Grantee Spotlight: Mary McCleod Bethune and Black Minds Matter

From slavery through Reconstruction and to the present day, African Americans have worked to promote freedom in education. Black people then and now built their own schools, empowered their community, and ultimately set a high education standard for children.

Educator Mary McLeod Bethune, for example, was forever hunting down dollars to keep her private school afloat and it wore her down. Bethune-Cookman University was a private school for girls before it was a college. In 1902, she asked Booker T. Washington for money.

In 1915, she asked philanthropist and civil-rights advocate Julius Rosenwald for money. In 1920, she made a pitch on the letters page of the New York Times. All of this history can be found in “Mary McLeod Bethune: Building a Better World,” an inspiring collection of Bethune’s writing.

In 1941, Bethune even asked FDR for support. “I need not tell you what it has meant in Florida to try to build up a practical and cultural institution for my people,” she wrote to the president. “It has taken a wisdom and tact and patience and endurance that I cannot describe in words.”

Instead, she wrote, “We are now in desperate need of funds. My nights are sleepless with this load upon my heart and mind.” I can’t help but wonder what a superhero like Bethune could have done had Florida provided vouchers and tax-credit scholarships a century ago.

Education Freedom Critical for Black-Founded Schools, Entrepreneurs

I don’t mean to dismiss the inequity in funding for choice programs—it’s real, and it deserves more attention—but inequity is relative. Funding streams available to low-income students today would have allowed Bethune to park the bike, forget the pie crust and focus on her core mission.

It would also have allowed her to rally more people to the cause. I share this story because our Black-founded schools today are operable thanks to school-choice policies that are allowing the next Bethune to build the dream for this generation.

Building on Bethune’s Legacy

With Black Minds Matter, we aim every day to support and encourage this innovation through the unlimited power of school choice. Black-founded schools are operable thanks to school-choice policies. Supporting education freedom means supporting educational entrepreneurship.

Today, hundreds of African Americans are starting schools to educate students, and education freedom creates the opportunity for entrepreneurial educators to start and operate schools aligned to their strengths and their beliefs about how children should be educated.

Millions of Black parents have expected public schools to help their children to be better but, throughout generations, there has been no significant improvement for Black students. Black students continue to lag behind academically.

Black school founders, however, are changing that narrative. They seek to provide students with a rich education. Black Minds Matter (BMM) is a project of the American Federation for Children.

It is a movement to promote education freedom, specifically in the African American community. We seek to become the nation’s most prominent voice for education freedom for Black Americans.

First Directory of Black-Founded Schools

In 2021, we built the first and only directory of Black-founded schools. In 2022, we focused our efforts on identifying, connecting, and building a network of Black school founders from around the country. This year, our Black-founded schools’ directory grew to 400 schools nationwide.

We built the Black Founders Network, a group of 100 Black school founders who have had two or more touch points with our project (e.g., podcast interview, school tour, joining our Facebook group, etc.).

On October 20-21, 2022 we hosted our first National Black Founders Summit where more than 70 registrants attended to learn about school choice, network with one another and become advocates for education freedom. With your help, we can do even more good in the year ahead.

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