by Lawrence W. Reed
President, Mackinac Center for Public Policy, Midland, Mich.

Popular literature is full of praises for "the common man," but as these two essays by Ben Stafford illustrate, it’s usually the uncommon men and women who make big things happen. Virginia Walden Ford and Alberta C. Wilson are too modest and focused on others to tell you themselves, but Ben makes it clear that many inner-city children and parents have benefited from the uncommonness of these two women. They are courageous, forward-thinking, can-do citizens. They understand the value of a good education and a strong character, and they have been willing to stand up for those values at no small expense to themselves.

Whether you support education tax credits, vouchers, other forms of school choice or even complete separation of school and state, you will appreciate these two ladies. They know what it’s like to promote change in the most difficult of environments, and they have the battle scars to prove it. I hope this brief monograph will encourage you to follow their lead in your community and to support their respective organizations. If there were Albertas and Virginias in every major city in America, this country would never be the same.

Someday, when the entrenched special interests in education are finally swept aside, parents will be seen as customers, not captives, in the matter of educating children. Schools that fail to meet parents’ needs will shape up or go out of business. No child will be left behind for the sake of keeping a bureaucracy well-paid. We will all look back in puzzlement at how we could have expected government monopolies, minions and mandates to produce a quality product in a modern, competitive world. Virginia and Alberta will be among the heroes we will thank for helping to pave the way past daunting barriers.

Now a word about the author, of whom I could not be more proud. I conceived this project in early 2007 as a monograph I would write with help from Ben, who was a summer intern at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. He and I flew to Philadelphia in July to conduct interviews.
I was to give a speech to the board of directors of Alberta’s organization, but a mild cold I had contracted a few days before suddenly deteriorated and landed me in a Philadelphia hospital. Ben, a college senior with limited public speaking experience, was forced into the spotlight. He did all the work and even gave the speech — to rave reviews, I might add. So I told him the project was his, and here you have it.

At the Mackinac Center, we believe that investing in students — not systems that fail them — is key to America’s future. On our wish list of programs is one that would complement our successful high school debate events by providing free-enterprise educational materials and speakers to private school and home-school students. Ben is just the sort of young man who ought to run this program, and with sufficient funding, that could happen as early as 2008, when he graduates from Hillsdale College.

Thanks to Ben Stafford for telling these stories of Alberta C. Wilson and Virginia Walden Ford — and thanks to those two ladies for being the models of community leadership we all need to learn from!

— Lawrence W. Reed, Oct. 23, 2007, Midland, Mich.