LaVar Young sits in the corner of Vonda’s Kitchen, a soul food restaurant in the Central Ward of Newark, New Jersey, demanding calmness and power with an unpretentious, cool demeanor.
That is until you mention two triggers: education or fatherhood.
Then the quiet presence dissipates into an intense conversation spanning Newark’s recent lead water crisis in schools to his passion towards empowering dads who need training and support.
Young has worked in the non-profit sector for three mayor Administrations — Sharpe James, Corey Booker (now U.S. Senator) and the present Newark mayor, Ras Baraka.
Currently, serving as the New Jersey State Director for the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), Young focuses on mobilizing and educating parents so that they can understand and participate in obtaining the highest quality of education for their children. In addition, he works with legislators in efforts to create and pass policies that positively affect low income and working class families.
According to the father of two sons, the detrimental state of public education is a social justice issue that needs a serious overhaul. Young cites the consistent dismal numbers of low graduation rates plaguing school districts throughout the country for generations.
In New Jersey, and specifically in Newark, many agree that the educational system is broken, but a solution eludes Newark Public Schools (NSP) and the families affected. One problem Young points out is the inability for Newark residents to resolve issues of education without agency to define the operations of their schools.
Over two decades ago, Newark Public Schools fell under the control of the state. Since, ongoing frictions about who or what agency will regulate public education weighs heavily on the city. At the center of a contentious terrain is the feud between charter school and public school advocates. So vicious the fight, it has metamorphosed into a battle similar to the polarity between Republicans versus Democrats in the last two presidential terms and current 2016 presidential election.
The splits in educational reform created severe gashes in long-held community alliances and political blocs that has resulted in a divide that leave many casualties. “I get troubled sometime with the debates that we have going back-and-forth because at the end of the day, all of our kids are failing; or half are failing and the other are succeeding,” he exasperates.
To Young, these feuds detract from students and parents being afforded the deserved platform to choose the best options for their educational needs—whether it is charter, public or private.