This post originally appeared on the White House Blog on February 19, 2011.
Editor's note: This post is part of the Celebrating Black History Month series, which highlights the African Americans from across the Administration whose work contributes to the President's goals for winning the future.
As a naturalized citizen, born in Africa to Haitian parents, I was fortunate to be raised by a mother and father who instilled in me at any early age, the value of education. I was also inspired by the example of people like Frederick Douglass, W.E. B. DuBois, Dorothy Height and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who made education the centerpiece of their efforts to build a more perfect union. Their focus on education and the schools and colleges they have supported have produced generations of leaders and helped build a solid Black middle class. These American heroes understood something that we have all come to know: Education is the civil rights issue of our time.
As the first African American CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), I am proud to stand on such strong shoulders. Education has always been integral to the agency’s mission. And as the nation looks for ways to improve educational outcomes for all our children, there is growing awareness from people of all political persuasions and walks of life that citizen service is the “secret sauce” in education reform, especially for youth from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Each of the agency’s programs address national education challenges in unique ways – from seniors mentoring at-risk youth to AmeriCorps members providing classroom support to Learn and Serve America college students providing literacy training to underserved communities.
Whenever I’ve had the chance to talk with our national service Corps members -- whether as teachers or tutors or mentors – I am always impressed with their passion and their belief that failure is not an option. There is a special relationship between the young Corps members and the students they serve that exists nowhere else in education. When no one else is there for the students in some of our toughest schools and neighborhoods...when no one else seems to care or believe in them -- these Corps members show up every day determined to see them succeed.
The Kennedy Serve America Act, signed into law by President Obama in 2009, puts our educational mission front and center. It requires that we focus our efforts on ensuring every child – especially those least considered and supported – engage in learning.
At CNCS, that means focusing most of our $350 million in education grants on students struggling to succeed in the lowest achieving schools. But we know that education at every level isn’t just about personal achievement and earning power, it’s about giving young people a sense that they are part of something larger – a community, a country, a world that needs them.
The marriage of citizen service and education is having a profound impact on student engagement and achievement. If we continue to strengthen this relationship, I am confident we will win the future.
Patrick A. Corvington is the CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service.