At the start of my final year at McClellan High School, I was told that I needed to take a civics class to graduate. Typically, students in the Little Rock School District take civics in 9th grade, but because I attended a private school my freshman year, I had to make up the credit as a senior. Like most high school seniors, I had zero interest in taking a class with ninth-graders. Despite my reluctance, it turned out to be a life-changing experience.
Because I was preparing to vote for the first time, I had a different appreciation for civics than my younger classmates. I learned the importance of voting, but I also began to understand civic responsibility. That understanding developed during college and law school, as it became clear to me that being involved in the growth of my city would require more than just my vote.
Nearly 15 years later, the 2016 Democratic National Convention conjured up memories of my high school civics class. By way of endorsing Hillary Clinton, President Obama gave an amazing address about the state of our country. The president discussed many substantive issues, but in our social media-obsessed society, substantive issues often take a back seat to statements that are no more than 140 characters. After his first mention of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, the crowd started booing. Obama's 15-character response: "Don't boo, vote."
Some have called Obama's remark the call to action the country needs this election. This is only partially true. Our president was correct that we must vote, not just criticize and complain; as I learned in civics, voting is one of the basic responsibilities that we have as American citizens. However, we need to do so much more than vote. Our civic responsibility starts with voting, but it does not end there.
In the words of my favorite rapper, Jay-Z, "It's much bigger issues in the world I know / But I first had to take care of the world I know." When we listen to politicians, read Twitter and watch the news, we are informing ourselves of issues in the world that require our votes, voices and visions. Likewise, there are issues in Central Arkansas — the world we know —that "we have to take care of." One issue in Little Rock that urgently requires our voices and visions is public education.
Over the past year, engagement and awareness of public education in Central Arkansas has to have been near an all-time high. Ironically, this is partly because of the controversy created when the elected local school board was dissolved upon the takeover of the Little Rock School District by the state Board of Education in January 2015. I will not rehash the events and the statistics with which we have all become familiar regarding the LRSD. However, I do want to discuss how it takes more than just our vote to be involved in public education in Little Rock. At this time, voting cannot directly influence the direction of the LRSD. So, if we want to exercise our civic muscles and improve the public schools in our city, then the #StandUp4LR coalition is the place to start.
The #StandUp4LR coalition of community advocates and stakeholders has an overall aim to strengthen support of the LRSD. The coalition recognizes the correlation between a successful public school system that serves the needs of every child and a vibrant city, and fights to ensure Little Rock has both. The coalition is doing awesome work in engaging and educating Little Rock citizens about the LRSD. The coalition has formed committees aimed at building support and engagement for students, parents and teachers. In addition, the coalition recently canvassed the city to spread the word about #StandUp4LR and to sustain the energy displayed throughout the spring and summer. The next big event for the coalition is the back-to-school welcome planned for Aug. 15 at Henderson Middle School. On the first day of school, members of the coalition and others will be there to greet, cheer and show their support for the students, teachers and administrators at Henderson. This event is a great example of why I believe #StandUp4LR and other community groups will continue to increase public involvement in the LRSD. This is the type of impact that goes beyond voting.
Our involvement in public education demonstrates why we must do more than simply vote. So, I will take President Obama's call to action one step further. Don't just vote; let's work.
Antwan Phillips is a lawyer with Wright, Lindsey & Jennings and a member of the #StandUp4LR coalition.