Two of America’s most influential advocates for improving the life outcomes of children from underprivileged backgrounds will be honored this evening during an awards ceremony meant to recognize their lifetime achievements.
Diverse will present its distinguished John Hope Franklin Award to Dr. Edmund Gordon, a longtime research scientist, a prolific writer on the subject of academic achievement and educational equity and an original architect of the federally funded Head Start program; and Marian Wright Edelman, founder and longtime leader of the Children’s Defense Fund, a national organization that has for decades pushed for policies that improve the quality of life for the nation’s poorest children.
This is the seventh year that Diverse has presented the John Hope Franklin Award, and the first year the award presentation has been incorporated into the annual meeting of the American Council on Education in Washington, D.C.
Maya Minter, Diverse’s vice president of editorial and production, says both Gordon and Edelman embody the principles of the award’s namesake, a noted historian who played a critical role in creating the framework for Brown v. Board of Education.
Minter says the late Franklin would have found nothing more encouraging than for the education community to come together to see both Edmund and Edelman receive the award named in his honor.
Of Gordon, Minter says, “He and Dr. Franklin represent the very essence of intellectual excellence and integrity in research and scholarship.”
Minter describes Edelman’s Children’s Defense Fund as “the most powerful voice ever created for the millions of poor children in the United States.”
Indeed, both Gordon’s and Edelman’s advocacy on behalf of poor and minority children has defined a significant challenge of the 21st century, which is to improve the life quality and life chances of such children ensure the nation’s future.
Gordon has done this through research and scholarship, while Edelman has focused on policy. Both of their contributions have pushed higher education to tackle the issues of K-12 education and child welfare more aggressively than would likely have otherwise been the case.
Gordon holds a series of distinguished academic posts, including director of the Institute for Minority and Urban Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. He is also currently working alongside Educational Testing Service senior researcher Dr. Michael Nettles on a project that deals with what educational tests and assessments will look like in the coming years.
The project, known as the Gordon Commission on the Future of Assessment, is just one of several projects that will build upon a monumental legacy that includes helping to design and launch Head Start — the nation’s longstanding federally funded pre-school program for disadvantaged youth
“[Head Start] has made enormous contributions to not just the academic health, but the physical and mental health of millions of people in the country,” Nettles says. “And now, here we are half a century later and people are establishing pre-school as the foundation for closing the achievement gap.”
Interestingly, Head Start is one of the many programs Edelman has fought for at the helm of the Children’s Defense Fund, says Minter. The CDF also supports programs providing health care, immunizations, nutritious food and educational opportunities for poor children and their families.
Dr. Johnnetta Cole, director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art and a past John Hope Franklin award recipient, called Edelman an “amazing and grace-filled champion for all of our children.”
“Observing and supporting her efforts in the interest of every child, and serving as the president of her alma mater, Spelman College, are among the great joys and privileges in my life,” Cole says. “It will be a great event when my heroine, Marian Wright Edelman, receives an award that bears the name of my hero, John Hope Franklin.”
This year’s award will be presented at a reception today between 6:00 p.m. and 7:15 p.m., during the 93rd annual ACE conference at the Washington Hilton Hotel.
Past recipients of the award include: Dr. Clifton Wharton, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Dr. Maya Angelou, and Dr. William Friday.