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Education Reform: It’s Time for Us to Step Up to the Plate

It’s no longer news that America’s public education system is in crisis. As my son and Black Enterprise CEO Earl “Butch” Graves Jr. repeatedly points out, this is not some distant future threat to the competitiveness of our businesses but a clear and present danger to the economic security of our entire nation.

At ground zero of this crisis are black and brown students who make up an overwhelming majority of those relying on our nation’s public schools. Despite this fact, those most invested and involved in education reform have not been black business executives, professionals, and entrepreneurs, but the likes of Bill and Melinda Gates, who are making tremendous and laudable investments of human and intellectual as well as financial capital in support of finding solutions. The efforts of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have focused on improving K–12 education as well as helping community colleges more effectively prepare young adults to be valuable contributors to our workforce and our society. Unfortunately, the involvement of African American business leaders in education reform has been the exception, not the rule. This must change; we need to take a stand and not leave the solutions to educating our children to others.

Black Enterprise has consistently sounded the call to address this crisis, and never more than in the past decade, as the system even more egregiously fails the children it is charged with educating and preparing to live productive lives. Among other initiatives, we’re expanding our leadership role in this area by partnering with the Gates Foundation to increase the focus on solutions that can ultimately resolve this crisis, solutions that cannot be successfully executed without African American business leaders who are fully invested in the battle to reform public education.

Working with the Gates Foundation’s U.S. Program Chief of Staff Dawn Chirwa, Deputy Director of Education Irvin Scott, and other education leaders, we launched “Today’s Business Crisis: Educating Tomorrow’s Workforce,” a series of invitation-only symposia to bring together top leaders in business, philanthropy, and education to discuss the critical challenges facing American education and the role business leaders must play in improving our public schools. The first of these forums were held this past November in Memphis, Tennessee, and in February at the 2013 Women of Power Summit in Orlando, Florida. Additional seminars are slated for Charlotte, North Carolina, and several other cities across the country later this year.

The mission is as simple as it is powerful and necessary: to get African American business leaders, corporate executives, entrepreneurs, and professionals to engage in the battle to reform public education. What legacy are we leaving to our own children if we are not prepared to play an active role in helping them succeed, beyond writing the occasional check? Government alone, including the Obama administration, cannot reform education in absence of our own leadership and investment in education reforms that deliver results. Our nation, and especially our children, can no longer afford African American business leaders who stand on the sidelines of education reform. It’s time for all of us to step up to the plate.