without Walls.

Sending your daughter to a DC public high school, like Cardozo, Anacostia or Coolidge, will be an important symbolic and practical step to fulfilling Dr. King’s last mission before his assassination, the elimination of poverty through economic equality. I meet students every day who over achieve at sub-par schools. I’ve taught poetry classes in December in classrooms with no heat, and locks on the library door because the school couldn’t afford a librarian. I wonder how much higher their academic ceiling would be with properly equipped science labs, motivated and positive peers, and a dynamic and involved community.

As of this year, your eldest child is 4 years away from attending high school, giving you and I 4 years to get OUR school system, and OUR cities attitude towards the education of OUR children, on point. In reality, everyone’s trepidation about an Obama girl at DCPS really just exposes an ugly truth. The idea that public schools aren’t good enough for America’s new darlings only means that public schools are not good enough for any student. I don’t believe this. I do believe that we must change both perception and the reality of public education so that when we say “Our Children Are the Future”, it is not a tired cliché.

In the end, I don’t expect for you to accept less for your daughter to make a social and political statement. I’m asking you to demand more from DCPS as a social and political statement. I am personally up for the challenge and I guarantee that the city will follow your lead. Yes We Can!

Sincerely Yours
Bomani Armah