Sen. Brown’s Remarks at National Urban League Conference
Last week, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) delivered the
following speech at the National Urban League Conference’s
Education Plenary in Columbus, Ohio.
Sen. Brown’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, follow:
To those of you not fortunate enough to be from Ohio,
welcome to Columbus. I’m thrilled you’ve brought this
conference to our great state.
Thank you to President Drake and Councilmember Hardin for
being here and for being outstanding hosts this week, and
for the great work they’re doing in our city.
The Urban League has a proud history and a strong presence
in Columbus and throughout Ohio. Stephanie Hightower is
doing great things here in Columbus, and my friend and
neighbor, Marsha Mockabee, leads our Cleveland chapter.
All of your work is so important, particularly now.
It’s disheartening that in the United States of America, in
the year 2018, there is still a need to defend the
affirmation that black lives matter.
Too many young black children are being taught by society
that they must put their hands up when they see police,
instead of encouraged to raise their hands in the classroom.
When we say “black lives matter,” we acknowledge the fact
that special attention must be paid to the disparities
between black men and women and their white counterparts,
and the racism that deepens these disparities – in
everything from housing to health care; from access to
credit to job opportunities to criminal justice, and so much
more – including, of course, education.
And we’re committing ourselves to fighting those
Let me tell you story:
A few years ago I was at a MLK Day breakfast on a cold,
snowy morning in Cleveland. One of the speakers said, “Your
life expectancy is connected to your zip code.”
That’s something many of you know all too well in your work,
but that we as a society don’t think enough about.
Whether you grew up in Hilliard or Hilltop, the east side of
Cleveland or Appalachia – your zip code often determines
whether you have access to health care, to quality housing,
to broadband, and to all the social supports necessary to
And more than anything else, it determines whether you have
access to quality education.
Education is a basic human right for every child.
For too long in this country, we haven’t lived up to that
Ohio has been ground zero for the fight to invest in all
schools, in all neighborhoods that serve all our students.
In Ohio, too many for-profit schools are denying students a
quality education and stealing our tax dollars – tax dollars
that should be going to educate Ohio kids in public schools
and public charters that have record of success.
For-profit charters didn’t come out of nowhere – they’re a
product of a decades-long campaign to undermine public
education in this country.
Civil rights groups like the Urban League have fought for
the right to a quality education for decades.
Generations of activists have waged battles in local school
districts and state capitols and in Washington, because they
all understood that public education is one of the greatest
tools we have in this country to provide equal opportunity
to every child.
But instead, we have a Secretary of Education waging an
all-out assault on public education.
This administration’s budget took a hatchet to the
Department of Education, including proposals to eliminate
federal funding for before and after school programs and
professional development for teachers.
And it’s not just funding cuts. It’s attacks on teachers,
and plans to roll back school discipline guidance meant to
protect students of color and students with disabilities.
It’s a higher education agenda that will make it harder for
Americans who don’t come from privileged backgrounds to
access the college education they need to succeed.
And children don’t go to school in a vacuum. Attempts to gut
Medicaid and slash nutrition programs affect education. Kids
can’t learn when they’re hungry, or when they’re sick and
their parents can’t afford insurance.
That’s why your activism matters.
We can’t be discouraged.
I am horrified by what we see coming out of the Department
of Education in Washington, but I’m encouraged when I look
Cincinnati is pioneering an innovative wraparound service
model with its full-service community schools. And I’m
introducing legislation soon to use these schools’ success
as a national model and expand them around the state and the
Ohio’s flagship universities are training a new generation
of teachers to educate students of all backgrounds.
I’m proud Ohio is home to two HBCUs – Wilberforce and
Central State University. I’m member of the Bipartisan HBCU
Caucus and fought to make sure Central State University and
the other 18 1890 land grant universities got a $6 million
increase in funding in the Senate appropriations bill we
passed earlier this week.
Our office is partnering with OSU and communities around
Ohio to expand President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper
mentorship program and make Ohio a national leader.
We continue to build on President Obama’s legacy, despite
this administration’s obsession with tearing it down.
We know the road ahead is long and winding when it comes to
making sure there’s no ceiling on success for all Americans.
That is why your work is so important. Your voice, your
stories, your activism, all make a difference.
Let me close with a story from my friend John Lewis.
John is a hero to so many of us, and he and I were both
co-chairs of the Congressional delegation to Selma in 2015,
to mark the 50th anniversary of the march for voting rights,
across the Edmund Pettis bridge.
On the plane to Selma, he told me a story he had told the
year before, when he gave the commencement address at Ole
John grew up on chicken farm in a little town called Troy,
John said, as a child I saw those signs that said ‘white
men,’ ‘colored men,’ ‘white women,’ ‘colored women,’ ‘white
waiting,’ ‘colored waiting.’
I would come home and ask my mother, my father, my
grandparents, my great-grandparents, ‘Why?’
They would say: ‘That’s the way it is. Don’t get in the way.
Don’t ask questions. Don’t make trouble.’
Then in 1957, at the age of 17, I met Rosa Parks.
In 1958, at the age of 18, I met Martin Luther King Jr., and
they said no, John. Ask questions, get in the way, make
That’s what all of you do – you challenge the status quo,
you go up against powerful special interests, and you make
good, necessary trouble. That’s how we change the country.