Meet our Summer 2015 Interns

Bakar Ali, NYU

Bakar Ali, NYU

             Bakar Ali is a Masters of Public Administration student at Robert F.Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University. He did his undergraduate studies at Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York, where he double majored in Urban and Community Studies and International Studies. He also minored in Political Science. Bakar is a recognized student leader. He currently serves as the President of Wagner Student Association at NYU. He is a member of Global Partnership on Children with Disability Youth Council advocating for the right of children with disabilities. In addition, he is a fellow of NYU Social Sector Leadership Diversity. He believes “you must be the change you wish to see in the world”. Bakar served in AmeriCorps working with homeless youth and refugees. His public service and outstanding leadership has been recognized with various awards including the Distinguished Public Service Award, the Newman Civic Fellow, and a New York State Senate Resolution. Bakar has a strong interest in community advocacy and access to opportunities for minority students and students with disabilities. While interning with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, he will be focusing on increasing engagement in global education and international experiences for African American students.

Travis Davis, UMASS

Travis Davis, UMASS

               Travis Davis, a native of Mobile, Alabama, is an alumnus of Saint Paul’s Episcopal School. In his collegiate career, he studied at Morehouse College, Bishop State Community College, and the University of South Alabama. Travis is currently a Master’s of Education candidate at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. His concentration is in Social Justice Education, focusing on African American history, the intersections of color, gender, and class within that history, and how these marginalized identities continue to impact access to equitable educational experiences today. Some past research projects he has been a part of include examining the dynamics between Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray written about in Trading Twelves, a Voting Rights Act documentary aimed at Black high school youth in the Mobile County Public School System, and a study concentrating on the significance of Black student achievement in Mobile County across class, gender, and generational identities. Travis is also currently an Assistant Resident Director at UMass-Amherst, where he resides with his family. He is an avid reader and credits Toni Morrison as his favorite writer. Travis is a committed fan of the University of Alabama’s Crimson Tide football team, and his personal hero is Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior.

Annice Fisher, Harvard

Annice Fisher, Harvard

                Annice Fisher is a doctoral student in the Doctor of Educational Leadership program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She received her Bachelors of Arts degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign and her Master of Education degree from Iowa State University. At Harvard, Annice focuses her work on building a stronger secondary to postsecondary pipeline and whole school differentiated approaches to high school success and college readiness. Annice is working with the Public Education Leadership Project (PELP) and with a K-12 and K-8 school on designing curriculum around high school success and college readiness. She has consulted with the Boston Public School District and the New York City Department of Education. For ten years as a university administrator, she created innovative academic interventions, campus-wide retention approaches, and multicultural competence initiatives for students, faculty, and staff. From 2013-2015, Annice served as the NASPA national co-chair for the African American Knowledge Community. She has also led community-based educational programs for African American youth. Annice’s simultaneous engagement in higher education and the community sparked her passion to build a stronger P-20 educational pipeline—where regardless of demography, students are academically and socially prepared to reach their highest potential.

Courtney Gilmore, Columbia

Courtney Gilmore, Columbia

                Courtney S. Gilmore is a native of Gainesville, Florida. Courtney received her Bachelor of Arts from the University of Florida with a double major in Criminology & Law and Sociology. After interning with the National Crime Prevention Council in Crystal City, Washington, D.C. and the Public Defender’s Office of the 8th Judicial Circuit, she has made a concerted effort to engage in the field of education with the intent to dismantle the school to prison pipeline that further perpetuates the mass incarceration issue within the United States prison system. Courtney is currently a Master’s candidate in Education Policy at Teacher’s College, Columbia University, specializing in K-12 education policy with a concentration on the disproportionate effect of school discipline policies on students of color. Through her studies, she elects to further analyze the impact of school discipline policies on the educational trajectories of Black girls, and to provide concrete policy recommendations for federal, state and local policies, to ensure that every Black girl will have an opportunity to a quality and equitable education. All in all, her topical interests include the following: educational policy, school to prison pipeline, equity, school discipline and mass incarceration.

