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I figured that I would share an update to the case of Kelley Williams-Bolar, the mother of two who was given jail time for sending her kids to a school outside of their home district.  This week, Williams-Bolar met with both Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rev. Al Sharpton about her case, appearing with me and her attorney on Rev. Jackson’s show this past week.  Rev. Sharpton and I are planning a rally for Kelley in Ohio soon, but the rally is not focused on just one person.  Instead, the focal point is on the educational system in its entirety and why there are millions of moms across America being forced to break the law in order to help their children get access to a quality education.

I heard about Kelley’s case through one of my Facebook friends.  Her case had been in court for years with no resolution, and not enough people had heard about what this woman was going through.  I wrote about Kelley’s case in a few venues and called national media contacts, hoping that this important issue could be brought forth for public discussion.  I am not in the business of doing individual crusades when it comes to the criminal justice system, since I don’t have the resources to help with every case that comes across my email inbox.  I get several cases in my email every single day, and while I wish I could help everyone, it’s impossible without significant amounts of funding (I still have my day job, so I’m certainly not in this game for the money).  I chose to grab Kelley’s case because it has clear national implications about a failed public school system that continues to destroy the futures of our children on a regular basis.  In fact, I dare say that if the only person who is helped in all this is Kelley Williams-Bolar, then we have failed ourselves, our children and our country.

The key point to carry away from the case of Kelley Williams-Bolar is that inequality must be directly confronted in our society and seen for what it is: a blatant violation of the human rights of African American people.  Kelley’s case was a microcosm of three forms of inequality that affect all of us:  Economic inequality, educational inequality and inequality in the criminal justice system.  Being black means that Kelley is far more likely (statistically-speaking) to have been born poor, which affects her ability to live in a district with an adequate school system.  It also means that she would not be as likely as a white person to be able to pay expensive lawyers in drawn-out legal battles, increasing her probability of conviction.  Finally, being black gives Kelley a greater likelihood of being incarcerated for the same crimes that a judge might overlook if she were a middle class white woman.  In some ways, Kelley Williams-Bolar is the Rosa Parks of our generation:  She broke an unjust law in order to do what is right for her family, and as a result, millions of Americans might benefit.

We will be holding the rally in Ohio next week (the dates will be announced on my blog once we get details from relevant parties).  At this point, and have gathered over 100,000 signatures to their petitions, and they are going to partner with us at the rally to present these signatures to the governor of Ohio to request a formal pardon for Kelley.  Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. is working to secure a Constitutional Amendment to guarantee all children access to an equal and high quality education.  I will personally continue to seek the input of members of the Congressional Black Caucus, the Obama Administration, the Justice Department and the Department of Education to work on long-term remedies at the federal level.  The goal is not for this case to be a significant moment in time, but to ensure that we make this moment last forever.

The Kelley Williams-Bolar case is going to affect all of our children and grandchildren, so none of us should be on the sidelines.  If we want to fulfill the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King, we must be willing to fight.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University and founder of the Your Black World Coalition.  For more information, please visit


Jailing a mother for sending kids to wrong school district?

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