Fighting Forward: American Federation of Teachers Union National Convention

 By Clarence J. Fluker
Guest Commentary

On the second day of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Union national convention, one of the speakers to receive the most applause was Asean Johnson, an elementary school student from the Southside of Chicago, Illinois. The small 10-year-old brings a booming voice to the discourse around public education and issues facing African American boys and girls in cities across the United States.

Johnson rose to notoriety in the past several years being an outspoken advocate in the fight to keep a number of public school doors open in Chicago and demand equitable resource allocation to schools in low income and traditionally troubled neighborhoods. In 2013, Johnson was the youngest speaker at the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.

In his address to over 2,700 AFT convention delegates and guests, Johnson noted that a year after his experience at the March on Washington that he is little bit taller, a little bit older and a lot more determined to fight forward. “Education is our right, that is why we have to fight!,” he urged, raising his clenched fist in the air and inviting the audience to join him. For everyone who believes in supporting fair education opportunities for all children, particularly in underserved communities, his goal is to take the fight to every city in America.

Johnson was not at this large convention alone of course, he was accompanied by his proud mother Shoniece Reynolds and 16-year-old model big brother, Krisean.

Ms. Reynolds describes herself as a mother that is humbly proud of her two sons, both of whom maintain great grades and remain engaged in community activities while attending public schools in one of the most socially and economically depressed areas of Chicago. Her sons give her “a sense of hope that the futures of those who might not be privileged can rise above it,” The question, she says, isn’t “Where are the parents?,” but instead, “where are our elected officials who have the power to make change in our community?” She is ever present supporting her sons and black boys that look like him throughout the nation.

Older brother Krisean, who holds a steady 3.96 GPA and wants to one day study mechanical engineering in college, is an embodiment of being his brother’s keeper. He often travels with his brother Asean for advocacy and action events and keeps him on track. Krisean asserts, “I have his back, and I do whatever I can to support him.”

When asked what he would like to see every 10-year-old African American and Latino boy in the U.S. to have if he could make it possible, Asean answered that he would give them the tools and resources, anything that they need to help themselves excel.
Inspired by his mom, dad, brother and great granddad – union workers -who Asean acknowledges are all fighters, he plans to continue speaking out, standing up and bringing a youth voice to the collective conversation about enhancing public education for all students and their families. is a cutting-edge online magazine highlighting progressive urban culture, faith, social change and global awareness. The site offers a platform for young adult perspectives, profiles inspirational visionaries and artists, and serves as an online community for change agents who are like-minded. Founded in 2011 by Rahiel Tesfamariam, Urban Cusp highlights voices, ideas and images not commonly found within mainstream media.

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