Michelle Obama

Here's How We Can Ensure Educational Opportunities to Support Black Women and Girls

There are very few spaces where women are affirmed and acknowledged as mothers, sisters, partners and leaders. There are even fewer spaces where African-American women are celebrated, honored and appreciated in ways that recognize their racial and gender identities. While African-American women’s issues and concerns have largely been excluded from policy decisions, the first convening of The White House Summit on the United State of Women placed African-American women and emerging female youth leaders front and center by showcasing significant achievements of Black women and girls. The United State of Women Summit featured African-American advocates, business women and girls, leaders, and activists such as Mikaila Ulmer, Kerry Washington, Marley Dias, and Shonda Rhimes and Chloe x Halle. A heartfelt conversation between First Lady Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey was one of the many highlights of the Summit. Sitting casually on a couch in front of 5,000 women, the First Lady and Oprah discussed motherhood, career, ‘haters,’ and plans for the future. The First Lady was sure to emphasize the role men must play in the struggle for women’s equality. She challenged men to “be better—better fathers, better husbands, and better employers—just be better.” For African-American women, the Summit celebrated triumphs and offered opportunities to address the unique challenges Black women experience. Reoccurring themes included: violence against Black and lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer women, gendered and racial wage gaps, representations in media, access to education, entrepreneurship, and redefining womanhood and feminism to include Black women—and men. President Obama created the White House Council on Women and Girls to ensure that their needs are prioritized in policy and practice. Despite the substantial progress, there is more work to be done. Consider, for example, Black women’s median annual earnings are $8,289 less than White, non-Hispanic women. The statistic is even more alarmingly when comparing Black women’s median annual earnings to White, non-Hispanic men ($21,937 less).

Investing in High-Quality Education for Black Women and Girls

The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans works to highlight learning and workforce development opportunities and sources of support—to address persistent challenges facing African-American women and girls. Recent data from the Office of Civil Rights reveals that Black girls are underrepresented and have less access to high-level math and science courses, such as physics, chemistry, and Algebra II. Because these courses are gateway courses into STEM and technical careers, lower enrollment disadvantages Black girls from competing in the global marketplace. The Initiative promotes investments in high-quality educational programs that seek to increase the participation of girls and young women in science, technology, engineering, the arts and agriculture, and math (STEAM) as well as non-traditional careers and technical fields. The Initiative is also addressing school discipline and zero-tolerance punitive policies that disproportionately impact Black girls. Ensuring that Black women and girls have access to high-quality learning and workforce development programs as well as the mentorship and out-of-school skill development and exposure necessary to thrive—both in school and in life—will undoubtedly improve the ability of Black women to continue to lead at home, in their communities, and on behalf of the countries they come from. To support this goal we recommend the following:
  1. Offer in- and out-of-school programs and opportunities for young girls to develop foundational skills and experiences needed to succeed in STEM courses, careers and fields of study;
  2. Account for and include the unique experiences and stories of African-American women and girls when designing programs, policies, and practices (see: The Because of Them We Can Campaign for additional tools and resources);
  3. Serve as a role model to expose and support the leadership skills in African-American girls;
  4. Support gender equality through education and awareness about sexual harassment, bullying, and gender-based violence; and
  5. Review and revise school discipline policies that disproportionately impact Black girls’ graduation rates, absenteeism, and pipeline to prisons.
The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, along with the White House Council on Women and Girls, is committed to advancing equity and access to opportunity. We encourage you to join us in this effort.
Andrene Jones-Castro is a graduate intern at the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans and is a doctoral student studying education policy at the University of Texas at Austin.

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