Alaena Hicks, Grand Valley University

Alaena Hicks, Grand Valley University

               Alaena J. Hicks was born in San Antonio, Texas, and raised in Detroit, Michigan, where she graduated from University Prep Science and Math High School in June 2014. A first generation college student, Alaena is now a rising sophomore at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan. Throughout her teenage years, Alaena served as a youth role model at the Leland Missionary Baptist Church in Detroit where her active leadership sparked her interest to learn more about how faith can influence both the community and public policy. Over the past two years, Alaena fulfilled two internships—the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, where she shadowed the careers of the employees; and Project Healthy Schools, where she served as a student teacher to promote healthy habits and to reduce obesity of American youth. Her future goals are to educate, counsel, and mentor children on life skills that can impact their lives for the better. Alaena Hicks is the proud daughter of a mother who has worked for the federal government for more than 25 years and a father who is a retired Iraq War veteran, serving more than 25 years in the United States Air Force.


Lauren Mims, UVA

Lauren Mims, UVA

                Lauren Mims is a second year Institute of Education Sciences pre-doctoral fellow in the Educational Psychology: Applied Developmental Sciences program at the University of Virginia. Lauren obtained a B.A. in English and Psychology from the University of Virginia in 2012 and a M.A. in Child Development from Tufts University in 2014. As a Masters student, Lauren developed, implemented, and evaluated an eight-week intervention, Girls Rising Above Circumstances to Excel (GRACE), that improved psychological and educational outcomes for black girls in the 10th and 11th grades with a 2.0 grade point average or below. Lauren is passionate about researching and implementing successful education reform strategies that promote positive youth development and enhance educational opportunities for African American youth from preschool through higher education.

#AfAmEdChat Discusses President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Initiative

This Thursday, from March 20, 2014 from 12-1pm EST the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans will host its next installment of #AfAmEdChat.  This edition will focus on President Obama’s new #MyBrothersKeeper initiative. “By increasing awareness of the President’s initiative My Brother’s Keeper we can each take concrete steps to reduce the barriers that race and poverty play in denying equality of opportunity” shares Deputy Secretary of Education, Jim Shelton.My Brothers Keeper

The March 20th #AfAmEdChat is one of a series of strategies the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans is using to bring people together around issues and ideas supporting the achievement of boys and men of color. Deputy Secretary Shelton notes “Social media is the fastest and easiest way to spark discussion and exchange ideas.  Conversations about race and poverty are often difficult to have face to face and are often therefore avoided.” President Obama reminded us during the launch of My Brother’s Keeper, and Shelton adds “the unique challenges facing boys and men of color should never be swept under the rug.”

According to Deputy Secretary Shelton,  “folks should tune into the My Brother’s Keeper #AfAmEdChat to stay in touch with the latest details and help move the conversation forward. We will be sharing information regarding our process and next steps as well as ways for you to be involved and updated in this critical work.”  In addition to White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans Executive Director David J. Johns and Policy Advisor Christopher Scott confirmed guests include:

Mike Blake – Green For All – Director of Public Policy & External Affairs & Operation Hope – Senior Advisor- @MrMikeBlake
Mary Brown – Executive Director, Life Pieces to Masterpieces– @LP2MP
Christopher Chatmon – Executive Director, African American Male Achievement, Oakland Unified School District- @AAMAOUSD
Shawn Dove – Manager of Open Society Foundations Campaign for Black Male Achievement – @DoveSoars
Angela Glover-Blackwell – Founder and Chief Executive Officers, PolicyLink – @policylink
Shaun Harper – Executive Director, Center for the Study of Race & Equity in Education at University of Pennsylvania- @DrShaunHarper

Additionally, to support the work of My Brothers Keeper, the Initiative is hosting a series of Summits on Educational Excellence for African Americans in cities across the Nation to directly engage young people, schools, communities, philanthropy and businesses interested in implementing successful strategies.   To learn more and to register for a Summit near you visit

Khalilah Harris is a fellow with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African-Americans. She is an education program and policy advisor, attorney and a doctoral student at University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education.

#AfAmEdChat Twitter Virtual Roundtables Commemorate American Education Week 2013

The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans hosted a weeklong series of virtual roundtables November 18th – 22nd, using the Twitter platform to commemorate American Education Week.  Executive Director David J. Johns engaged national experts in discussions of key educational issues.  The series was designed to increase awareness about the efforts of the President, the US Department of Education, and the Initiative to advance educational excellence for African Americans.  It also provided a platform for guests and participants to discuss issues and share or propose solutions.  Finally, the series served as an opportunity to test the Initiative’s plans to use social media to increase community engagement in 2014. 

Chat Summaries


The Initiative hosted a special recap to bring together major themes from the previous week and call attention to strategies for moving forward with suggestions from guests and the community.
RECAP (Tuesday, Nov. 26th) –

Khalilah Harris is a Fellow with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African-Americans. She is an education program and policy consultant, attorney and a doctoral student at University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education in Educational Leadership & Organizational Development.

