The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans


The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans (Initiative) was created to strengthen the nation by improving educational outcomes for African Americans of all ages and to help ensure that this population would receive an education that prepares them for college and productive careers to contribute to the well being of society. The Initiative works with individuals and organizations throughout the country to highlight and share effective national and local programs, policies, and practices that support the development and success of African American students. Specifically, the Initiative highlights and mobilizes youth voice by providing platforms for African American youths to make recommendations for actions that can be taken to ensure all students feel and are safe, supported and engaged in schools, in communities, and in life.

Additionally, the Initiative leverages relationships with media partners, new and traditional, to shape positive and affirming narratives of African American students, highlight and disseminate promising and proven practices, as well as provide recommendations to accelerate African American Educational excellence essential to the success of African American students, from birth through college completion and career entry.

To date, the Initiative has focused on the following three guiding principles:

  1. To provide platforms for youth (and other impacted populations) to make recommendations regarding the policies, practices and programs designed to accelerate learning and development;
  2. To highlight people, programs and practices facilitating the learning and development of African Americans students; and
  3. To serve as a liaison between and among communities supporting African American students of all ages.

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In the News

On May 7, 2018, the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans held Reimagining the Educator Workforce: African American Teacher Diversity Summit. This summit opened dialogue between educators and educational leaders regarding teacher preparation and cultural competency in the classroom. The goals of the summit were to:

  • Highlight research describing the impact that diversity in schools, specifically racial diversity in the teacher workforce, has on students of color;
  • Introduce African American college students to a network of diverse education professionals and resources to help navigate entry into the teaching field; and
  • Exchange ideas surrounding diverse teacher recruitment, preparation and retention.

Panelists included:

  • Dr. Elmer Harris, a U.S. Department of Education Teaching Ambassador Fellow and 5th grade teacher at Christa McAuliffe Elementary in Colorado Springs School District;
  • Dr. William Hayes, the founding principal of Mastery High School of Camden in Camden, New Jersey; and
  • Dr. Lynne G. Long, the Director of Field Experiences and the Chair for the Department of Teaching, Learning and Professional Development in the College of Education at Bowie State University.

The purpose of this event was to inform participants of proven programs and initiatives that recruit and support African American students in earning teaching credentials; to show appreciation to teachers representing diverse backgrounds; and to highlight the importance of having an educator workforce where African American students are represented. Hosting this event during National Teacher Appreciation week provided an opportunity to thank teachers for all that they do inside and outside of the classroom to contribute to African American student achievement.

On April 3, 2018, the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans in conjunction with the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships held the MLK Legacy Innovative Service Award Celebration.

On March 152018, Senior Advisor Monique Toussaint spoke on a panel with Jason Botel, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, along with Denisha Merriweather, School Choice Liaison in the Office of Communication and Outreach, to a group of students from Alabama participating in the Marching On: Montgomery to DC program for high school students. Students later were greeted by Secretary DeVos.

On February 272018, Senior Advisor Monique Toussaint served as a member of the Black History Month Planning Committee and hosted the 2018 African American History Month Celebration: African Americans in Times of War event at the U.S. Department of Education. The keynote speaker was SGM (Ret.) Ronald E. Fetherson of the U.S. Marine Corps.

On December 15, 2017, the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans hosted the 3rd Annual AfAmWomenLead: Summit to Advance Educational Excellence for Black Girls.

African American Women Lead (AfAmWomenLead) is a student leadership summit tailored to African American student leaders and the civic organizations that support their academic excellence. This event allowed the Initiative to facilitate conversation among participating organizations and individuals, institutions and organizations interested in engaging Black women and girls.

The goals for the summit included:

  •  Promoting Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) access and equity;
  • Creating safe and supportive Prekindergarten-College Completion (P-20) learning environments and support systems; and
  • Increasing postsecondary access and completion.

