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Rev. James Meeks Takes on the New Slave Masters

Posted by Larry Doyle on February 23, 2010 8:38 AM |

Rev. James Meeks

“We don’t have slave masters,” he said. “We got mayors. But they still the same white people who are presiding over systems where black people are not able . . . to be educated.”

That is some statement.

Who expressed such strong and incendiary outrage? The Reverend James Meeks, founder and senior pastor of Salem Baptist Church in Chicago, the largest African-American church in Illinois.

In my opinion, Meeks did not look to score pure political points in launching into the mayors of our nation. To a very large extent, Meeks is taking on the Democratic Party establishment which has embraced the African-American community and championed their fight. Then why is Meeks railing on the mayors?

Meeks is voicing the pent-up and boiling frustration of those in our inner cities who are screaming to gain access to quality education for their children. He touches the third rail in Democratic Party politics and urban education by calling for support of student vouchers.

The Wall Street Journal’s William McGurn highlights Meeks’ passion in this fight in writing, Preaching Choice in Obama’s Hometown:

James T. Meeks does not fit the usual stereotype of a voucher advocate. To begin with, he is founder and senior pastor of Salem Baptist Church of Chicago, the largest African-American church in Illinois. He serves as executive vice-president for Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH Coalition. Oh, yes: He is a Democratic state senator who chairs both his chamber’s education committee and the legislature’s Black Caucus.

A few years back, Barack Obama named Reverend Meeks as someone he looked to for “spiritual counsel.” Now the man they call “the Reverend Senator” has done the unthinkable: He’s introduced a bill to provide vouchers for as many as 42,000 students now languishing in Chicago’s worst public schools. He tells me he thinks he can get enough Democrats on his coalition to get it through.

“I’m banking on the difficulty Democrats will have telling these parents, ‘No, you’re not going to have choice. Your kids are locked into these failing schools.'”

Right now, national attention on Illinois is focused on the possibility that Republicans may take the U.S. Senate seat once held by Mr. Obama. But Collin Hitt, the IPI’s director of education, notes Mr. Meeks may have the more far-reaching narrative.

“There is an irony that the highest-profile push for vouchers in America today is in Illinois, while the highest-profile opposition to vouchers is also from Illinois,” says Mr. Hitt. The latter reference is to President Obama, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and Sen. Richard Durbin, Illinois Democrats whose opposition pulled the plug on a popular, bipartisan voucher program in our nation’s capital.

While I commend Obama for elevating the education issue as one of his major administrative priorities, I condemn him for his lack of support for the voucher program.

I praise Meeks for flying in the face of the party establishment, including our current President. McGurn is not bashful in writing of Meeks:

Certainly he’s not a man to hold his tongue. He speaks frankly about elected officials “owned by unions.” About politicians who send their own kids to private schools—while opposing the choice for the less fortunate. In 2006, he gained notoriety for language in a fiery sermon that appeared directed at Chicago Mayor Richard Daley.

“We don’t have slave masters,” he said. “We got mayors. But they still the same white people who are presiding over systems where black people are not able . . . to be educated.”

Well, it is not just white mayors, but it is now this Presidency which has also fallen in line with the Democratic Party establishment to curtail the use of vouchers.

I wonder if Obama is still seeking the reverend for counsel.

While I do not believe vouchers are the cure-all for our urban education problems, I do believe they should be a much bigger part of the solution.

I salute the Reverend Meeks for speaking his mind and I salute William McGurn for drawing attention to this critically important topic.

What do you think?


  • Julie Johnson

    I love the idea of school vouchers. Parents should have a choice to pull their kids out of failing schools. I’m sure Obama would never think about sending his girls to chicago public schools. What about the option of homeschooling? Illinois has a great homeschool network and the State’s homeschool laws are some of the most lient inside this country. Rev. Meeks should organize another school protest and get parents prepared and set to homeschool their kids as long as it takes to wake up our sleepy and selfish state government! I’m a teacher from a wealthy school district and it breaks my heart to see the deplorable conditions these schools are in. It’s not fair that white school have all the money, resources, and great teachers! The kids and teachers deserve better!!!!! I’m a swf who is fed up!

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