Civil rights leader the Rev. Al Sharpton demanded educational equality at a rally Tuesday evening in front of Brookside Elementary School. Sponsored by the NAACP, the rally was as about much the broad issue of inequity as it was about the case of Tanya McDowell, the single mother from Bridgeport who was arrested in April for sending her son to a Norwalk school.
“Education is the civil rights issue of our time,” said Sharpton. “Every child should have the right to a quality education.”
Against a festive background with music and a youth drill team playing drums, Sharpton spoke to a crowd of about 300 people who came from as far as Hartford to show their support for McDowell. The crowd was filled with teenagers wearing white NAACP T-shirts and holding signs saying “Education not Criminalization.”
The Connecticut State Conference of NAACP Branches President Scot X Esdaile, who organized the event, pointed at Brookside Elementary behind him. “This is a beautiful school. Isn’t that right? Every child should be able to go to a school like this one.”
Later Tuesday evening, Sharpton was scheduled to deliver a eulogy at the funeral of actress Clarice Taylor, the grandmother on "The Cosby Show." He made room in his schedule to attend the rally because he knew young leaders were attending. “This is about you,” he told the crowd. “This is not about race but about the future.”
Sharpton said he didn’t know the specifics of McDowell’s criminal case. But he said, “What’s important is not the past of the mother but the future of the child. “ He said McDowell’s 5-year-old son had become the “pawn of politics.”
But many people at the rally were familiar with McDowell’s case. Khadijah Ansari, 21, of Hartford, said she felt compelled to attend the event. “If we don’t come out now, we are going to see these types of arrests happening again and again,“ she said.
Darnell Crosland, McDowell’s attorney, who appeared in court with McDowell earlier in the day, did not shy from speaking about the case. “This is about the equal administration of justice in this town,” he told the rally. Crosland questioned why McDowell was arrested when 26 other out-of-district families were simply asked to leave without prosecution or restitution. McDowell's arrest was initiated by the Norwalk Housing Authority and Police Department, not the school district.
From Norwalk, NAACP officer Shirley Mosby, a former member of the Board of Education, also spoke. Norwalk council members Carvin Hilliard and Travis Simms as well as Democratic Town Chair Marc Bradley were introduced to the crowd. Town Clerk and mayoral candidate Andy Garfunkel also attended.
McDowell took the stage briefly at the end. “If you ask me, I’d do it all over again. I didn’t do anything wrong.”
To watch video of Sharpton's speech, click here.
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