November 19, 2019

“Your son is never going to do anything with his life.”

These words—spoken by my son’s public school teacher—convinced me I needed to find William a teacher who recognized his potential. I was not going to let my son be lost to the District of Columbia’s streets. I had seen too many promising children lost to murder, to teenage pregnancy, and to drugs. My son would not be the next statistic.

I took a second job and enrolled William in a local Catholic school that had high standards for students and high academic performance. Making ends meet while supporting my family and adding this financial burden was a struggle, to say the least. But it was essential.

Then I learned there was going to be a discussion about a possible scholarship program in D.C. that would give low-income parents the resources we so desperately needed to send our children to the schools of our choice. I was enthusiastic. To my surprise, no other parents showed up.

But for me, the spark was lit. I spoke with folks from the Institute for Justice and other organizers of that meeting and realized that I needed to step forward and explain to other D.C. parents not just the potential of such a program but why it was necessary and just. That little beginning grew into a full-fledged grassroots movement of parents across D.C.

William went on to graduate as the valedictorian of his class. And when we finally got the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program passed and signed into law, thousands of other kids who, like him, desperately needed educational options now had them. Since the program’s passage, nearly 10,000 students have gone on to get a quality education.

I am so honored that this story is now being told in theaters and on small screens across the country with the October release of the feature film Miss Virginia, which was produced by the Moving Picture Institute. Among the movie’s stars are Uzo Aduba (Orange Is the New Black), Matthew Modine (Full Metal Jacket), Niles Fitch (This Is Us), and Vanessa Williams (the first African American Miss America and star of Desperate Housewives).

Miss Virginia is a testament not to me, but to the hundreds of parents who have raised their voices and demanded educational choice for their children. My hope is that the movie will inspire parents in communities across the country to be the next generation of spokespeople for choice—to be the next Miss Virginia. This movie shows parents that we can be heard and we can make a difference for our children, but we must have the courage to speak out.

If that happens across the country—if parents are inspired by this film to “be brave, be heard, and believe” as the movie’s tag line exhorts—then our years of struggle in D.C. will have produced something just as vital as the D.C. scholarship program: another generation of parent advocates to pave the way for even more choice for children for years to come.

Virginia Walden Ford is a former Institute for Justice client and the champion who helped make the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program a reality.

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