Member voice: Called to action at NEA RA in Atlanta, seat of civil rights and social justice


Article and photos by Tracey Pratt

Tracey Pratt is a 6th grade Math Co-teacher at the Cambridge Street Upper School in Cambridge, MA and a proud member of the Massachusetts Teacher’s Association. She has been teaching in public schools in the District of Columbia and in Cambridge, MA for the past 14 years. Ms.Pratt is a proponent of using equity and social justice school reform to close the racial and economic achievement gap. She has worked tirelessly on many Education Votes campaigns to ensure equity for all public school students.

Take Action ›

Keep up to date on all the latest political and education news with the weekly EdVotes email. Click here ›

On July 2nd I had the pleasure of traveling with our Massachusetts Delegation to visit the Jimmy Carter Center and the Martin Luther King Center here in Atlanta. What I expected to be just an afternoon of sightseeing quickly became quite an educational experience and took me on an unbelievable emotional roller coaster ride. Hop in your seat, fasten your seatbelt and join me as I take you on this ride.

My slow assent began as we entered the parking lot of the Carter Center. The beautiful grounds including the rose garden and reflecting pool were awesome to behold. When we entered the Carter Center building we saw a film about the life of Jimmy Carter. His story moved me in a way that I hadn’t expected. I thought I knew President Carter’s story but as it turned out, I didn’t know it at all. I was left with a new found respect for President Carter and a restored belief that anything is possible with perseverance and belief. I walked away from the Carter Center feeling appreciative and enthused about the ongoing work of Jimmy Carter.

pratt3The pinnacle of my roller coaster ride took place on Auburn Avenue at the Martin Luther King Center and Historic Sights. I visited both the old and New Ebenezer Baptist Church. When I walked into the old church, my stomach began to turn. I felt that I was walking on sacred ground. I entered the sanctuary and felt compelled to sit. As I sat, my emotions began to stir as I contemplated the fact that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached here. Both his father and grand father preached here. Four innocent girls were killed here simply because of hate and refusal to change. The civil rights movement was born here. After I left the sanctuary, I walked through the rest of the old church. With each step, I felt greater and greater anticipation that I was about to encounter something greater than myself.

I left the old church and walked across the street to the new church and the MLK Center. Again I watched a short film on the life of Dr. King. This time I knew the story; however as I watched the film, an extraordinary thought hit me. “What if?” What if Dr. King decided to be an ordinary preacher? What if he chose not to take up the civil rights and social issues in his community and in our country? What if he wasn’t a dreamer? After the film, I walked back across the street to the place where Dr. King and his wife are laid to rest. I began to feel an overwhelming sense of sadness. He was 39 years old when he died. In his short life, he accomplished so much. He did what he was called to do. He made a difference.

PrattMLKAs my roller coaster ride came to an end, I was left feeling a sense of urgency about my own “what ifs” as a person, a teacher and a member of the NEA. What if I’m not working hard enough? What if I’m not making sure my voice is heard by the right people? What if I’m not speaking loud enough about equity and social justice? We are ALL dreamers and we have to do that extraordinary work to make our dreams a reality for ourselves, our communities and the students we serve.

Reader Comments

  1. There is nothing like visiting a place of history. Tracey, you let this trip inspire you. You will bring this experience back to your classroom to share with your students. Back home in September, your students will feel what you learned and will be motivated to keep the flame of hope still burning.
    You make me proud that you are a MTA member. Thanks for showing that a teacher never stops learning.

  2. How is “social justice” defined today? In the past, this included a human right to food, shelter and medical care for the unemployed/unemployable, but that’s no longer true.

    1. Hi DH,
      I have to say that I believe that social justice today encompasses all you mentioned and more. Everything you mentioned deals with issues of equity. I do know that when I’m speaking of social justice I am speaking about fair and equitable access to education. You spoke of food and shelter. If students don’t have food and shelter, the are academically at a disadvantage. That is absolutely a social justice issue.

  3. i am so proud to see the young woman that you have become and as always enjoy your articles
    your mother

  4. Tracy Pratt,

    Thank you so much for taking the time to post this article and share your experience. Your words are uplifting for all of us to join together in doing something that will make life fair for ALL people. This is important if we want to be strong as a nation.

    I stand with you in trying to make a positive change.

    Trisha Lewis

    1. Thank you, Tracy, for sharing your powerful experience and reflections. I have no doubt you have & will continue making a positive difference with your students & family, in your school and community. You demonstrate that teachers keep learning and working to improve their teaching all year round 🙂

  5. I really enjoued reading about your travels.I also experienced some of your same emotions and self reflections during my visit to the Martin Luther King memorial.I enjoyed our conversation during lunch,and i will continue to stay in contact with you in the future regarding the issues that we discussed earlier.thank you for making my lunch recess a memorable one.

    1. Thank you Trisha.

      Thanks Michael, nice to meet you also. And Stacey as well. Together we can make a difference.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *