By Bethany Dickerson Wynder, Director of National Diversity Recruitment and Strategic Partnerships, City Year, Inc. 

During Black History Month, City Year honors many “unsung heroes” – educators, tutors, mentors, and role models – who have worked and continue to work to help transform the lives of young students. City Year pays homage to the important role of education and educational achievement in the ongoing history of the African American community. City Year celebrates Black History Month as part of its ongoing work to promote race equity, address the educational achievement gap, and acknowledge the historic context and significant contribution and achievement of African Americans in the life of the nation.

Negro History Week, the precursor to Black History Month, was created in 1926 by Dr. Carter G. Woodson, an African American historian, author, and journalist. From the event’s initial phase in the early 1900s, primary emphasis was placed on encouraging the coordinated teaching of the history of American blacks in the nation’s public schools. Prominent African Americans who have committed to creating a legacy of educational excellence for all youth, especially African American youth, include the following individuals:

  • Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune (1875-1955), an American educator and civil rights leader best known for starting a school for African American students in Florida, that eventually became Bethune-Cookman University.
  • Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole (1936-), the first African American female president of Spelman College (1987-1997) and president of Bennett College from 2002 to 2007.
  • Mary Smith Peake (1823-1862), an American teacher and humanitarian, best known for starting a school for the children of former slaves starting in the fall of 1861, located at Emancipation Oak in Virginia.
  • The Jeanes Teachers, supervisors of black rural schools in the southern states from 1908 to 1933.

As we celebrate Black History Month, we also celebrate the collective power of a diverse group of young people. They work in the lowest performing schools to keep students in school and on track to graduate each year. We celebrate the fact that there is hope in the fight to reform our nation’s struggling schools. There is hope to end the dropout crisis. We celebrate the fact that City Year is continuing the tradition of promoting educational excellence in an effort to propel students and schools to achieve greater success and set America on the path to continued economic prosperity and security in the 21st Century.

What is City Year doing to promote educational excellence and race equity?

In 2011, the National Recruitment team developed a holistic, integrated, and multi-year corps member diversity plan. The plan is an initial step toward an integrated, holistic, and realistic approach to increase the number of City Year corps members of color. The process of developing, discussing, and implementing the plan provides an opportunity for aligning City Year’s mission, vision, and values with its commitment to enhancing and increasing the diversity of its corps members.

Diversity is an intrinsic part of City Year. Over the past three years, we developed national partnerships with approximately 15 organizations that often refer their members to and promote City Year to further increase the diversity of the corps member applicant pool. Of those 15 partner organizations, City Year has formalized working agreements with several including the Ron Brown Scholar Program. In 2011, City Year created a Diversity Recruitment Collaborative comprised of peer organizations including Teach For AmericaPeace Corps, and Breakthrough Collaborative to identify and share best and promising practices around ways that the respective organizations can work together to meet recruitment goals. Most recently, the recruitment team developed a corps diversity statement and an engagement strategy for service-minded Black, Latino/Hispanic, and Asian Pacific Islander American fraternities and sororities.

Continue the legacy…

Support City Year efforts to increase corps diversity by participating in recruitment and alumni affairs activities across the country. If you are a young person between 17-24 years old, considerembracing a life-changing experience and commit to a year of service which will transform you and the students you serve. Our next deadline is February 15, 2014.

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