Because Of Them We Can Celebrate Black History Month

Throughout Black History Month 2015, The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans and the Because of Them We Can Campaign are collaborating to empower and educate by highlighting important African American figures that have supported the learning and development of African Americans of all ages. Beginning February 1st, we will share images and fun facts or teachable moment designed to encourage learning about the hero of the day as well as sharing that information with loved ones, especially children youth.


Follow the White House Initiative on Education Excellence for African Americans on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

The Because of Them We Can campaign was the concept of artist, tech expert and entrepreneur Eunique Jones Gibson. Ms. Gibson has previously been honored for her idea to use images of young people dressed as important historical figures as a teaching and awareness tool when she was named a White House Champion of Change for STEM access & diversity in 2014. The campaign includes images ranging from scientists to community activists; Nobel laureates to cultural icons gracing the pages of her 365-page table book. “I am excited and honored to share the Because of Them, We Can campaign and work with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans to ensure the images educate and empower” said Eunique Jones Gibson.

“Through the partnership I hope to further the campaign’s mission of building the esteem of both children and adults, while helping them reflect on a living legacy of greatness.”

The inspiring photos are reminders of the many people who served as groundbreaking leaders, but many times aren’t highlighted in history books.

The team at the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans works to make sure people of all ages and backgrounds can connect excellence to the African American community. “The Because of Them We Can Campaign literally connects young Black children to the heroes and sheroes upon whose shoulders they stand,” said David J. Johns, Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans. “The Campaign reminds us of the rich legacy of innovators, educators and advocates from which we come while reminding adults of our shared responsibility to protect and encourage dreams.” The collaboration also provides for opportunities to encourage reading while giving viewers the opportunity to dream bigger dreams about what they can accomplish because someone who looks like them or has the same background has achieved something similar.

Champions of Change for Educational Excellence for African Americans

In honor of Black History Month, the White House recently held a Champions of Change event honoring 10 leaders who are working to ensure that African American students in their community receive an education that prepares them for high school graduation, college completion, and productive careers.  Champions of Change are ordinary citizens who are doing extraordinary things.

Joyce Parker of Citizens for a Better Greenville and Becky James-Hatter of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri discussed the importance of nurturing children—“love them, believe in them and let them know you will support their dreams,” James-Hatter said.

As the father of a child with Down syndrome, Michael Graham talked of the challenges parents with children with disabilities face and the importance of parents, families, communities and students having a seat at the table when education decisions are made.

Champions of Change for Education for African American Participants with Secretary Duncan

Champions of Change for Education Excellence for African American Participants with Secretary Duncan

“Let’s talk about the education of our children differently,” said Erin Jones, Director of Equity and Achievement for the Federal Way School District. “Let’s talk about the opportunity gap and not the achievement gap. I don’t have control over how a student takes a test on a particular day, but I absolutely have control over what opportunities I give him to learn the material so that he tests well that day.”

As substantial obstacles to equal educational opportunity still remain in America’s educational system, significantly improving the educational outcomes of African Americans will provide substantial benefits for our country by, among other things, increasing college completion rates, productivity, employment rates, and the number of African American teachers.

For this reason, President Obama signed an executive order last year establishing the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans. The initiative will work across Federal agencies and with partners and communities nationwide to produce a more effective continuum of educational programs for African American students.

During the Champions of Change event, Secretary Duncan announced the appointment of David J. Johns as the first executive director of the initiative.  Johns, former senior education policy advisor to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, said, “I look forward to bringing my experience in the classroom, Capitol Hill, and working with communities throughout the country to make this very important initiative a success.”

Champion profiles and blog entries are posted on the White House website, and archived video of the event is available on the White House YouTube Channel.

Kimberly Watkins-Foote is director of African American Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education