Tuesday, June 14, 2011

D.C.'s Big Loss

D.C.'s loss is Arkansas' gain. That's the only way we can describe the departure of Virginia Walden Ford from the District of Columbia after 30 years of advocating for low-income kids here. Virginia is going home to Little Rock at the end of July, and we'll sure miss her.

Last night, we joined Speaker John Boehner, Senator Joe Lieberman, Mayor Anthony Williams, Mayor Marion Barry, former Councilman Kevin P. Chavous, and Juan Williams in celebrating Virginia's legacy of revitalizing education for D.C. kids. 

Virginia at one of the many rallies she attended
in order to save the D.C. voucher program.
The most important attendees last night, though (with all due respect, of course, to our legislative champions!), were the children who've benefited from Virginia's tireless work. These children, all participants in the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, spoke of their hopes for great jobs and bright futures. These bright futures were made possible because these kids have the opportunity to escape failing, unsafe schools and use school vouchers to attend some of the District's finest private schools. 

Virginia is nothing short of a miracle worker, a single mom who conceptualized this program, fought for it, continued the fight even after a presidential veto in the 1990s, and never backed down from doing what was right even in the face of opposition, harassment, condescension, or disrespect. She's the type of person who will do anything to win a victory for kids—whether that means wearing her knees out by walking the marble floors of the Capitol with parents for days on end…or making rally signs with friends at her home…or debating on MSNBC, she's always on top of her game. 

Now, if you ask Virginia, she'll eschew this type of recognition and credit. She'd argue, and rightly so, that it was an army of parents—a truly grassroots army—who won the fight for D.C. school choice (and, by the way, won a three-year battle, this year, to see that program reauthorized). She's right, but we know that any effective army needs a strong leader. And Virginia Walden Ford is the portrait of strength. 

In a month or so, Virginia's headed back home now to Arkansas, but she's not retiring. She'll continue the fight for educational equality in the same place where her own journey began, as one of the first children to integrate Little Rock Central High School. And we know what that means: Arkansas' bureaucrats better watch out. 

- American Federation for Children | Alliance for School Choice, ARC

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