What do Victor Hugo's Les Misé rables and an African American single mother in Ohio have in common? Both faced gut-wrenching realities that sometimes cause law-abiding individuals to blur the lines between what's legal and what seems morally permissible. The shades of gray present both an interesting dilemma and a significant opportunity for Christians concerned about legal and educational justice in the U.S.
Les Misé rables is a familiar tale. Set in 19th-century France, the story's protagonist, Jean Valjean, is arrested for stealing a loaf of bread in order to feed his sister's seven destitute children. Valjean spends several years in prison for his crime. After his eventual release, the plot takes us through a complex story rooted in themes of social inequity, justice, mercy and fairness. We are caused to wrestle with whether or not Valjean's original sentence was just. After all, Valjean was simply trying to take care of his sister's starving children. The kids had no other apparent options and presumably would have starved to death. Should we grant leniency to Jean Valjean, given the circumstances?
Let's consider the modern-day story of Kelley Williams-Bolar, a single mom in Akron, Ohio. Williams-Bolar has three children, and she's raising them in Akron's public housing projects. Like most inner cities, in Akron quality schools are sparse, and the local neighborhood public schools are among the worst in the area. According to 2008-09 state data, only 48 percent of African American students scored at or above proficient in reading, and only 39 percent scored similarly in math.
Knowing the life-changing importance of a good education, Williams-Bolar made a decision to send her children to live with their grandfather ...1
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