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Answering The President and First Lady's Call

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Barack and Michelle Obama have brought an energetic and positive activism to the White House. They are setting bold, ambitious goals and urging all of us to do our part to help our nation achieve them.  And education is central to their call to action. The president and first lady are urging pre-school so all kids have an early and healthy start.  The president is demanding that public schools prepare all of our children for college and careers.  And he is providing more financial support for college students so that they not only have the money to enroll in but also enough to pay for and finish college in vastly greater numbers. Why so much emphasis on rigorous academics and advanced degrees?  Make no mistake.  The answer is clear. In the 21st century, the college degree is what the high school diploma was in the 20th century--the minimum educational credential for the fastest growing jobs in an economy that values and rewards advanced technical skills, knowledge and the ability to continue to learn independently. The United States will especially reward those with degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. And the economy will continue to punish those with low levels of formal education. That is why Michelle Obama is so focused on ensuring that all children get a healthy start in life. And it is why President Obama has challenged the nation to reclaim our position as the number one producer of college graduates in the world.  The president knows that to regain that position the United States must produce more college graduates of color--black and Latino graduates particularly because together they represent such a sizable and growing segment of the population. Over the next decade, we have to double the number of college graduates America produces. So, nearly seven decades after its founding in 1944, the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) is working to support the president's and first lady's education programs by doing all we can to help produce more college graduates of color. The message that I, as president and CEO of UNCF, am bringing back to the black community is that education is more important than ever before and that our organizations and all of us together as individuals have to do our part to help produce more college graduates.  We have to answer Barack and Michelle's call to action! Last year 130,000 of the nearly 2 million African Americans in college earned a degree.  Twenty percent of those graduates--26,000--earned theirs at a historically black college or university (HBCU).  If we will all work together, I believe we can double that number over the next decade to produce a quarter million black college graduates a year and over 50,000 of them at our HBCUs. My blog here at Essence is my new pulpit for preaching the urgent need for our community to know about the renewed importance of education.  This blog is forum for me and my readers to talk about and challenge one another to do all we can to ensure that African Americans and all Americans are educationally more competitive in the 21st century. Here we will explore a range of issues from getting a graduate or professional degree to urging folks we know to return to college to finish that bachelor's degree that was started but never finished because we know it is never too late to improve ourselves. And here we can talk honestly about the issues that are particularly important to our community.  We will celebrate the fact that black women are so engaged in their educational advancement, attending and completing college at rates greater than ever.  But we will also try to answer the tough questions about what all of us can do to inspire black boys and men to be educationally ambitious like black women are. I have chosen to call this blog Morehouse Man because I am a proud graduate of the college--the alma mater of Martin Luther King Jr., Maynard Jackson, Spike Lee, Samuel L. Jackson and tens of thousands of black men who have been leaders in communities across the country and around the world. I will share my own story of what a powerful difference my education has made in my own life.  I will blog about the challenges of educating my three daughters, including my nineteen year old who has Down syndrome.  And I will share what I have learned over four decades as a professor, college president and now as the CEO of UNCF. I am a member of the generation that witnessed and benefited from the civil rights revolution that removed the legal barriers that limited the lives of African Americans.  Today, we need a new education revolution so that more African Americans will have the skills, knowledge, and credentials to take full advantage of the opportunities earlier generations struggled and sacrificed to gain for us.  We stand on their shoulders.  All of us have work to do for the generations to come. As a Morehouse Man, as a graduate of the college that teaches all of its students that they can and must be activists and leaders, I am committed to doing my part to help achieve the educational goals that our president and first lady have challenged America to attain.  I know that even the most seemingly ambitious goals can be met with hard work, persistence and determination. So, I am writing this blog because I believe the women (and men) who read Essence can be important partners in doing the crucial work that Barack and Michelle Obama have called upon all of us to do.  Together we can answer their call to give our children a healthy start, prepare them for college and double the number of college graduates we produce.  If we answer the call, we will be changing lives and changing America at the same time.  And we will be living up to the ideal expressed in the UNCF motto: "A mind is a terrible thing to waste." Read More:
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