Our Real History Is One of Black Excellence in Education

People forget that black educators and parents have always had an almost missionary zeal for education. The historical record offers endless examples of black folks who worked incredibly hard to build schools for their communities and secure an education for their children. In the earliest days after slavery, the deepest desire, the most powerful attraction, was the quest for literacy as a means of liberation. In the 1880s educators like Lucy Craft Laney chartered a school in Georgia to train black educators who could run their own schools and uplift the race. One of Laney’s graduates was Mary McCleod Bethune, who also opened schools. In 1909, Laurence C. Jones moved to Mississippi to dedicate his life to reducing illiteracy among the children of sharecroppers and formerly enslaved people. At the urging of a local church in Utica, and against the wishes of white residents, he started the Piney Woods School to board and educate black children when the state was unwilling to do so. In the early 20th century, Booker T. Washington aided black communities who invested thousands of hours of labor, and what little money they had, to build a syndicate of over 5,000 schools across the South. That legacy was unbroken. It was continued through the years by people like Marva Collins in the 1970s, Bill Wilson in the 1990s and Tim King today. Today we choose one educator who sparked an idea that has had a national impact.

Joe Dulin

Joe Dulin was a Michigan teacher, principal and national civil rights activist. Two decades ago, as an Ann Arbor principal, he was so moved by the call to action at the Million Man March in Washington, D.C., that he created a national tradition that continues today. Dulin launched National African American Parent Involvement Day in the fall of 1995, which is now celebrated in schools across 48 states and four international countries. His idea sprang from the belief that parents and teachers are a child's greatest ally and need to work together, especially toward the goal of college access. His work as a principal convinced him that, “the more parents are involved in their children's education, the more successful the student will be," his widow Yvonne said after Dulin died in 2014. Before retiring in 2009, Mr. Dulin spent 52 years as an educator, including three decades at an alternative school that served students who struggled in traditional high schools. His storied career and his early battles fighting segregation were detailed in the 2011 documentary "Bridging the Gap: The Joe Dulin Story," which portrayed Dulin as "part drill sergeant, part psychiatrist, part motivational speaker and part Wal-Mart greeter." Dulin ran his schools like large extended families and delivered unprecedented results—78 percent of his Detroit students enrolled in college in a city where the dropout rate was 79 percent. So it is no surprise that he elevated the importance of family involvement on a national scale. To all the educators past and present who work tirelessly toward the reality of educational equity and excellence for African-American children, we honor your achievements.  
Chris Stewart
Chris Stewart is the Chief Executive Officer of brightbeam. He was named CEO in April 2019, after formerly serving as chief executive of Wayfinder Foundation. He is a lifelong activist and 20-year supporter of nonprofit and education-related causes. In the past, Stewart has served as the director of outreach and external affairs for Education Post, ...

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