Workshop presenters included:

  • Vincena Allen, Chief College Success Officer, SEED Foundation
  • Charlene Brown-McKenzie, Director, Center for Multicultural Equity & Access, Executive Director, Institute for College Preparation, Georgetown University
  • Bernadette Gailliard, Ph.D., Assistant Professor and Co-Director of the Program for Early Career Excellence (PECE), Rutgers University – New Brunswick Campus
  • Grace E. Henry, Ed.D., Director of Diversity and Inclusion, School of Medicine and Health Sciences, George Washington University
  • Andrea Thomas, Executive Vice President, United Planning Organization

18 year old Thessalonika Arzu-Embry served as the student keynote speaker. Dr. Thessalonika received her Bachelor’s degree by age 14 and Ph.D. earlier this year and is a world-renowned expert on education, intelligence, and investment.

#AfAmWomenLead  convened a youth leadership summit to engage middle and high school girls in conversation about the issues facing them and the steps they’ve taken as community and campus leaders to pursue educational excellence.

On December 72017, Senior Advisor Monique Toussaint presented on a panel titled the Power of Mentoring for the U.S. Department of Education’s Mentoring Program. Advisor Toussaint spoke to her unique experience of serving as both a mentee and then later a mentor in the program.

On October 23 – 242017, Senior Advisor Monique Toussaint attended the #RealCollege Convening in Philadelphia, PA. Led by the Wisconsin HOPE Lab, researchers and practitioners from across the nation came together to discuss the issue of college food and housing insecurity.

On September 29, 2017, the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans hosted a Summit on Postsecondary Success for African American Students. The goals for the summit included:

  • Equipping students with the tools they need in order to successfully navigate their postsecondary careers;
  • Summarizing trends on the current status of minority students in developmental education;
  • Embracing and affirming minority students who may benefit from developmental education opportunities; and
  • Highlighting promising and proven strategies to ensure minority students receive optimal learning and development opportunities that enable them to fully participate in society through post-secondary success.

The summit kicked off with a discussion led by student speaker Kyonne Rowe, senior at Cornell University. The insightful event continued with a panel titled Reimagining Opportunities to Support Minority Students in Postsecondary Education featured the following professionals:

  • Moderator: Beatriz Ceja – Williams, Director, Hispanic Serving Institutions, Office of Postsecondary Education, US Department of Education;
  • Erin Berg, Community College Program Specialist, Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education, US Department of Education;
  • Dr. Cheryl Holcomb-McCoy, Professor and Dean, School of Education, American University;
  • John W. Rawlins III, Assistant Director of Leadership Development, Office of Multicultural Affairs, John Hopkins University; and
  • Dr. Charles L. Sexton III, Mathematics Instructional Specialist, Trinity Washington University.

On July 24, 2017, the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans hosted a Summit on Supporting African American Youth with Disabilities in honor of the 27th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Kristin Kushiyama from the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) highlighted the new Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) website This website is a new information hub that provides resources targeted towards students, educators, parents and community leaders—the audience of Monday’s event.

Pictured: Matthew Brown, Diplomat, Eye to Eye National

Following the introduction of the IDEA information hub was a student-led interactive workshop that featured Diplomat, Matthew Brown, of Eye to Eye National. Eye to Eye National is a mentorship program that strives to improve the lives of youth with learning disabilities. Through this program, students learn the skills necessary to become self-advocates, build their self-esteem, and value their unique minds, all the while maintaining a strong system of support. An exceptional Matthew Brown provided a personal account as an African American male with dyslexia, dysgraphia, executive functioning and attention deficit-disorder. Matthew has exemplified the importance of self-advocacy and communal support, as a successful student, mentor, and diplomat of Eye to Eye.

During his workshop, participants pinpointed their greatest strength through an activity entitled Megaphone Project.Through engaging in this hands-on activity, students with disabilities were able to redefine the way that others may view their disabilities amidst fostering conversation highlighting strategies for communal support.

Pictured left to right: Genee Norbert, Kirk Lew, Ronnie Sydney II, Lena McKnight, Kristin Shymoniak, and Julie Washington

The panel discussion consisted of a range of special education advocates who discussed reimagining opportunities for African American students with disabilities.This panel included:

  • Genee Norbert, Secondary Transition Lead, OSERS US Department of Education;
  • Kirk Lew, Senior Policy Advisor, Youth Workforce Systems Policy, Office of Disability Employment, US Department of Labor;
  • Julie Washington, Ph. D., Director, Communication Sciences and Disorders Program, Georgia State University;
  • Ronnie Sydney II, MSW, Outpatient Therapist, Middle Peninsula-North Neck Community Services Board;
  • Lena McKnight, College Student and Youth Advocate; and
  • Kristin Shymoniak, M.Ed., Lead Special Education Teacher, 2017 American Association of School Administrators (AASA) Bill and Melinda Gates Women in School Leadership Award Recipient.

