During my time here at KnowledgeWorks, I’ve had countless opportunities to learn from our staff and partner learning communities across the country. One critical notion that’s been affirmed, over and over, is the idea of starting with your own “Why.” When Virgel Hammonds talks about the power of “Why,” he’s using it as the basis for both motivation and transformation. “If someone understands your why, they will know your guiding principles and can better understand how to communicate and serve with you,” he said. “That works in reverse as well. If you know someone’s ‘Why,’ you will be a stronger partner with and for them.” A testament to servant leadership in action.
My personal “Why” and, more importantly, our collective “Why” at KnowledgeWorks has been increasingly on my mind. With the passing of Judge Nathanial Jones last week, the nation lost a great leader. Because his work and beliefs became so intertwined to the “Why” of KnowledgeWorks, the loss feels like an important and personal one for our organization, as well.
Judge Jones was always ever-present during our discussions and the work of KnowledgeWorks, but he brought with him his values, opinions and advice along with decades worth of knowledge and experience. KnowledgeWorks Board member Victor Young pointed out that Jones’ sharing of his work on the Kerner Commission in the 1960s and subsequently with the NAACP helped make connections between America’s history and struggle with race and how that struggle still plays out as we work for human rights for all.
KnowledgeWorks was established with a commitment to civil and human rights. “It is our ‘Why’ for supporting individualized instruction and competency-based assessments offering equal access to all,” said Young. Our commitment to make learning personalized must reduce the achievement gaps that exist on the basis of race, gender, class and geography to make any claim to be transformative at a systems level.
These sentiments echoed across our Board of Directors, as well as an acknowledgement that we have the honor and responsibility to help his work live on. “I learned so much history from the Judge; he never let me forget how important it is to make sure that we provide opportunities for everyone,” said Board Chair Lucie Lapovsky.
Black History Month is an opportunity to celebrate the achievements by African Americans and a time for recognizing the central role of Blacks in U.S. history. History is not a thing of the past; history is constantly being made. While this month is an opportunity to pause and celebrate the work of great leaders like Judge Jones and Steve Minter, former leader of the Cleveland Foundation and undersecretary for the U.S. Department of Education during President Jimmy Carter’s administration, who passed away this Fall. These men led their communities to be places where every person became more valued – where relationships defined both progress, fairness, opportunity and justice. They would also be among the first to point not to their own contributions but of the people on the ground and in the trenches doing the good work of improving access, rights and equity for others.
As an organization, KnowledgeWorks’ focus on social consciousness and moral responsibility is one that we will be carrying out, both as honoring of our “Why,” but also to help carry on the memory of great African American leaders.