When people ask what motivates me or drives me to serve the public good, I have a simple yet complex answer: I am living my mother’s American Dream. That dream was strengthened by the efforts of Dr. King, Congressman John Lewis and the countless other civil rights leaders who gave so much to build a better future. And nowhere were those efforts more clear than in the messages that came out of the March on Washington.

The leaders of the civil rights movement taught us the value of belief, discipline and hard work and that, when put together, those traits can change the world. The persistence and strength embodied in those coming of age in the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s defined a generation of black leaders, and led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act. In 1967, it gave us a Republican from Massachusetts, Edward Brooke, as the first black U.S. senator since reconstruction. And it gave my mom, working 16-hour days to keep food on our table in North Charleston, that extra push to keep moving forward. …

An immediate example of a critical challenge we face is reforming our educational systems. As Congress moves to reauthorize primary and secondary education programs this year, we need to ask ourselves the seemingly obvious question: What is best for our children, for their future? I like to imagine it is the same line of thinking those who marched on Washington had in mind.