Each panelist provided a different perspective based on their personal experiences as an African American with disabilities or with African American youth with disabilities. The panelists honed in on identifying one’s disability in order to have access to necessary services. The importance of familial support was emphasized; however, first-degree families may also suffer from similar issues that remain unidentified. This is where the support of one’s community becomes imperative. The panelists further discussed the need for parent advocacy and involvement, as well as shifting the image of students with disabilities from seemingly having behavioral issues to that of a learning disability.

With a full house of 200 attendees, students and parents of students with disabilities continued this discussion by expressing their need for communal and institutional support, in order to ensure success both inside and outside of the classroom. Post-reflection, parents, panelists, and students shared effective resources and strategies to advocate for inclusivity while navigating the educational setting, and beyond.

Brandon Sherman, Senior Counsel to the Assistant Secretary, from the Office of Civil Rights provided closing remarks. Sherman discussed the resources provided by the Office of Civil Rights for students with disabilities, which can be found on:

On June 222017, Senior Advisor Monique Toussaint co-presented on Pursuing Systemic Change to Advance Family Engagement at the National Family and Community Engagement Conference in San Francisco, CA. Alongside Keami Harris, Director of Capacity Building Programs for the National Association of Family, School and Community Engagement, the presentation focused on cultural responsiveness and building capacity to implement high-impact family engagement practices.

On June 112017, Senior Advisor Monique Toussaint moderated a panel on Engaging Families through Faith-based Organizations during the “Engaging Fathers and Families” Convening held by the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships in Washington, DC.

On May 23, 2017, Senior Advisor Monique Toussaint spoke on a panel titled Engaging Marginalized Families during the U.S. Department of Education’s Innovative Practices for Family Engagement program in Washington, DC. The daylong event featured a discussion with experts and small-group workshops and brought together educators and families to share success stories and lessons learned for bringing families to schools and schools to families. (Livestream)

On March 28, 2017, the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans hosted a Full STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) Ahead Summit to advance educational excellence in the STEAM fields. This summit was a response to address the need to get more students involved in STEAM educational subjects and careers.

The morning summit provided a platform for students and stakeholders to share recommendations on the foundations to achieving educational excellence for STEAM education and careers. The summit was the first summit that the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans held in 2017. The Full STEAM Ahead Summit included four panelists: Joeletta Patrick who serves as the Manager of the Minority University Research and Education Program at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA); Tiera Guinn who is a Rocket Structural Design Engineer for the Space Launch system at NASA; Korin Reid who is a Senior Data Scientist at McKesson Health Solutions; and Janett Martinez who serves as the Chief Executive Officer at Loomia – a smart fabric company voted startup of the year by Wareable.

Pictured left to right: Joeletta Patrick, Korin Reid, Janett Martinez, and Tiera Guinn

The Full STEAM Ahead Summit began with a demonstration from the joint D.C. International School and E.L. Haynes Public Charter School Robotics Team. The team shared their insights that they have learned as a result of being members of the Robotics team.

“Music and robotics are mathematically based; you can get a robot to dance if you want.” –Team Member

Following the demonstration, the summit featured a panel comprised of ground breaking African American Female STEAM leaders. The panelist each took the time to discuss how they made it to their current positions. They took grave detail in describing the intuition it takes to become a leader in STEAM. Later, the panelists took the time to answer student questions regarding the countless pathways to a successful career in STEAM fields. (Blog)

“Everybody’s path is different … you create your own success story” – Tiera Guinn

On March 8, 2017 Senior Advisor Monique Toussaint presented on the Crisis in Black Education for the USDA Office of the Inspector General’s Black History Month Observance program.

On March 2, 2017 the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans hosted its first reading party of the year for D.C. public school students! This celebration of African American readership and authorship was aligned with Read Across America Day – a nationwide celebration of literacy.

