WASHINGTON D.C. — Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa made an impassioned plea for addressing educational disparities among Hispanic and African-American children Sunday, saying the nation owed as much to the legacy of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Villaraigosa spoke at the Third Annual America’s Sunday Supper Series – a luncheon hosted by the Points of Light, foundation, Target, and the Corporation for National and Community Service. The series, part of the festivities leading up to President Barack Obama‘s second inaugural, consists of “community gatherings” designed to foster discussion of key issues among community and thought leaders.
Sunday’s gathering was moderated by MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry and featured a keynote addresses by former secretary of state General Colin Powell and Alma Powell, as well as presentations by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson, National Urban League‘s Marc Morial, and representatives of groups like Americorps, Strive Network, National Council of La Raza, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Corporation for National and Community Service.
Villaraigosa talked about his own efforts to reform the schools in the Watts and East Los Angeles neighborhoods in his city, saying “we went from 33 percent failing schools to 10 percent, by saying those kids were worth it.” He cited statistics showing considerably higher drop-out rates among Hispanic and African-American children as a crisis the nation must address, not just for economic reasons, but as a matter of “national security.”
Calling education the civil rights issue of our time, and the national security issue of our time, Villaraigosa called himself a product of affirmative action — adding that “some people say I got in through the back door. I tell them I sure went out through the front.”
And touching on Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy, the mayor said it is incumbent on every American “to not sit back, to not look at ‘way back when,'” with regard to King’s work, “but to do what he would do.”