Celebrating Black History Month: Reflecting on African-American Women and APS
Black History Month is a time to celebrate and appreciate the immeasurable impact that African-Americans have had and continue to have on our society and even on our individual lives. For me, Black History Month is something I celebrate every month because I remain inspired by the trailblazers of the African-American community who helped clear a path to opportunity for so many of us.
When I think about some of those trailblazers, I don’t have to look much further than right here at APS. The legacy and names of some of the most distinguished people in Atlanta and in American history are literally etched into the walls of many of our schools today.
Quite a few of our most visible schools – our high schools – are named after extraordinary African-American men: George Washington Carver, Alonzo Crim, Frederick Douglass, Maynard H. Jackson, Benjamin E. Mays and Booker T. Washington.
But, a number of our schools are also named after dynamic, inspiring, and innovative women who have contributed greatly to our city, state and nation. Three of these women – Coretta Scott King, Michelle Obama and Jean Childs Young – carved out amazing legacies of their own, even as they worked with husbands who had international reputations as leaders. And other women – M. Agnes Jones, Margaret Fain and Leonora Precious Miles – changed lives at the local level as they worked to make their own communities better.
I want to shine a spotlight on these women and the impact they have had on APS and on my life as we celebrate Black History Month.
Coretta Scott King
The Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy (affectionately called CSKYWLA “Sisk-key-wall-la” by students) was of course, named in honor of Mrs. King. Beyond being the wife of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Coretta Scott King committed her own life to that of social justice and peace.
She successfully balanced motherhood while speaking before church, civic, college, fraternal and peace groups. After her husband’s assassination in 1968, Mrs. King remained committed to building and developing programs for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change as a living memorial to the legacy of Dr. King.
Coretta carried the message of nonviolence and the dream of the beloved community to almost every corner of our nation and throughout the globe, having led goodwill missions to many countries in Africa, Latin America, Europe and Asia, and she was the first woman to deliver the class day address at Harvard, and the first woman to preach at a statutory service at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.
CSKYWLA was founded in her honor in July 2010 with a singular goal – to ensure each young woman graduates from college ready to make a positive impact on the global community.
The school is now led by Principal Eulonda Washington, pictured here, and has really worked toward the mission of graduating more students. In fact, CSKYWLA posted the second highest graduation rate for Cohort 2018 with 93.5%! For us at APS, when we say, “CSKYWLA”, it means to be empowered by love, nonviolent social change, and scholarship. Thank you, Coretta Scott King, for your visionary leadership and for the indelible mark you’ve had on our lives.
Jean Childs Young
Our very own Jean Childs Young Middle School in the Mays Cluster was named in honor of Jean Childs Young, a stalwart of civil rights. Like her dear friend Coretta Scott King, Jean Childs Young marched with her husband, Ambassador Andrew Young, during the Civil Rights Movement, and continued her service up until she succumbed to complications from liver cancer in 1994.
Beyond civil rights, Mrs. Young was actively involved in promoting children’s rights and served in many capacities with the United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Children’s Defense Fund. In 1978, Young was appointed by President Jimmy Carter as chair of the American Committee of the U.N. International Year of the Child. When her husband served as mayor of Atlanta, she became active in government and women’s voting rights, working as an active member of the League of Women Voters.
At Young Middle School, Principal Kara Stimpson, pictured left, and the entire Young community like to say “It’s a Movement!” As one of our turnaround schools, Young really has a turnaround leader and staff in place, so we expect great work in the years ahead. The school’s vision is to be a model school that prepares students to become college and career ready in order to be equipped academically and technologically to compete in a global society.
Among our living legends, few women inspire me more than the first African-American First Lady in this country, Michelle Obama. She served as First Lady from 2009 to 2017 and always stood tall in her own right, working passionately toward an even better America.
As a teenager, she recalls being inspired to follow in the footsteps of her brother and attend Princeton University, but at that time, some of her teachers tried to dissuade her from applying, warning her against setting her sights too high. Michelle not only applied to Princeton, she was accepted and majored in sociology and minored in African-American studies.
She stands as a true role model for men and women everywhere, and as an advocate for poverty awareness, education, nutrition, and health. When the Peoplestown community here in Atlanta considered a new name for the former D.H. Stanton Elementary School, they chose to honor both of the Obamas with the name Barack and Michelle Obama Academy.
Our school, led by Principal Robin Christian pictured here, serves PreK through 5th grade students, and I could not be more proud to have BAMO be part of such a rich history and legacy. The school is already making amazing gains; for example, BAMO has improved its state rank on the critical College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI) by 41 points in just two years!
M. Agnes Jones, Margaret Fain and Leonora Precious Miles
M. Agnes Jones, Fain, and Miles elementary schools — one each in the Washington, Douglass and Mays clusters — were named after Atlanta women who tirelessly worked to advance children’s causes and the rights of teachers. Today they are led by three passionate and dynamic educators, pictured below – Dr. Margul Woolfolk at M. Agnes Jones, Desmond Moore at Fain and Thalise Perry at Miles.
Mary Agnes Jones
Our M. Agnes Jones elementary is named after the first black supervisor in Atlanta Public Schools in 1920. Later, she led as the first female president of the Georgia Teachers and Education Association, serving from 1935-1937. She was also one of the first in APS to earn her master’s degree in education. Keeping with Mrs. Jones’ reputation for being the first, M. Agnes Jones Elementary two years ago became the very first STEM-certified school in the district!
Margaret Kennedy Fain
Fain Elementary School was named for Margaret (Kitty) Kennedy Fain, who was a community activist residing in the Adamsville Community in 1940. Due to a fire, the school was rebuilt in the early 1990s and was renovated in 2009. The school has been open longer than any other elementary school in the Adamsville Community, serving as an anchor in that neighborhood. Over the past two years, Fain Elementary has gradually decreased the percent of beginning learners as shown in our last Georgia Milestones results.
Leonora Precious Miles
Leonora Precious Miles (L.P. Miles) Elementary School began as Bethlehem Church School in 1907 with an enrollment of 73 students. In recognition of Lenora’s community efforts, the Fulton County Board of Education named the school L.P. Miles Elementary on April 16, 1967, in her honor. Today, Miles Elementary has even more of which to be proud. On the CCRPI, Miles has outperformed the state and district for progress points and closing the gap, and the school was also named a 2018 Beating the Odds School for outperforming other schools with similar demographics.
As we celebrate the impact of African-Americans this and every month, I hope you think about these and other powerful African-American women whose lives and legacies have become ingrained in our collective history. Let’s emulate their dedication to service, but most of all, let’s remember their commitment to children and their hard work to ensure that every child has access to an education that leads to a choice-filled life.