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I know firsthand the difference opportunity and choice can make in one's life.

I was blessed to be the first African American male from Central High to attend the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville on a football scholarship. I was a four-year letterman playing running and defensive back. In 1990, I won the GOP primary for lieutenant governor, as only the second black man ever to be nominated to run for a constitutional office in Arkansas. I lost in the general election to Jim Guy Tucker, who would later become governor, but continued to have a successful business career after the election.

Those are a few of the examples of great opportunities and good choices, but like most of us, there were bad ones too. I landed in jail, where it looked like my choices would send me straight to prison. I headed to court with a sack lunch of a bologna sandwich, an orange and a carton of milk with comfort from a scripture about miracles and angels from my first visit to the jail Bible study just the night before.

Life lessons, work and youth mentoring have all shaped a passion for helping others with their opportunity and choice, especially school choice. I see firsthand that those who participate in school choice have fewer problems with drug abuse, and fewer unexcused absences and suspensions. They also have fewer arrests during high school and after.

In a courtroom packed with press and plenty of interest, I was about to be sentenced to 10 years in prison by one of my best friends from college. Moments before sentencing, my angels appeared--two attorney friends. They asked the judge to let them take responsibility for me. I was given a suspended sentence and sent to a sober-living facility. During that time, I came to realize you can't go to school to guide recovery; you have to have lived it.

I founded Muskie Harris Rehabilitation Services to help people change their lives. Through my organization, I serve as court liaison for six sober-living facilities with a total of 487 beds and a 75 percent success rate. I have done my best to help people in the 23 years I have been clean, including the two angels who took responsibility for me in court.

In my mind, the situation surrounding school choice can be summed up fairly easily--not allowing school choice is not allowing equal access. In my position as president of 100 Black Men of Greater Little Rock and in my work with Muskie Harris Rehabilitation Services, I see kids who need options in education to help change their lives.

Whether it be smaller classrooms, access to additional services, a more concentrated area of study, or simply a fresh start--school choice is imperative and should no longer be seen as an option. I firmly support the national charge of educating and empowering youth and personally mentor students as part of my commitment.

Research continues to show that choice in education builds stronger communities, improves academic outcomes, empowers families to customize education and provides at-risk students with options. A quality education provides young people with the tools they need to become productive adults, which in turn, will ensure the growth and well-being of the great state of Arkansas.

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Muskie Harris operates Muskie Harris Rehabilitation Services in Little Rock and mentors middle- and high-school-age boys through 100 Black Men of Greater Little Rock.

Editorial on 07/11/2019

Print Headline: MUSKIE HARRIS: For school choice

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