Mayor Nutter: Education is the Civil Rights issue of our era

Charles Mostoller

Mayor MichaelNutter, in a special column for Metroon MLK day, reflects upon the next great Civil Rights issue of our era.

Every January, we take a day as a nation to honor and reflect upon the legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This year, as we approach the 50th Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, and with the backdrop of recent racially-charged events in Missouri, New York and across the country, I find a renewed sense of relevance and purpose in Dr. King’s life and work and one particular message: “The time is always right to do what is right”.

In my work as Mayor, I strive to do what is right for the citizens of our city every single day. There are many issues that must be dealt with: crime, poverty, jobs… but one issue underlies all the others – the right to a high-quality education. I see this as the civil rights issue of our era, although it has its roots in the struggles of Dr. King and his contemporaries. Access to quality education for all students is the foundation on which we can create economic opportunity and economic justice for all people – among the ideas for which Dr. King fought and died.

The City of Philadelphia has increased support for public schools by $375 million annually over the last few years, and I look forward to working with Governor-elect Wolf to find a way to better support all Pennsylvania schools. I believe the best way to do this is through a full and fair, student-weighted funding formula because we are one of only three states in the Nation that do not have one. As the largest city in the Commonwealth, Philadelphia has many students with unique needs that require extra support and a fair funding formula that takes these needs into consideration is a start. But more than fair, we need full-funding for our schools to give our students the best 21st-century education, the education they deserve as Americans. Through education, we will build a skilled, globally-competitive workforce which will propel our city forward. Solving this issue in 2015 is the right thing to do for our children and it is the right thing to do for our city.

As we celebrate the national King Holiday this year, I ask Philadelphians to get involved with the effort to provide quality education to our students. On the King Day of Service in Philadelphia, more than 135,000 volunteers will work on 1,800 projects across the region to honor Dr. King’s legacy. If you haven’t already decided to participate, consider getting involved in a project that will benefit the education of a young person. As Dr. King said, “Everybody can be great because anyone can serve… You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” You can find MLK Day service projects – and service opportunities throughout the year – at

I take great pride in the City of Philadelphia being the home of the first and largest organized Martin Luther King Day of Service in the United States because we know that service isn’t just about warm, fuzzy feelings one day of the year – service is an effective tool for cities to tackle their biggest challenges by engaging volunteers on all levels, from National Service members in AmeriCorps to neighbors concerned about issues in their communities. The City of Philadelphia believes in the positive effect of service so much that we recently became the first employer in the nation to offer civil service exam points to alumni of National Service programs.

On Monday, whether you spend your time at your job or in school to create a better life for you and your family, or you are blessed with the opportunity to volunteer your time, let us all reflect upon Dr. King’s words – remember that now is the time to do the right thing, now is the time to act with grace and love in service to each other. Let us take the energy of the King Holiday with us throughout the year and continue to do what is right, as individuals and as a city.

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