In honor of Black History Month, the White House recently held a Champions of Change event honoring 10 leaders who are working to ensure that African American students in their community receive an education that prepares them for high school graduation, college completion, and productive careers. Champions of Change are ordinary citizens who are doing extraordinary things.
Joyce Parker of Citizens for a Better Greenville and Becky James-Hatter of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri discussed the importance of nurturing children—“love them, believe in them and let them know you will support their dreams,” James-Hatter said.
As the father of a child with Down syndrome, Michael Graham talked of the challenges parents with children with disabilities face and the importance of parents, families, communities and students having a seat at the table when education decisions are made.
“Let’s talk about the education of our children differently,” said Erin Jones, Director of Equity and Achievement for the Federal Way School District. “Let’s talk about the opportunity gap and not the achievement gap. I don’t have control over how a student takes a test on a particular day, but I absolutely have control over what opportunities I give him to learn the material so that he tests well that day.”
As substantial obstacles to equal educational opportunity still remain in America’s educational system, significantly improving the educational outcomes of African Americans will provide substantial benefits for our country by, among other things, increasing college completion rates, productivity, employment rates, and the number of African American teachers.
For this reason, President Obama signed an executive order last year establishing the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans. The initiative will work across Federal agencies and with partners and communities nationwide to produce a more effective continuum of educational programs for African American students.
During the Champions of Change event, Secretary Duncan announced the appointment of David J. Johns as the first executive director of the initiative. Johns, former senior education policy advisor to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, said, “I look forward to bringing my experience in the classroom, Capitol Hill, and working with communities throughout the country to make this very important initiative a success.”
Kimberly Watkins-Foote is director of African American Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education