As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Head Start this year, we shine a spotlight on those special alumni who have been there from the very beginning and are making a difference today. Ford Foundation President and Head Start Alum Darren Walker is among them.
“Almost fifty years ago,” Darren said, “right around my fifth birthday, a young woman knocked on our door. She was from an organization called Head Start. And she gave me mine.
"I couldn’t hear exactly what she and my mother discussed, but not long thereafter, I began attending a makeshift preschool at a church not far from our home. At the time, I didn’t know that this was part of a then-new education program—right on the leading edge of President Johnson’s War on Poverty. Now I know that this was my first foothold—the opportunity from which every other opportunity came into reach.
"College, law school, and every job I ever had—all are a direct result of my head start. And here’s why: As a young child in rural, hardscrabble, east Texas, nothing about my journey was inevitable. I need only to look at other members of my family, who were not as lucky, who did not get that first chance, to understand how it powerfully influenced my life.
"Regrettably, many people, because of their race and background, have not benefited from opportunities like I did as a young boy in Head Start. Today, many children—whole communities—fall into the cracks and canyons created by widening inequality.
"In order to redress that legacy—in order to reshape our reality—we need to focus on our education system, and to reach out to the communities that need assistance the most.
"Whether a ladder, an escalator, or a rocket ship, everyone deserves a way up. Everyone deserves a chance to climb, to rise, to soar. “
Today, as President of the Ford Foundation, Darren is working to bring high-quality education and economic opportunity to low income communities in the United States and around the world. Darren received his Bachelor’s and Law degrees at the University of Texas at Austin.
In honor of Head Start’s 50th Anniversary and Head Start Awareness Month, the National Head Start Association will be highlighting Head Start alumni each weekday in October. We will begin the month with Head Start’s youngest learners and conclude the celebration with the Head Start Class of 1965. As the month progresses, these alumni stories will exemplify the short-term and long-term benefits Head Start has provided for our nation’s most vulnerable children and families for the past 50 years.
Are you or anyone you know a Head Start alum? Share this story and sign up at go.nhsa.org/alumni!