About Us

President Obama with African American youthNearly 60 years since the Brown v Board of Education decisions, African American students continue to lack equal access to a high quality education and still lag far behind their white peers in reading and math proficiency, high school rates, and college completion.

That’s why President Obama created the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans. The Initiative is a cross-agency effort aimed at identifying evidence-based practices that improve student achievement, and developing a national network that shares these best practices.

The Initiative will support the President’s desire to “restore the country to its role as the global leader in education, to strengthen the nation by improving educational outcomes for African Americans of all ages, and to help ensure that all African Americans receive an education that properly prepares them for college, productive careers, and satisfying lives” including in the the following ways:

  • Highlighting the role of educators and administrators in increasing and improving access to high quality learning opportunities while also finding ways to support them in their work;
  • Supporting efforts to increase the number of African American teachers and administrators, specifically the number of African American males in the profession;
  • Enhancing investments in high quality early care and education programs, specifically increasing the number of African American children enrolled in quality childcare and preschool programs;
  • Reinforcing connections to rigorous K-12 courses and increasing access to critical supports, including by strengthening relationships between schools and communities and local businesses, social service agencies, health care providers, and parent and volunteer organizations; and by
  • Helping to increase the number of African American students applying to, persisting in and successfully completing college to ensure that we meet the President’s 2020 goal of becoming the world leader in college graduates.


Initiative Staff

David J. Johns, Executive Director

David Johns, Executive Director

David Johns, Executive Director

David J. Johns is the executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans. The Initiative works across federal agencies and with partners and communities nationwide to produce a more effective continuum of education programs for African American students. Prior to joining the Department, Johns was a senior education policy advisor to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) under the leadership of Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa. Before working for the Senate HELP committee under Chairman Harkin, Johns served under the leadership of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass. Johns also was a Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Fellow in the office of Congressman Charles Rangel, D-N.Y. Johns has worked on issues affecting low-income and minority students, neglected youth and early childhood education and with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). His research as an Andrew W. Mellon Fellow served as a catalyst to identify, disrupt and supplant negative perceptions of black males within academia and society. Johns is committed to volunteer services and maintains an active commitment to improve literacy among adolescent minority males. Johns obtained a master’s degree in sociology and education policy at Teachers College, Columbia University, where he graduated summa cum laude while simultaneously teaching elementary school in New York City. He graduated with honors from Columbia University in 2004 with a triple major in English, creative writing and African American studies and was named to the Root100 in both 2014 and 2013.


Khalilah M. Harris, Deputy Director

Khalilah Harris, Deputy Director

Khalilah Harris, Deputy Director

Khalilah M. Harris is Deputy Director at the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans. She focuses her efforts on developing interagency relationships, development of research-based publications, serving as a point of contact on specific policy workgroups and public engagement through multi-media platforms. Ms. Harris was previously a fellow in the office and has over 14 years of experience in education and policy ranging from coordinating programs for youth advocates and high school law-related education programs at a Baltimore non-profit, being a founder and serving on the leadership team of a Baltimore middle/high school focused on social justice & legislative advocacy, and most recently managing dual enrollment and college readiness at the University of Baltimore. She is also a doctoral candidate in Education Leadership and Organizational Development at the University of Pennsylvania. Ms. Harris has a B.S. in Political Science from Morgan State University and a J.D. from the University of Maryland School of Law. Khalilah is a native of Brooklyn, NY and has three daughters.

Preston Clark – Staff Specialist

Preston Clark serves as Staff Specialist in the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans managing logistics and operations of the team.  He has been working in higher education leadership for nearly 9 years. Prior to working for the Initiative, Mr. Clark served as Director of Enrollment Research and Analysis with the University of Mary Washington where he acted as a liaison between the University’s Admissions department and the Institutional Research and Information Technology departments. Before his career in higher education management, Mr. Clark worked in legislation as a research analyst for the Council of the District of Columbia under Ward 8 Councilmember Sandra Allen. While with the Council he provided budgetary and performance oversight for the Committee on Human Services, including the Children and Family Services Administration and the Youth Services Administration. Mr. Clark organized community outreach events, handled constituency issues, organized town hall meetings and served on a multidisciplinary advisory committee for at-risk youth. Mr. Clark received his Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Temple University in 1998. He earned his Master of Business Administration in 2010. A native of Poughkeepsie, New York, Mr. Clark now resides in Woodbridge, Virginia.

Interns & Fellows

  • Bakar Ali – Summer 2015
  • Travis Davis – Summer 2015
  • Annice Fisher – Summer 2015
  • Courtney Gilmore – Summer 2015
  • Venicia Gray (2015 – 2016 CBCF, Inc. Fellow)
  • Alaena Hicks – Summer 2015
  • Lauren Mims – Summer 2015


  • Freeman A. Hrabowski III, Chair, President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African Americans
  • Angela Glover Blackwell,  Chief Executive Officer of PolicyLink
  • Barbara T. Bowman, Irving B. Harris Professor of Child Development at the Erikson Institute
  • Dr. Gwendolyn E. Boyd, President of Alabama State University
  • Peggy L. Brookins, Co-Founder, Director, and Mathematics Instructor for the Engineering and Manufacturing Institute of Technology at Forest High School
  • Dr. Walter G. Bumphus, President and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges
  • Dr. James P. Comer, Falk Professor of Child Psychiatry at the Yale University Child Study Center
  • Dr. S. Dallas Dance, Superintendent of Baltimore County Public Schools
  • Albert E. Dotson, Jr., partner of Bilzin Sumberg Baena Price & Axelrod
  • Dr. Akosua Barthwell Evans, Chief Executive Officer of The Barthwell Group
  • James O. Freeman, Adjunct Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center
  • Evelynn M. Hammonds, Barbara Gutmann Rosenkrantz Professor of the History of Science and Professor of African and African American Studies at Harvard University
  • Sharon J. Lettman-Hicks, Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer of the National Black Justice Coalition
  • Tiffany Dena Loftin, Communications Specialist at American Federation of Teachers (AFT)
  • Dr. Michael L. Lomax, President and Chief Executive Officer of the United Negro College Fund,
  • Dr. Bryant T. Marks,Associate Professor of Psychology at Morehouse College, Director of the Morehouse Research Institute and Director of the Morehouse Male Initiative
  • C. Kent McGuire, President of the Southern Education Foundation (SEF)
  • Michael T. Nettles, Senior Vice President and the Edmund W. Gordon Chair of the Policy Evaluation and Research Center at Educational Testing Service (ETS)
  • Spencer A. Overton, Professor of Law at The George Washington University Law School (GWU)
  • Rebecca S. Pringle, Secretary-Treasurer of the National Education Association (NEA)
  • E. John Rice, Founder and CEO of Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT)
  • Dr. Robert K. Ross,  President and Chief Executive Officer for The California Endowment
  • Judge Doris A. Smith-Ribner,former State Appeals Court Judge in the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court
  • Dr. Ronald A. Williams, former Vice President of The College Board
  • TyKiah R. Wright, President of WrightChoice, Inc.