Harrietta and Virginia Fowler graduating from Little Rock’s Central High School.

On the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, Heritage visiting fellow Virginia Walden Ford shares her personal message about how education can make a huge difference in a person’s life.

One of the first black students to attend Little Rock’s Central High School after desegregation, Ford explains how King continues to inspire her fight for school choice:

This week, we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. My own journey—to provide an opportunity for quality education for all children—began in Little Rock, Arkansas. It continued in Washington, D.C., and has now brought me full circle back to Little Rock to stand with parents so that all children can have the chance for a great education.

In 1957, Little Rock’s Central High School became the center of the struggle for educational opportunity. Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus had blocked black students from entering Central High. President Eisenhower sent in soldiers from 101st Airborne to escort nine black students to their school. The controversy continued, and the school closed the following year.

A few years later, my twin sister and I were among the first black students to enter Central High in the wake of the controversy. My father became the first black assistant superintendent of the Little Rock public school system.

The pursuit of educational excellence and opportunity runs deep in my family.

Years later, as a mother living in Washington, D.C., I became involved in the fight for school choice in our nation’s capital. A private scholarship became a lifeline for my son, and I wanted other families to have the same opportunity. In 2003, that dream became a reality with the passage of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (DCOSP).

Rereading “I Have a Dream,” the speech that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered on August 28, 1963, I thought of my days at Central High and how that option made such a big difference in my life. It was an incredible school that offered the tools I needed to move forward successfully.

In the years I have fought for educational freedom for American children, much of Dr. King’s speech has resonated in my mind. This week, as we remember how proud we all were that day, I have reaffirmed my commitment to school choice and call on all Americans to do the same.

Do you think school choice can help Americans from all walks of live advance their dreams?

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