AfAmWomenLead Initiative Offers Diverse Cultural Experiences for Women and Girls of Color Nationwide

The African American Women Lead (AfAmWomenLead) Initiative was established by the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans as a unique opportunity to harness the collective impact of the nation’s largest women civic organizations. AfAmWomenLead partners have committed to meet a monumental goal — one million hours of service with Black women and girls across the nation in 2016. AfAmWomenLead provides a platform for organizations, institutions, individuals, and other partners interested in engaging and supporting the development of Black women and girls.

Nationwide, women and girls of color celebrated the humanities and cultural experiences during Women’s History Month. (Photo collage courtesy Venicia Gray)

Nationwide, women and girls of color celebrated the humanities and cultural experiences during Women’s History Month. (Photo collage courtesy Venicia Gray)

To celebrate the important roles women and girls play in history, AfAmWomenLead choose March—Women’s History Month—for a national day of service surrounding cultural experiences and exploration by participating in Smithsonian magazine’s Museum Day Live!

The Smithsonian, a key AfAmWomenLead partner, presented a special edition of its magazine’s Museum Day Live! To, “inspire women and girls of color in underserved communities.” Museum Day Live! extends participating cultural centers zoos, aquariums, and museums across the country to offer free, ticketed admission. Museum Day Live! had an incredible impact and included more than 520 partnering museums nationwide in every state and the District of Columbia.

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White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans Launches Film Screening and Discussion Series at the White House


On September 21, nearly 100 high school students from Washington D.C., Maryland, and Virginia gathered at the White House to participate in the launch of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans’ (Initiative) Screening and Discussion Series (AfAmEdFilms). Panelists who spoke during the event include: Robin Hauser Reynolds, Director of Code: Debugging the Gender Gap; Dr. Kimberlyn Leary, Senior Advisor to the White House Council on Women and Girls; Dr. Kamau Bobb, Program Director and Directorate for Computer and Information Science & Engineering at the National Science Foundation; and Chiamaka Okoroha of Microsoft.

AfAmEdFilms will highlight films and multimedia that disrupt negative stereotypes and depict positive and compelling stories of African American students, families, and communities striving for academic excellence. AfAmEdFilms will also encourage active engagement and showcase resources to facilitate opportunities for caring and concerned adults to support the learning and development of African Americans. The first film, Code: Debugging the Gender Gap, discussed racial and gender disparities in STEM programs and careers and provided a platform for a solutions-oriented discussion of ways to increase access and opportunity to the STEM pipeline for Black youth. The film supports several priorities of President Obama’s administration including efforts to increase access to and success in STEM courses and careers and supporting women and girls of color.

Megan Smith, United States Chief Technology Officer Policy, provided opening remarks, encouraging students to see the “magic in technology, math and science.” Kimberly Bryant, Founder of Black Girls Code, addressed the audience, arguing that the solution to increasing the number of Black women and girls in STEM is to, “get girls interested in coding early on, so we can change the pipeline. The future is literally in your hands, and it will be written in code. There is no knowledge gap, just an opportunity gap,” she said.

During the panel discussion following the screening, of CODE David Johns, Initiative Executive Director, highlighted how the Initiative is increasing STEM success, including by collaborating with the National Science Foundation to ensure that students have access to Computer Science, Algebra, and other gateway courses required for success in STEM.

Miaela N. Thomas, M.S., School Counselor of Frederick Douglass High School, watched a transformation in her student as the youngest panel member, recent Computer Science graduate Chiamaka Okoroha, spoke on the panel. “The look in her eyes was something I’d never seen before and when she said, ‘I want to take a picture with her and meet her, I knew then that she had finalized what she wanted to major in when she goes to college,” she said.

Johns closed by reminding the students they are obligated to graduate from college; find their passion by celebrating and creating things that interest and move them; and use their brilliance for good—to improve our communities and our country.

Each month, the AfAmEdFilm Series will highlight an important theme in the field of African American education. For more information visit

Additional Films included in the AfAmEdFilms Series are as follows:

He Named Me Malala
The Souls of Black Girls


The Rule

The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete



The E-Word: A Documentary on the Ebonics Debate

MPAA: American Promise

The Homestretch

(Please note: This list is not exhaustive and subject to change.)

#AfAmEdChat to Discuss How the State of the Union Affects African-American Communities

President Obama began the 2014 State of the Union address emphasizing his commitment that all American children have access to a world class education, stating in his first comments, “today in America, a teacher spent extra time with a student who needed it, and did her part to lift America’s graduation rate to its highest level in more than three decades.”

SOTU GraphicOn Thursday, February 6, 2014, the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans will be hosting a special #AfAmEdChat on Twitter to discuss what the President’s address means for African-American communities.  The chat will explore the importance of the President’s emphasis on education including high-quality early childhood education, rigorous preparation for college and careers, supporting parents and communities, and recruiting the next generation of great teachers.

    • What:  #AfAmEdChat on what the State of the Union Address means for African-American Communities
    • When: 12-1 pm EST Thursday, February 6, 2014
    • Where:  Follow the Twitter conversation with #AfAmEdChat hashtag and follow @AfAmEducation

On the first and third Thursday of each month, the Initiative hosts a one-hour #AfAmEdChat to increase awareness of the educational challenges faced by African American students, whether they are in urban, suburban, or rural learning environments. The chats are facilitated by Executive Director, David J. Johns with guest panelists offering expertise on a range of issues and strategies supporting the President’s commitment to Opportunity for All.

Learn more about the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans by signing up for email updates.

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.

Celebrating African American Teachers in the Classroom

Yesterday afternoon, the U.S. Department of Education hosted a Google+ Hangout—“Celebrating African American Teachers in the Classroom”—at Howard University in Washington, D.C. The panel, moderated by NBC News’ Tamron Hall, comprised of African American educators from across the country, discussed the rewards of the teaching profession, the critical role of good teachers, and the challenges they face in preparing students for college and careers.

The panel consisted of the Department’s Jim Shelton, assistant deputy secretary for innovation and improvement; David Johns, executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans; Jemal Graham, a 7th-grade math teacher at Eagle Academy for Young Men in Queens, N.Y.; Dr. Ivory A. Toldson, Howard University, Department of Education and Wesley Baker, a middle-school social studies teacher at KIPP Truth Academy in Dallas, Texas.

The discussion was the first of several events to be hosted by the Department to celebrate the country’s more than five million teachers during Teacher Appreciation Week (May 6-10).

Each teacher brought a passion and wealth of knowledge to the discussion that reminds all of us of the important role that educators play in our lives.  From one topic to the next, each gave heartfelt feedback of what was working and what they found most challenging.  What struck me the most, was that regardless of their location or district each teacher was able to find common ground with the other.  This was not just a calling for them, this was their profession and they studied it and practiced it the same way a lawyer prepares for a case – with diligence and unwavering attention. The panel discussion was a rare opportunity for a diverse assembly of educators to come together to exchange their ideas.

Secretary Duncan and President Obama have recognized the need for a more diverse teaching force.  Nationwide, more than 35 percent of public school students are African American or Hispanic, but less than 15 percent of teachers are Black or Latino, and less than 2 percent of our nation’s teachers are African American males. Early in Duncan’s term as Secretary of Education, he made the call for more African American men to pick up the chalk and teach. Read more about the initiative (now

Watch yesterday’s Google+ Hangout:

Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

Cameron French is deputy press secretary at the U.S. Department of Education 

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