Civil Rights Icon Fights for Choice in Education

Published March 1, 2008

The Rev. H.K. Matthews, a civil rights leader who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King in Selma, Alabama in 1965, told a crowd of more than 500 students and local dignitaries in Jacksonville, Florida the fight for racial equality is still going on, particularly in education.

Matthews has dedicated his life to guarding civil rights and continues to fight for basic liberties. Early last year he determined parental choice in education aligns with his continued fight for equal opportunities–and he believes delivering this liberty is an extension of his life’s work.

“The fight for parental choice brings flashbacks of the civil rights movement, during which I was jailed 35 times as a political prisoner for the staging of various protest demonstrations,” Matthews said. “It shouldn’t matter the color of your skin, or your socioeconomic status–we are all Americans and have the right to a great education.”

Bipartisan Support for Choice

At the January 15 assembly, Matthews declared his support for the Step Up For Students Scholarship Program, a Florida nonprofit effort that empowers parents to choose the best school for their child by providing scholarships to low-income families. More than 20,000 children statewide currently receive scholarships.

On December 10, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and other state dignitaries thanked corporate sponsors for their donations to the Step Up For Students program.

Step Up For Students held its fourth annual Donor Appreciation rally that day in south Florida. More than 4,500 of the region’s children have received Step Up For Students scholarships, allowing them to attend schools their parents choose as best for them.

More than 500 people celebrated the past six years of scholarship success by thanking donors such as Wachovia, CVS Caremark, and Waste Management.

Matthews’ fight for educational freedom is fueled by staggering statistics facing African-Americans. According to a study conducted by the Harvard Civil Rights Project in 2005, less than 50 percent of African-American students nationwide graduate from high school. Black males, in particular, have a difficult time, with only 38 percent graduating from high school nationwide.

Among the dignitaries who attended Matthews’ event was state Rep. Terry Fields (D-Jacksonville), a stalwart supporter of parental choice in education.

“Parental choice is a bold and powerful idea that I will continue to support,” Fields told the crowd. “I am here today to celebrate the civil rights victories that we all enjoy due to the dedication of Rev. H.K. Matthews, as well as other civil rights heroes, and to illustrate the bipartisan support of the Step Up For Students Scholarship Program.”

Jill Metz ([email protected]) writes from Florida.