NAACP’s Beth Glenn Talks African American Youth and Education
“The glaring disparities experienced by black students cries out for leadership from a race-specific lens.”
In advance of the NAACP’s 8th Annual Leadership 500 Summit, which will hit Destin, Florida, May 24 through 27, we sat down with the new guard of the 103-year-old civil rights organization to discuss the biggest issues impacting African Americans today and what we can do about them.
These five dynamic young women are leading the march toward equality in these decidedly turbulent times. Today, we talk to Beth Glenn, Director of Education Programs.
Name: Beth Glenn
Title: Director, Education Programs
Joined NAACP Staff In: 2009
Previous NAACP Position: National Voter Fund Volunteer
Loop 21: What drew you to work with the NAACP?
Glenn: When I helped register voters and get them to the polls in 2002 in Florida, I was reminded of the power and potential of the NAACP. When the opportunity arose to help the association reinvigorate its education organizing infrastructure, I saw it as a privilege and opportunity to work with the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization. Plus, the glaring disparities in the quality of teaching and learning experienced by black students really cries out for leadership from a race-specific lens.
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Loop 21: What is your background in the education sector?
Glenn: My mom was a public school educator for 20 years and later a teacher educator, so I grew up talking and thinking about how to improve schools. I was drawn to education policy when I was a reporter and editorial writer for newspapers, and then focused on it again during my graduate policy studies. Serving as a staffer for an African-American member of Congress and later an education policy tank only solidified my conviction that reshaping the school experience for students of color is central to the health of the nation and the African-American community.
Loop 21: What is the biggest education issue facing the black community today?
Glenn: The education crisis facing black students is really a crisis of investment and opportunity. We fail to invest in experienced and skilled teachers at schools serving poor students and students of color. We fail to invest in support for their learning, from reading specialists to chemistry labs, and as a result, we deny them the opportunity to succeed in school that ought to be every child’s birthright. The biggest challenge we face is assembling and targeting the resources — be they human or material — to make sure each black child has his or her needs met and is able to realize their potential.
Loop 21: Why is the Leadership 500 Summit integral to addressing that issue?
Glenn: Leadership 500 seeks to bring together young professionals and inspire them to activism that transforms our communities. Attendees inherently understand that successful students and schools are integral to the success of their communities. The target audience is at a stage in life when they are building for the future in their professional and family lives. We want to encourage them to prepare for and contribute to the future health of the communities that will nurture their children and shelter them as they age.
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Loop 21: How does the NAACP engage its youth membership in the fight to improve education in this country?
Glenn: Youth experience the inequities in our educational system perhaps most acutely and directly. They are the ones whose opportunity is stifled when they are expelled and suspended at twice the rate of their peers because of school policies. They are the students held back because they are reading and doing math two to three grade levels behind their peers. The NAACP tries to lift up the issues that individual young people bring to show them how to advocate for systematic change that improves their opportunity to learn and that of other black students.
Loop 21: What’s the most challenging part of your job?
Glenn: It’s challenging to keep the fight going on so many fronts, all of which are critically important to making a better future for black students and families.
Loop 21: What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
Glenn: The most rewarding part is when we see real improvements in the policies and practices that help black kids learn more, more easily and more joyously, putting them and our community on the road to sustained success.