By Fatima Nasiyr
Update: You can now watch the full interview with David Johns here!
At the beginning of February, the Loudspeaker team had the great joy and honor to fly out to Washington, D.C. to interview David Johns, the Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans. I could tell from his lively Twitter page that I was going to enjoy meeting him, but those tweets did not fully prepare me. Mr. Johns has incredible energy and passion and is, simply put, an inspiration.
After spending a couple of days filming Mr. Johns in a range of settings including at Browne Education Campus, Anacostia High School and the Department of Education, I found myself constantly reiterating his catchphrase: “teach the babies.” Seeing Mr. Johns interact with the students at these schools, it was apparent how much joy he receives from inspiring the youth to excel.
One moment that stuck out to me the most was at the reading of Champions for Change, a children’s book written by 10-year-old Jeremiah and 8-year-old Joshua (who are absolutely brilliant). There was a young African American girl, probably around 6 years old, who walked into the library where the reading was taken place and was obviously distressed. Her face and body language all conveyed a sense of deep frustration and lack of enthusiasm. Mr. Johns noticed this instantly and proceeded to see what was bothering her. She told him how she thought her hair was ugly because it wasn’t made up that day. Mr. Johns gave this little girl a pep talk, telling her how beautiful she is, how beautiful her hair is, and how she should not let her appearance get in the way of her engaging in school. She took her seat and was ready to enjoy the day.
David Johns was born and raised in Inglewood, CA, and through the support of his family and community he was able to achieve educational excellence, traveling hours to and from various magnet schools to escape the lackluster ones that dotted his neighborhood. Mr. Johns is a graduate of Columbia University, receiving both a master’s degree in sociology and education policy from Teachers College and a bachelor’s degree in English, creative writing and African American studies. He graduated summa cum laude while simultaneously teaching elementary school in New York City. Johns has served as a senior education policy advisor to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions under Senator Tom Harkin, a Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Fellow in the office of Congressman Charles Rangel, and has done research as an Andrew W. Mellow Fellow.
Be sure to keep a look out for our #OnTheLoudspeaker interview with David Johns as he shares what inspires him to fight for the educational excellence of all African Americans.