The reading party’s sixty participants from Perry Street Prep and Center City Public Charter Schools were actively engaged during the reading of Debbie Allen’s book, Dancing in the Wings – the story of an African American girl with dreams of being accepted as a ballerina.

After the reading, the students displayed their own talents as authors and illustrators. Students designed the covers for their up-coming book releases, drawing on the work of their literary heroes. Students left with copies of their illustrations, along with the reassurance that they too will be noticed for their distinctive talents.

On December 9, 2016 the Second Annual #AFAMWOMENLEAD Student Summit to Ensure Equity for African American Women and Girls was held at the U.S. Department of Education. The daylong convening provided a platform for experts, 250 young Black students, to meet other students, share their stories, make recommendations for how caring and concerned adults and institutions can ensure all students feel safe, engaged, and supported, and to highlight opportunities and resources to facilitate meaningful engagement. Students and caring and concerned adults participated in a series of interactive learning workshops designed to teach the “hidden curriculum,”[1] elevate student voice, provide a forum to design innovative solutions to contemporary problems, and develop concrete recommendations to advance the field. As part of their participation, 50 adults (e.g. federal government officials, educators, administrators, counselors, media moguls, afterschool programs) made commitments to integrate lessons learned during the convening to advance the work of supporting Black girls.

The Initiative presented a full day of events featuring brilliant student experts and women who are advancing the field and making real changes in the lives of African American women and girls. The unique forum centered the voice of students as they solve the most pressing contemporary issues facing African American women and girls. Adults gathered to discuss their work and form a network that will last through the Administration change. These groups will guide the field in ensuring equity. (Summit Memo)

On October 21st David Johns, Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, presented on “Disrupting Implicit Bias and Other Forms of Discrimination to Improve Access, Achievement, and Wellness for Students of Color” at the Delegate Assembly of the Florida Education Association. (Presentation)

On October 2nd The Faith-Based and Community Leaders Early Learning Toolkit was released at the 46th Annual National Black Child Development Institute (NBCDI) Conference in Orlando, FL. The toolkit is a comprehensive guide for faith-based and community leaders committed to the lifelong success of families and children. It identifies practices from faith-based and community organizations across the Nation and includes tips, best practices, and useful links.  This resource was drafted in collaboration with NBCDI, the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, and the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the U.S. Department of Education. (Toolkit)

On September 28th The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African-Americans (Initiative) Film Screening and Discussion Series (#AfAmEdFilms) held a screening of Traveling Without Moving in partnership with Fresh Films. Traveling Without Moving is a science-adventure film, featured and directed by students, about three teens whose science project unlocks the key to finding their missing parents!

On September 14th 18th The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans produced three sessions during the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation (CBCF) Annual Legislative Conference (ALC)  in Washington, D.C. The sessions provided platforms for African American students, caring and concerned adults, and public figures to discuss ways to support African American students. The ALC sessions included the Professional Development Series for Educators and a specific workshop: ESSA – Supporting Student Success, including through the Ensuring Every Student Succeeds Act; Producing STEM STARS: Supporting Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Success among African American Students; and an Emerging Leaders luncheon: Opportunities to Support African American Educational Excellence. Each session placed students’ needs at the center of the discussion, which resulted in though-provoking dialogue between students, educators, and caring and concerned adults. Panels featured high school students, college students, representatives from companies and organizations, as well as public figures. The goal across each session was to ensure attendees walked away with clear, implementable actions they can take to support African American students. (Session Summaries)

On September 16th The Next Generation: A College Completion Toolkit for First-Generation and Non-Traditional Students developed by the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans was released during the US Secretary of Education John King’s Bus Tour as part of the College Completion Fact sheet. The toolkit provides information and support for first-generation students, families, and postsecondary institutions that ensure students receive a quality postsecondary education. Included in this toolkit is a step-by-step guide to help families and communities support first-generation African-American students in preparing for college admission. (Toolkit)

On August 17th The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans hosted the White House Summit on African American Educational Excellence at Harris-Stowe State University in St. Louis, MO in partnership with Teach for America and Wells Fargo & Company. (Article)

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