Remembering Julian Bond

When a loss touches you deeply, it becomes difficult to talk about that person, much less write a remembrance in honor of him. Such it is for me with Julian Bond. I should have posted this sooner, but I simply was not ready yet to say my goodbyes.

Now it’s a week after I attended the memorial for him at the King Center, and I have finally found a space amid the sadness where I can reflect and express what his life has meant to me.


Attendees at Julian Bond’s memorial at the King Center on Saturday, Aug. 22, place a wreath into the fountain in memory of the great Civil Rights leader.

For those growing up in Selma like I did, our lives often intersected with those leading and furthering the Civil Rights movement. Over the years growing up there and then living and working in wonderful American capital cities, I have met many of those leaders, and I remember that Julian Bond, in particular, was always and unfailingly humble and nice to members of my family and me.

Because of that, I always paid close attention when I heard Julian Bond’s name in the news. I loved his interview style.

Whether he was leading the Southern Poverty Law Center, the NAACP or serving in the Georgia legislature, Mr. Bond kept the matter of human rights, fairness and justice in the conversation. And he always spoke directly, honestly and succinctly. Not only did he make his stance clear, he crafted it a way that it only made sense to agree with him.

I can’t find the interview on the Internet to give you the link so my memory won’t be perfect, but I remember watching Mr. Bond as he answered critical, piercing questions about his work and legacy – a rapid, seemingly unending grilling on his position ensued. He faced the barrage without flinching. And when asked if the questions made him uncomfortable or would he reconsider his position now, he responded calmly: “No, because we were right.” Doing the right thing at the right time for the right reasons…in my mind, he never missed that mark.

One quote of his has become instructive in my own work: “Violence is black children going to school for 12 years and receiving six years’ worth of education.” That statement still chills me and inspires me to work myself to the bone to do my best for Atlanta Public Schools.

As I move into my second year as superintendent, I maintain that we have an obligation as adults to give all of our children – the next generation of adults – every opportunity, every tool and every chance they need to be better people than we could ever be. That can only happen through access to a quality education.

It wasn’t just Julian Bond’s words and philosophy that influenced me, but his strong sense of conviction in his principles, his work and his legacy.

And so everything I do – and I instruct the entire APS team from our administrators to our teachers to our support staff to do the same – keeps our children forefront and center on any and all matters and all agendas. Today’s children deserve 12 years of quality education that puts them solidly on a path for college and career.

That’s what I hope to exhibit in my tenure here in Atlanta – that same direct, unapologetic conviction Julian Bond conveyed so perfectly resulting in an untiring public service to his fellow man so that the world will be a better place for our children.

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