Response to Supreme Court Decision on Voting Rights Act

The recent Supreme Court decision to eliminate a key provision of the Voting Rights act of 1964 reminds us there is still work to do to protect every citizens right to vote.  For nearly 50 years, The Voting Rights Act has helped protect the right to vote for millions of Americans, however, today’s landmark decision, challenges practices implemented to ensure all Americans have the right to vote, particularly in places where voting discrimination is commonplace. In 2006, the Voting Rights act was reauthorized with bipartisan support, which confirmed the notion that voting is a fundamental right for all citizens.  While our nation has made significant progress towards fair voting for all, voting discrimination still exists, as the Supreme Court recognizes. As a result, today’s decision does not represent the end of a fair voting era, but serves as a reminder of the work that needs to be done. Furthermore, the Supreme Court’s decision has charged Congress with championing legislation that can ensure every American has the access to voting polls as well as equal protection of voting rights.


Ramon Goings is currently interning with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African-Americans. He is a Special Education Teacher and 3rd year doctoral student at Morgan State University majoring in Urban Educational Leadership.

One Girl’s Fight to Become Orange

The discussion of race is an uncomfortable one. Americans tend to believe that we are a progressive nation of justice seeking individuals who stand on the mantra that all men are created equal. So when the Supreme Court has to decide on tough cases like Fisher vs. University of Texas, it makes for uneasy and emotion-filled conversations among most Americans.

Enter Abigail Noel Fisher. A Texas native hailing from suburbia America, Fisher is the product of UT alumni as both her sister and father were graduates of the state university. In high school she played soccer and the cello, was involved in many extracurricular activities, an A/B student and scored modestly well on her SAT exams. She applied to the University of Texas at Austin in assurance that she would be admitted into the Fall of 2008 freshman class. She was denied.

However as some of her peers began to receive their acceptance letters, Fisher was alarmed. She states, “There were people in my class with lower grades who weren’t in all the activities I was in, who were being accepted into UT, and the only other difference between us was the color of our skin.”

Fisher subsequently sued the University, arguing that she was deprived of her Fourteenth Amendment right to “equal protection” under the belief that she was denied admittance to the University in favor of minority students who were accepted with lesser credentials. “I was taught from the time I was a little girl that any kind of discrimination was wrong. And for an institution of higher learning to act this way makes no sense to me. What kind of example does it set for others?”

And thus, the litigation began.

UT presented the following facts to explain and defend their enrollment strategy:

  • As a state university, UT submits to the state of Texas’ Top 10 Law, which guarantees admission to any student who graduates from a Texas high school within the top 10% of his or her High School graduating class. 91% of the university’s freshman in-state spots were taken by Top 10 graduates. Fisher did not fall within this group
  • The university uses a “holistic” admissions process for all other UT applicants and evaluates candidates based on a culmination of two scores. The first is the AI score which allots points for GPA and SAT scores. The second is termed the personal achievement index, or PAI. The PAI score awards points for two required essays, community service, leadership, activities and “special circumstances” which includes social factors such as whether the student hails from a single parent household, the socioeconomic status of the student or their home school… and yes, race.
  • The university asserts that “due to stiff completion and the petitioner’s relatively low AI score – petitioner would not have been admitted to the fall 2008 freshmen class even if she had received a ‘perfect’ PAI score.” In other words, even if Fisher had written perfect essays, had the perfect extracurricular rap sheet, been black, poor, a first generation college-goer and received points for ALL of those things, her grades were simply not competitive enough to give her a cumulative score that would have allowed her to be accepted. (According to ProPublica, the school’s rejection rate in 2008 was higher than the turn-down rate for students trying to get into Harvard that year.)
  • Fisher also applied (and was rejected) to UT’s summer program, a program that offers provisional admission to some students who were denied in the fall. UT admits to offering spots to this program to students who either had equal or lower combined AI/PAI scores. One was African-American. Four were Hispanic. Forty-Two were Caucasian. In addition, 168 African-American and Hispanic students with combined AI/PAI scores higher than Fisher’s were denied admission to the summer program.
  • Most importantly, the University states that it must be free to build a diverse student body to achieve a competitive advantage and effectively build leaders and eliminating affirmative action would hinder their ability to ensure there is a “critical mass” of minority students represented in classrooms.

So basically, as a fellow Texan colloquially put it, Fisher was simply not “UT ready” during one of the university’s most competitive years. UT’s rating system is more complex than simply checking the “yes” box for students of color. Caucasian students were higher represented in the total pocket of those students who received provisional admission into the university.

