Champions of Change: African American Educational Excellence

Yesterday, we held a Champions of Change event honoring leaders who have advanced educational excellence for the African American community.

We bring in ordinary Americans who are doing extraordinary things in their communities, all across the country. We call them “Champions of Change.” It’s been a very busy and exciting African American History Month, and yesterday’s event was a vital part of the celebration.

During the Champions of Change event, we recognized 10 individuals who have devoted their time and efforts to improve educational outcomes for African American students. These amazing leaders are making a difference in their communities, whether at the local, state or regional level. And they embody the spirit of the new initiative that was launched last year.

President Obama signed an executive order establishing the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans. He established it so that every child has access to a complete and competitive education from the time they're born, through the time they get a career. Yesterday, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan made a guest appearance to introduce the new Director of the Initiative, David Johns.

The Initiative works across Federal agencies and with partners and communities nationwide to produce better education programs for African American students.

The goal is to make sure that all African American students receive an education that fully prepares them for high school graduation, college completion, and productive careers.

As advocates, motivators, volunteers and leaders, these champions’ efforts to advance this mission in their communities are nothing short of heroic.

Whether they are spearheading teen mentoring programs, advocating for students with special needs or disabilities, or addressing school absenteeism, their work and involvement is the key to helping our all of our children thrive in their schools and communities.

Our champions had a lively and vibrant discussion during the event—they shared powerful stories about their neighborhoods and backgrounds that moved them to action.

For example, many of the panelists spoke about the enormous influence of their parents and social networks, and asked how we could incorporate family support structures into advancing education for African Americans.

They also came up with some takeaways: the importance of showing love and support to young people, especially the ones that are struggling, thinking about their needs upfront, and asking young people to tell their stories and dreams so that adults can get a better idea of what works for them.

The President had a similar message a couple weeks ago in Hyde Park Academy in Chicago. During his speech, he said, “in America, your destiny shouldn’t be determined by where you live, where you were born. It should be determined by how big you’re willing to dream, how much effort and sweat and tears you’re willing to put in to realizing that dream.

He also spoke of “ladders of opportunity,” giving our next generation a leg up to enter the middle class. That includes raising minimum wage, keeping our children safe, and high quality education.

As President Obama said in his Chicago speech, even as the government tries to build these ladders, we know that we can’t do it alone. It will require the efforts of everyone to create a better future for our country. Our Champions of Change inspire us to see that one person can make a huge difference.

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