American Journey; 104
Oh yeh, I'm angry. You know James Baldwin said that any black who is relatively conscious, relatively, he didn't say fully just a little bit conscious, is always in a constant state of ready. And I'm more than a little bit conscious. I'm very conscious and I am definitely, always in a state of rage. Because there's so many things I see that's not right. There's so much has gone on that we need to be standing up and fightin' and so I do my part. But I know one thing, people can always say, Polly Williams sure always out there fightin'. Now I'll probably stay this way. [music]
This state don't provide the equal education for all its kids equally. [music] [music] [music] [music] [George H Bush speaking] It's no surprise to me that Wisconsin is the scene of the one of the most interesting experiments in education reform or that Tommy Thompson's the catalyst for change. Tommy's told me about the Milwaukee choice program. Starting next school year nearly 1000 underprivileged kids from Milwaukee's inner city schools are going to have a chance to attend the private nonsectarian school of their choice with the state
[applause] with the state supplying their share of tax dollars for for tuition. Tommy found an ally in his fight for Milwaukee choice in a former welfare mother and Democrat named Polly Williams a woman who'd heard a lifetime's worth of worn out excuses on what's wrong with our schools. [applause] What I want to do is to make, to try to save as many children as I can, to educate as many children as as we can. That was my focus for the choice is to educate children that are not being educated. Now that's my main, my main concern with the students that are not been educated, not if in getting those children educated that the Milwaukee public schools will get better. That's great but I'm not out to destroy the public school system. That is not my main target. My target is to keep them from destroying, continue to
destroy our children and basically most of whom are African-American children. White parents will not allow their kids to be mistreated the way black children are being mistreated now on this issue. Don't they have the right to say that they don't want their child on a bus? Everything that I've done up until now was moving toward getting this bill passed. It's a bill that empowers low income families. We're given a grant from the state. The 2500 dollars that the state of Wisconsin, uh, the state share that we give to all students in the city of Milwaukee is 2500 dollars. So what we're doing at the state is giving other parents the option to take that 2500 dollar grant and go and purchase education outside of the public school system. In recent months Representative Williams has renewed focus on the issue of choice in education in the city of Milwaukee as well as gain national attention on the issue. The Milwaukee public school system has about approximately 100,000 students.
The largest school district in the state of Wisconsin. Of those, of those students, we have approximately 31,000 children are protected, a predominately black children are riding in buses every morning in the city of Milwaukee. 31,000 thousand children. And they're riding the buses because there is no seat for them, because there's no place for that child in their neighborhood, close to the family. And we're also under court order here in the city of Milwaukee. And the court order they say is why they have to do this to our children. That the court order says that we have to desegregate the schools and the way they did that was to put all these black children on the bus. Parents say OK I'll suffer that if at the end of that ride my child is gonna be
educated. We know we have to suffer and struggle for it whatever we get so we'll, I'll do that. I'll put my child on the bus for the sake of education. But it didn't happen. There was no education at the end of that bus ride. I want the prime factorization for this and the prime factorization of that. Prime factorization. You're supposed to know the definition. I was one of those parents who refused to put my child on the bus when the order came down because I knew integration had nothing to do with education. I knew that and I also would not accept the fact that the only way my child can learn is that they must sit next to a white child. So and I feel like a child to be educated no matter where they live. I feel that no matter what color they are. I feel that no matter what the neighborhood I feel that because I have a single parent you can still learn.
We don't want integration. We don't want integration as a condition of education. [teacher talking in classroom of students] These alternative schools have a 98 percent graduation rate. 98 percent. [teacher talking in classroom of students] [teacher talking in classroom of students]. And 90 percent of these kids all go on to higher education. Milwaukee public schools: exact opposite. [classroom sounds] We believe that every child can learn if given the opportunity and that's what they do in those alternative schools. And that's why we have this bill. And we were talking empowering parents. That's what we're about. The only way we're going to get the change of
problems in the schools. Parents have got to be involved. Parents have got to make those decisions. Parents know what's best for their children. [music] [unclear] [singing] Happy birthday to you. [cheering] You know now that I think about it wasn't that bad because we lived in a little segregated little town. We lived in you know all black people lived in one part of town and the white people lived in the other part of town. But we were um it was okay in terms of the fact that we had all of us all of the neighbors everybody
was like family. But we were poor very very poor. Our parents worked ah work in the fields, you know. Chop cotton, pick cotton. I was poor and everyone else in the neighborhood was poor so it didn't make that much of a difference to me except my sisters and brother I think have problems with it. It was a pride thing for them, uh, but but with me you know I am I was a kid and I was poor I knew it, you know, but it didn't matter because everyone else was too that we hung out with. We went to private schools. Of course I was in Urban Day, one of the schools that's involved in the choice program. Urban Day I think is responsible for molding me and for me being the way I am today outside of what my mother has given me. And you're in law school right now? I'm in law school, second year law student. I have a lot of her characteristics very assertive,
aggressive when necessary. It makes you feel unworthy and that something is wrong with you and your low life. But I was on it for a while and but luckily I had a job that I could always go back to. And so it wasn't like it was a dead end thing for me and but my kids didn't like it and didn't like the idea that when that check came in with a pink envelope you know with the pink check peering through the cellophane and the food stamps and things like that and they didn't go shopping with me. If it were not for the local black press in Milwaukee, you know I pick up the paper and I'm always seeing myself depicted very negative sometimes you know like with a gun in my hand. Robbing
a poor public schools. You know, that was the most the most ridiculous picture you could have painted about me. Of all the ways to depict what I did that certainly wasn't what I've done is pick up a gun. I've never had a gun in my hand in my life. [State Superintendent of Public Instruction Herbert Grover] It's absolute panic response to the fact that the children in that urban educational condition in America are not making it. Who are the children in that urban educational condition? What kind of deprivation have they come from? What kind of employment is there for their parents?
