|Talking school choice in New Orleans with
school-choice heroine Virginia Walden Ford
Virginia Walden Ford was one of the first black students to attend Central High School in Little Rock after desegregation.
"My own journey — to provide an opportunity for quality education for all children — began in Little Rock, Arkansas," she recalls.
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.Mrs. Walden Ford is a founding member of the Black Alliance for Educational Options and the author of Voices, Choices, and Second Chances: How to Win the Battle to Bring Opportunity Scholarships to Your State. I'm pleased to say that we have brought such scholarships — whether state-funded or privately funded — to the state of Oklahoma on a limited basis. But we still have a long way to go to ensure that every child in Oklahoma has an opportunity to receive an effective education that prepares them for life.