U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will be in Chicago Friday to help kick off the 6th annual “Back-to-School with The HistoryMakers” program, which places black leaders in 400 schools nationally to make a statement about the importance of inspiring today’s youth.
The HistoryMakers, a Chicago-based nonprofit, will host a 10 a.m. invitation-only reception at Paul Robeson High School, 6835 S. Normal Blvd., with Duncan, who will be joined by Thomas Burrell, founder of the nation’s largest black-owned advertising agency, Burrell Communications; Forrest Claypool, CEO of Chicago Public Schools Forrest Claypool; Secretary of State Jesse White; Dorothy Leavell, publisher of the Chicago Crusader newspaper; state Rep. Monique Davis (D-27th), Chicago historian Timuel Black; and civil rights activist Dorothy Tillman, and many more.
Julieanna Richardson, founder and executive director of The HistoryMakers, said it will donate its Digital Archive to CPS so students can listen to 3,000 hours of success stories about blacks.
Claypool said students would benefit from the archives because the success stories recorded come directly from community stakeholders.
“We are grateful to the The HistoryMakers for providing our students with access to their Digital Archive,” said Claypool. “Using modern technology to make history come alive will inspire our students both to understand our past and imagine their own exciting futures.”
“Our archives have testimonies from such greats as entrepreneur Russell Simmons; former Joint Chief of Staff Colin Powell; civil rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson; and President Barack Obama when he was an Illinois senator,” Richardson told Examiner. “A lot of change is happening in urban schools around the country, and that’s why we are hosting this one day event simultaneously in 67 cities and 32 states.”
She added that speakers will be at schools on Friday in Atlanta, New York, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Cleveland, Boston, Memphis, Dallas, and many more.
“These are concerned citizens that will visit schools to talk about their careers, struggles and success stories. Our children need to hear directly from people they can identify closely with and that’s someone from their community,” explained Richardson. “We received a $1.6 million gift [from a fortune 500 company] to help us achieve our goal of educating ‘our’ people about African American history.”
According to Richardson, the organization has interviewed over 2,700 ‘history makers’ with the goal of creating an archive of 5,000 interviews or 20,000 hours of unique, first person testimonies.
Duncan, the former CEO of Chicago Public Schools, said he looks forward to returning to Chicago whose students face challenges everyday.
“Navigating the demands of school can be challenging for any young person. Students in Chicago and across the nation face many obstacles outside of the classroom,” Duncan said. “Hard work, determination and resolve will carry these students through so that their education can create a brighter future, as many of The HistoryMakers stories demonstrate.”
It is challenges like homelessness and violence that Richardson said she wants The HistoryMakers to address directly by sharing their own life journeys.
“There are 200 students this year attending Robeson even though the school could hold 1,000. And half of the students there are homeless,” contends Richardson. “And I am willing to bet many students do not know who Paul Robeson is or why a school is named after him. No one should graduate from a school named after a black, historical person and not know anything about them.”
CPS officials were unavailable for comment.
According to CPS data, there are 203 students enrolled at Robeson whose student population is 99 percent black with 98 percent residing in low-income households.
Still, Richardson said getting students to listen to its archives would empower them as young people and hopefully encourage them to always strive to be the best.
“[Now] imagine how powerful it could be if students could spend some time with the person and the stories,” added Richardson.