What kind of racial isolation takes place that surrounds these children? Essentially the proposal we have in Milwaukee is one that will spend 2.5 million dollars to further racially isolate black minority children. So he does not like this program because it gives the parents power. And he doesn't have the power. Well he's had up until now and he didn't do a very good job. So now it's into the parents. Let's see what you can do. Let's see if you can do better than a state superintendent and find a good school that'll really educate your children. [teacher in classroom] Imagination. [teacher in classroom] So that's what I want you to do, use your imagination. The purposes of the common school in America are fundamentally to civilize our people and then engage us in a common social contract about rights responsibilities and privileges and opportunities. And when we start to harbor together differently
around associational add mix that isolates us from each other. We, we're going to have trouble down the line in terms of the American culture and the American lifestyle. There was never any doubt in my mind that we would we would see the September 4th and the children would be coming in.
I knew we would. I just knew it. Look at the children. Look at the historic, look at the history makers, look at these babies walking to freedom. I mean you can't believe that, you know. This is beautiful. And these are children that can't learn, parents don't care. You know we don't need to waste any resources on 'em. Look at what they have allowed to slip through their fingers. There'll be no excuse for Milwaukee public schools from now on to say that they can't educate low income children. And all my kids are products of this school. They all graduated from this school. As Urban Day goes so goes the nation. Y'all young men know that you're going to carry this with a lot of pride and dignity. Everybody's going to be looking and watching y'all because we know y'all going to do right [unclear]. Y'all gonna be the best.
I have a purpose. I want to feel that we have a purpose in life and we also always want to feel that we have made a difference. And as we travel through this life. You know everybody wants us to be able to say that I've left something you know back and then I've done something good. Well I can die happy now. This is the one thing I always wanted to do was make a difference and I think I have.
I've had to give up a lot already but I've retained just enough to keep my interest and to keep me busy. [Jerry Allen Smith] I'm not on the road seven days a week any more and performing every night or teaching every day. I can't do that anymore but I've got just enough to keep me happy or keep me going. A lot of my musician friends are all gone now. A lot of mine are sick but it's you know like acting like ballet or like a lot of musical fields, umm and I don't want to ah stereotype or anything, but there are a lot of gays involved with the fine arts. So we just see it amongst ourselves a lot.
I have a little information slip for ya. Are you registering as a team or individually? Individual. Okay. It's just happened to have been the majority of gays have gotten it but a lot of people don't realize is, for instance over in Africa and most parts of Europe, it's a heterosexual disease. Men and women, straights, gays, old people, young people, the little kids, the dogs everything everybody that's walking here today shows that Milwaukee is a caring city and is really opening up to be more aware of the AIDS epidemic. Four years ago next month four years ago April. Had you been sick? Yeah but it wasn't anything related to that.
They did take me down to the hospital and did some more extensive testing. Then they did the routine blood work and they just happened to do an HIV test only because the doctor suspected that I was gay. And then things went downhill from there because this particular doctor had a bedside manner of an aardvark. Literally. You know, he signed my death certificate for me that day. That was four years ago. Although it's inevitable it's going to be terminal at one point or another. They're coming up with all these new drugs and everything that are giving us quality life and a longer life extending that. When the first aides cases came
out people were diagnosed HIV positive and were dead within six months. I've been here four years already. And that was a job I just did to get a contract renewed. Because they found out you had AIDS? Yep. Isn't that illegal? Technically now you know, because a lot of state
laws and a lot of federal laws don't apply to churches. Did you get angry? Angry at people's reactions, angry at the lack of compassion. Angry at the bigotry. I've experienced a lot of that. People who call themselves Christians turn around and tell you now that this is God's punishment now and you deserve it. So here's people who are supposed to be loving. The same God made all of us and all of a sudden they're better than I am.
But most important of all let each step of this walk be a step for dignity and justice and against prejudice and discrimination. Through the Wisconsin AIDS walk we affirm today that AIDS is no longer a lonely stigmatized disease but it is an epidemic that affects people from all walks of life who deserve dignity and respect and who have our total commitment and support. [Applause] [Applause] [voices in crowd] I didn't have any doubt that we have a good turnout and of course beautiful day like it is today helps too. It's nice to know that there's people out there that care but this is only maybe 2500 of
them. We've got a million people here we've got to reach out to. We're just on the tip of the iceberg now. And it's going to explode yet. Wisconsin is just sitting on a time bomb and we've got to get the word out there. [people talking] [piano] The first time I came here I didn't come alone and I recommended my friends you know, and I've seen it not to come alone.
It's heavy. It is. The pictures are very graphic. I've seen all this happen to my friends already. And, I don't know if it's what I have to look forward to or not. You take something like this here. Just a simple thing like taking care of your own personal things in the bathroom and just doing things for yourself whether it's just shaving or washing up. Umm, for a lot of people it's real difficult. I'm a naturally shy person when it comes to certain things and I would rather be able to do it myself. You get to a certain point with disease and you're feeding the virus in you not feeding yourself. The viruses taking all the
nourishment. And that's what happens with something like this. We call it the wasting sickness. The body just totally wastes away to nothing. A lot of the pictures seem the same but the disease is as individual with each one of these pictures as it is with each one of everybody who's infected. [organ music] One of the sayings that have come about through all of this is we're sick and tired of being sick and tired. I say that with a smile because we gotta have something in your life to laugh at no matter you know what the outcome is going to
- American Journey
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