Fisher’s Team did not respond to the argument that Fisher’s grades weren’t competitive enough but presented the following rebuttal:

  • UT fails to demonstrate the necessity of using racial preference in the admissions process to achieve diversity. UT has no evidence that they would not be able to achieve racial diversity if they simply used a combination of the Top Ten law and a race-neutral AI/PAI evaluation system.
  • UT does not show how their use of race in the admissions process is “narrowly tailored”: legal jargon that means the remedy must specifically address the problem and only the problem (ie: if the need is to grow 5%, the remedy must specifically be tailored to that end goal and not be so loosely applied that it ends up adding, for example, 10% or hindering another section).  
  • UT has not shown how ensuring “classroom diversity” is a compelling state interest.
  • UT’s racial preferences have not only failed in making real progress towards diversity but in fact are discriminatory towards another minority group, Asian-Americans.
  • UT has received accolades as one of the Nation’s “top producers of undergraduates for Hispanics” and thus cannot firmly stand on their assertion that Hispanics are a underrepresented minority group within their classrooms.
  • The Grutter Case, a previous case that centered on affirmative action and allowed universities to intentionally enroll underrepresented minority groups, should be clarified or overruled to ensure that it is not misunderstood. UT has taken the case and overextended its language due to lack of clarity and that the case should never be read to be incompatible with the Fourteenth Amendment.  Also, UT’s position that Grutter’s case should not be overturned because it is a “sensitive political” issue is signs that UT is using racial preferences as a “chip in the political process.”

To summarize, the Fourteenth Amendment should not be violated under any circumstances. UT is using a broad, heavy handed, discriminatory system that they have not proven to be superior to a race-neutral one. UT already is succeeding in graduating Hispanic students (to the exclusion of Asian-American students) and therefore double talk when they defend their practice.

Based on the arguments from the Fisher camp as well as the facts presented by UT, it is obvious that the case itself has little to do with Fisher (she has since graduated from the University of Louisiana and currently works as a financial advisor in Austin). In fact, her name is mentioned by her lawyers all of 5 or 6 times in the legal rebuttal. She was simply a face for an agenda.  This case is actually questioning if a university (specifically the University of Texas) has the legal right to include race as a deciding factor in admissions. Blum (the man paying for the case) states that these types of practices, “unjustly punishes (whites) for long-abandoned racist practices.”

It is also interesting to note: 1) Fisher did not seek Blum’s representation… he found her. According to a Reuters article, Blum sought Fisher (and another young lady who has since pulled out of the case) out, convinced her to sue and secured both legal and financial support for the case. 2) The demographics of the 2008 incoming class was: 19% Asian-American, 20% Hispanic American, 6% African American and 52% Caucasian. 3) Blum admits that there is no way to tell whether or not Fisher’s race had anything to do with her rejection. “An argument can be made that it is simply impossible to tease out down to the last student who would have been admitted, and who would have not been admitted, had they been a different skin color,” Blum said. “What we know is skin color is weighed and ethnicity is weighed by the University of Texas in their admissions process, and that alone is enough to strike down the plan.” 4) This is the most conservative Supreme Court bench since the 1930s. Four of the six most conservative judges since 1937 now serve as Court judges.

On June 24, 2013 the Supreme Court ruled, supporting the idea that Affirmative Action should be upheld, but must be strictly reviewed. They sent the case back to the lower court stating that they had not scrutinized and confirmed that the use of race in admissions is absolutely “necessary” in creating a diverse student body.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan issued the following statement in reaction to the Supreme Court’s ruling on Fisher vs. University of Texas at Austin:

“I am pleased that the Supreme Court ruling in the Fisher case today preserves the well-established legal principle that colleges and universities have a compelling interest in achieving the educational benefits that flow from a racially and ethnically diverse student body, and can lawfully pursue that interest in their admissions programs. As the Court has repeatedly recognized, a diverse student enrollment promotes cross-racial understanding and dialogue, reduces racial isolation, and helps to break down stereotypes. This is critical for the future of our country because racially diverse educational environments help to prepare students to succeed in an increasingly diverse workforce and society.

“The Department continues to be a strong supporter of diversity, and will continue to be a resource to any college or university that seeks assistance in pursuing diversity in a lawful manner.”

Michelle Williams is currently interning with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African-Americans. She is an Educational Studies student at Western Governor’s University-Texas.