But what was just as striking to me is the announcements that were not made this week. Mark Zuckerberg did not show up in the Mississippi Delta to give the keynote at the Clarksdale Municipal School District's annual convocation. The Gates Foundation did not announce a partnership with Greene County (NC) Schools in an effort to redesign small town schools. Even writing those felt weird. They're so unlikely as to seem absurd.
If we make the assumption that all lives have inherently equal value, then we must acknowledge that there is something amiss. If you're a poor kid growing up in New Orleans, you have at least have a shot at attending a good school. If you're in Itta Bena, MS; the odds are much, much less favorable. And yet, the lives of both children matter equally; we should treat them as such.
And where exactly are the children with the greatest need for a great school? The small town South. In the United States, there are one hundred eleven counties where more than 50% of children live in poverty. Of those one hundred eleven, seventy-eight are in the South (highlighted below).
Source: Measure of America
This is just the latest revolution in a lengthy cycle, a cycle with no foreseeable end. Those counties are exclusively rural. Not a single one is within forty five minutes of a major metro area. There is no hospital with an excellent emergency room. There is no magnet school to apply to. In many places, there's not even a grocery store. It may sound insane, but that's the inescapable reality for tens of thousands of children.
As a society, we value connectivity, knowledge, and novelty; it should come as no surprise that counties like those above have slowly receded from our consciousness. Or that we look cross-eyed at people who say things like "I work for a KIPP school in Helena, AR," or "I'd love to start a mobile health unit in Plymouth, NC."
It is time for a coherent, regional effort to address these issues. It's the same problem across the region; we should treat it as such and get to work.
It's time to destroy these notions and mindsets of what is valued and where we should therefore focus our energy.
It's time to quit trying to make heaps of money or design the next great app or score the next great status job and do something about this.
So here's our focal point: the oldest of those children growing up in poverty will graduate from high school in 2025. I have some ideas. I'm sure you do, too. And I'm certain that the folks living in these areas do. So why wait? Let's do something about this.