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Opinion: The End of Busing?

Does the Mayor's recent State of The City speech signify the end of busing? Or does the word "busing" itself hinder the process for the ultimate goal of better schools?

In history, a handful of phrases have conjured such hostility as to forever alter their original, mundane meaning. In Boston, we have "bussing,"—or "forced busing" if you will.

The city cannot progress forward with this same failed system in place. Supposing the factors around busing now are different than they were in the 70's when Judge Garrity made his infamous decision, is it possible to correct the mistakes made in yesteryear regarding this original decision? 

I believe we can, but we must study history, or we will repeat the same mistakes.

The philosophy, the purpose behind busing is something I wholeheartedly support. Segregated school systems and/or underfunded programs and schools in minority districts are not only unfair, but unethical and against every principal this country was founded under. 

However, the "forced" component as well as the basic fact that this decision essentially pitted poor neighborhoods and families against one another is the original sin we must try and undo. Families from Roxbury were forced to share resources with families from Charlestown, who in many cases, were just as poor and just as underprivileged as them.

In history, many emperors and kings have employed a strategy of divide and conquer. This strategy can be summed up like this; Let the poor and uninformed kill each other over policies not decided or enacted by them, but by others who will remain unharmed by the carnage that will transpire. 

This is exactly what happened with busing. A decision was made and enacted by people who had zero vested interest or understanding of what would actually happen. They lacked understanding because they never truly understood the actual people it would affect. Do you think Judge Garrity really understood the plight of those living in Roxbury? Of course not, but I know who did. The people living in Charlestown and other supposedly 'different' neighborhoods through out the city. 

The reason for this is simple: The plight of poor families from neighborhoods like Charlestown was similar to those of families from Roxbury. In addition, people who grew up in neighborhoods like Roxbury and Charlestown have far more in common than they or others may think. Growing up in the city, then or now, is an experience that can only be shared by those who actually have done or are doing it. The commonality between a kid from Roxbury and a kid from Charlestown is strikingly similar if people cared to truly examine it.

Speaking from experience, I always felt more kinship with other kids from Boston, regardless of skin color of skin, than I did with other "white" kids from the suburbs. Kids from other Boston neighborhoods dealt with the same privileges and heartache that I did growing up in Boston. Although I came from a great family and attended a private school, the brotherhood I felt with other kids from Boston was always strong. Just like kids from Roxbury, I had friends who went to jail and knew of many other's who came from broken homes and saw the devastating effects that it can have—not only on that child, but on the community as a whole.

The same is true of kids who will grow up in Boston today.

Consider this: Does Donnie Walberg from New Kids On The Block, have more in common with Michael Bivins from New Edition, (both born and bread in Boston) or Barbra Streisand? I'll let you ponder the absurdity of that statement.

So how does this help change our school policy of busing and alter the insane system based on a lottery, where there are winners and losers and institute neighborhood schools? By uniting and understanding that we are all fighting for the same purpose: a chance to give our children a good education without bias or unfairness and recognizing our commonality that transcends race and economics.

In the Mayor's recent state of the city speech, he boldly declared that "You have to start by recognizing the current policy is a failure. Unfortunately, many view this policy as helping our poorest underserved children. But the reality is this policy hurts the vast majority of children from every walk of life because it puts our kids in a lottery were we have winners and losers. We need to accept a plan that will create quality schools in every neighborhood, and part of doing that is going to schools closer to home and investing resources in community-based learning.

I applaud the Mayor's leadership and his calculation that he uniquely has the political capital to initiate this process. But, the Mayor is only one aspect of this fight. Without the support of people within all of the neighborhoods throughout Boston, nothing will change and people will fight amongst one another again.  For this policy shift to be successfully employed, we must envision ourselves as one Boston, with a common purpose and a common fight.

Let us not repeat history and turn this into an ugly race war that simply divides and creates further hostilities. Let us look beyond color and historical perception and realize that a single mother in Roxbury is exactly the same as a single mother in Charlestown. Both woman are strong, fearless and desire the best for their children.

Neighborhood schools can become a reality. The only question now is, can we actually unite and pull it off?

About this column: The view on politics, sports and social issues from the edge of Bunker Hill. Read more of Jack's work at http://coffeewithcaesar.com.

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