By Tala Strauss
Gordon College News Service
January 31, 2013
Nicole Baker Fulgham’s singular passion is education reform. Founder and president of The Expectations Project in Washington, D.C., Fulgham engaged students for two days in January, urging them to become advocates for justice in the public school system. Her message was clear: sixty years after desegregation in the US, two separate public school systems still exist.
“This is one of the most important justice issues of our generation,” Fulgham said in a public interview on Thursday, January 24, moderated by Ashlie Busone ‘14 in a packed Chairman’s Room in KOSC. “A lot of people talk about it as a civil rights issue.”
Fulgham stressed that not only does an achievement gap exist in the US, but inequity in education is also an issue of race and class.
“We see significant achievement gaps, particularly among African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, and some Asian American populations,” she said. “Whereas we see many Asian American populations and white Caucasian populations achieve at significantly higher levels.”
But it is not just Fulgham’s passion for justice that motivates her to advocate for change. As an African American who grew up in Detroit, Fulgham’s own experience opened her eyes to the injustice of the education system. While she tested into an exam high school, the rest of her friends went to the local public high school.
“No one talked to my friends about college. Lots of the kids - about half of them - dropped out of high school,” Fulgham shared. “My brother and I are two of the three kids we know from our entire neighborhood that actually went to college.”
Fulgham addressed the entire campus in Convocation on Friday, January 25.
“God calls Christians to work for justice,” she urged. “His heart for children made in His image and likeness demands that we become advocates for education reform.”
Fulgham believes it will take a mindset shift in public and political will to change the education system, but assured students that change is possible. The goal of The Expectations Project is to equip faith communities to lead the movement for education reform. They have begun by raising awareness and aim to mobilize churches across the nation to come alongside teachers, principals, and parents in advocating for disenfranchised children.
For some students, it’s not news that many urban schools are struggling, and the possibility of change seems unlikely.
“The overall issue wasn’t news,” Nathans Josephs ‘13 said. “All the complexities are familiar, at least, maybe not as nuanced, but they are definitely familiar, such as the institution being a problem.”
Others, like Nina Voli ‘13, said that Fulgham encouraged students to get angry about the problem.
“She was saying there’s a significant lack of righteous indignation about an issue that is so grossly unjust that it deserves our attention, both as citizens and as people of faith,” Voli said. “It’s something that we shouldn’t be allowing ourselves to ignore.”
In a final event on Friday afternoon, about twenty-five students squeezed around the tables in the Lion’s Den to have a more informal conversation with Fulgham over lunch. The room was full to the brim. Students had come prepared with questions, so Fulgham shared some of her advice on building high-profile nonprofits, the role of prayer in her planning process, and the story of how The Expectations Project came to be. Just like the other events featuring Fulgham that week, there was a line-up of five to six students waiting to speak to her personally after the lunch was over.
Fulgham’s book on education reform, Educating All God’s Children: What Christians Can Do to Help Improve Low-income Public Schools for Kids (Baker Publishing/Brazos Press), comes out in April 2013.