The new Civil Rights movement– it’s all in the numbers

In the 1960s, Dr. Robert Moses, Harlem-born and Harvard-educated, helped begin the Civil Rights movement with the Freedom Riders, who went South to organize communities to protect and exercise their fundamental right to vote. Fifty years later, he’s on a new battlefield, organizing the poorest communities in America to establish their right to a quality education– starting with math.

The Algebra Project began as Moses’ Fulbright project at one school in Cambridge, Massachusetts and has now expanded to hundreds of middle and high schools across the country, including 450 students in a single Brooklyn high school. As a lifelong community organizer, Moses’s first priority is to canvass home to home and church to church, to find out what the people want from their schools and provide the context in which students, schools, parents and communities can take ownership of their own community-building and reform efforts.

AP students mentoring elementary school children.

Then the kids go to work. In cohorts of about 25, students commit to spending 5 days a week, 90 minutes a day (plus 6 weeks every summer) in intensive, accelerated math programs designed to fully prepare them for college math—and life. The results are simply extraordinary, as Joan Wynne, Director of Community Relations in the College of Education at Florida International University discovered. “I took my class of educators to see the Algebra Project kids from the poorest school in Mississippi– and they just astounded us with their knowledge of math, articulate presentation, confidence and poise.” At that moment, Wynn decided that somehow she was going to work with Moses in the future – and a few years later, she made it happen, bringing Moses down to FIU to start an Algebra Project in Miami.

The goal is college!

In the Algebra Project, teachers learn best practices they can use in the classroom & students teach others and act as mentors. Every AP student is prepared for every standardized test and admissions hoop until they leave for college (just like every wealthy suburban student), thus ensuring what Moses believes is nothing less than a constitutional right: a quality public school education. Wynne explains it this way: “If kids don’t learn math, they can’t get into college. They can’t be full citizens and will be essentially disenfranchised from participating fully in our technology-driven society. And that is discrimination of the most insidious sort.”

AP student "mapping" his neighborhood for a social justice summer school project.

In America today, only 54% of urban students graduate from high school compared to 71% in the suburbs. In Cleveland, it’s 38% city kids compared to 80% in the suburbs; in Baltimore, it’s 41% vs. 81%. Clearly, the poor students are getting left behind – and it’s not just terribly unfair, it consigns America to a dim future compared with the rest of the world. As for the idea that it’s simply too complex to fix our substandard public schools? In her thick-as-honey southern accent, Wynne answers cheerfully: “Education isn’t rocket science. Whenever American has the will to educate all of its children, we can do it. The Algebra Project, working in the poorest and most disadvantaged communities, has proven it’s possible. “

The visionary Dr. Robert Moses

My $100 today goes to the Algebra Project and Dr. Moses for a lifetime of organizing for social improvement. And for holding onto the dream and proving that when people work together for change, it can happen. Even in math! To join me, click here!

4 thoughts on “The new Civil Rights movement– it’s all in the numbers

  1. This post makes me think of one of my favorite movies, Stand and Deliver. I love hearing about people who have accomplished something after being told repeatedly that they can’t. The Algebra Project is a glimmer of hope. Thank you for sharing it.

  2. Betty! This is wonderful. You did such a great job describing The Algebra Project. However I especially love the way you described my mama’s ‘thick-as-honey southern accent.’

    Your site, your actions make me happy every day when I read about them. Thank you for your efforts & energy! Much love, Catharine

  3. Betty – I continue to be amazed at the wonderful organizations you find for your $100 a day donation. The Alegra Project is one more in a long string of great causes, all worth supporting. You are helping expand our vision and our reach.


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