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Place of Residence: Washington, D.C.
Why He’s a Game Changer: The Obama Administration recently named Johns as the Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans. It’s a position that carries significant weight– given the achievement gap facing Black students, particularly Black males– and the criticism that President Obama did not do enough to directly address the challenges facing Blacks in this country during his first term.
Johns’ job is to identify the best practices to improve African American student achievement and then use those findings to dramatically improve outcomes across the country via the integrated powers of the federal government.
“Educational excellence is not often used in the same sentence when talking about African-American student achievement,” Johns told McClatchy Papers. “Traditionally, and in popular conversation, particularly in the media, whenever black kids are talked about with education, it’s negative. Or we will have infrequent moments where we will celebrate exceptions, but we sort of highlight them as exceptions.”
Johns is a good fit for the job. Growing up, Johns’ mother, whom he calls his first and most important education advocate, insisted that he travel a great distance to attend school in a better district than the one where he lived in Los Angeles. Johns went on to triple major at Columbia University, gain a master’s degree from Teachers College and work as a teacher. Before being tapped for his new job, Johns was a senior education policy advisor to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.
He has adopted #teachthebabies as a hashtag on Twitter.
The focus now will be on helping to emphasize learning that will help more blacks land STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers, advancing universal pre-K, empowering parents to help ensure educational excellence, increasing the number of African-American teachers and making sure more blacks graduate from college.
“Success will be measured by ensuring that the federal government supports African American educational excellence. We’ll also measure success by pointing to communities with significant concentrations of African American students and families and connecting them with our federal resources to show demonstrable achievement. And by highlighting young people of color who are passionate about making a difference [and] connect[ing] them to this work of education reform. “Teaching the babies” is my personal marker of success,” Johns told Loop 21.
But for all the power of the federal government, Johns, especially because of his own life experiences, realizes that educational success begins at home.
“My mother is my first and most important educator,” Johns said. “She instilled in me, early on, an appreciation for life-long learning. She also ensured that I was surrounded by educators, classroom teachers, family members and community leaders who each helped to develop my head and my heart, to encourage me to work harder to find ways to create positive change in the spaces I moved through,” Johns told emPower magazine.
“Parents are a child’s first and most important educators. Parents should have conversations with their children’s teachers to know what is expected of their children throughout the school year. Ask your children what they need in order to feel completely supported, and know what the state standards are by which your children are being assessed. Survey the advocates and organizations that care about and support children and youth. Know that it takes a village not only to raise a child, but to support a parent raising a child,” Johns concludes.
Hear Johns talk about Black masculinity and closing the achievement gap below: