6 Black educators who championed educational equity
Written by Aylin Cook
At HopSkipDrive, we’re on a mission to build educational equity through mobility. We help level the playing field for all children by arranging reliable, secure transportation to and from school. This February, as the country celebrates National Black History Month, we wanted to highlight the stories of six outstanding Black educators devoted to educational equity.
An educational and development psychologist, Edmund W. Gordon has dedicated his professional life to researching the “Achievement Gap”. Under President Lyndon B. Johnson, Gordon was one of the founders of the Head Start program, a federal effort to provide children in poverty better access to good-quality healthcare, nutrition, and education. Gordon also founded the Institute for Urban Education at Columbia University, where the Teacher’s College campus is named for him. Gordon, who is a prolific writer and researcher, has held several appointments at the country’s top universities.
Dr. Rita F. Pierson, was a professional educator for over 40 years. Starting in 1972, she taught elementary school, junior high and special education. She was a counselor, a testing coordinator and an assistant principal. In each of these roles, she brought a special energy to the role -- a desire to get to know her students, show them how much they matter and support them in their growth, even if it was modest. For over a decade, Dr. Pierson conducted professional development workshops and seminars for thousands of educators that emphasized the importance of building those special connections. She was an anti-poverty advocate and focused on students who are too often under-served. Rita Pierson died in 2013 at the age of 61. Rita Pierson gave one of the most powerful Ted Talks on education – “Every Child Needs a Champion” has become a motto for countless educators.
Marva Collins founded the Westside Preparatory School on her home’s second floor in 1975. Collins had grown frustrated with how Chicago’s school district was failing the students it had deemed “unteachable”. By the end of the Westside Preparatory School’s first academic year, every Westside Preparatory student scored significantly higher on standardized tests. Her school’s success became a national news story, receiving coverage from outlets like 60 Minutes and Good Morning America. President Ronald Reagan offered Collins the role of Secretary of Education, a job offer she did not accept, opting instead to continue to grow her school. Over her lifetime, Collins trained over 100,000 teachers in her Socratic-inspired methodology for teaching students.
Kelly Miller, the first Black graduate student to study Mathematics, believed education was key to developing Black leadership. He went on to become dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Howard University, a historically Black college. While dean, Miller modernized the college’s curriculum and actively recruited students. Miller believed in better access to higher education for all, and that the key to education was “symmetrical development”, offering both vocational and intellectual versions of instruction.
Fanny Jackson Coppin was America’s first black principal. Born a slave, she became particularly dedicated to advancing higher education for women. With the help of scholarship and financial support from her aunt, Coppin attended Oberlin College, the first undergraduate program in the United States to accept both Black people and females. Her sophomore year, she switched to the more challenging “gentlemen's course”. When she graduated from Oberlin in 1865, she was one of only three black women to have earned a Bachelor’s degree. As the principal of Philadeliphia’s Institute for Colored Youth, she oversaw substantial education improvements for students living within the city’s limits.
Inez Prosser is believed by many to be the first Black woman to earn a Ph.D in psychology. Although her life was tragically cut short, she was a major contributor to discourse about segregation and how to best teach Black students during the 1920s and 1930s. Prosser also made powerful statements on how racial and educational inequality affects the mental health of Black children. She argued that racism had significant, damaging effects on Black children’s psychological state. This research was frequently referenced during Brown vs. Board of Education debates in 1954. Gordon, Collins, Miller, Coppin and Prosser are just five of the countless educators who dedicated their careers to educational equity. This month—and every other month—we continue to honor their work by helping children of all ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds access the education they are entitled to.
We celebrate the incredible accomplishments of these six leaders, and so many others; thank you for your important contributions to education and helping to create opportunity for all!