“In honor of the dreams and convictions of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. people across the nation will come together in a national day of service to give back to their neighbors and communities. As we commemorate Dr. King's lifetime dedication to achieving equal opportunity for all, I reflect on a pivotal turning point in my life that opened up my own window of opportunity: the day my mother enrolled me in Head Start.
"A federal program born exactly 50 years ago out of the struggle for civil rights and economic opportunity, Head Start gave me- as well as 32 million other vulnerable children and families- a foundation for future success, both in school and in life.
"Growing up, I never thought we lived in poverty. Raised by my resourceful single mother and grandmother, my brother and I always seemed to have what we needed. Looking back, I realize the difficult circumstances they faced and enrolling us in the local Head Start program was truly a life changing decision for our family. My brother and I received critical health, education and developmental support to prepare us to enter kindergarten. Head Start's comprehensive and holistic approach also ensured my mother reached her full potential as a parent and even inspired her to find her life's true calling working with kids.
Had it not been for Head Start, the entire trajectory of my life could have turned out very differently.
"One of the few things I remember from those early years was my Head Start teacher, Ms. Brown, who showed me as a young child that there were adults in our community outside of our family who cared about my future. My experience in Head Start laid the foundation for my enthusiasm for learning later in life. The difference between the children who attended Head Start and those who stayed home in those critical early years was undeniable, and today studies show that children who attend Head Start are more likely to graduate high school and go to college, less likely to commit crimes and generally healthier than their peers.
"Had it not been for Head Start, the entire trajectory of my life could have turned out very differently.
"I went on to attend college and, after a 32-year career in public service for the Department of Homeland Security, I recently retired as the Assistant Director for Homeland Security Investigations. Head Start instilled in me not only a determination to succeed in my own life, but also a desire to give back to my community and empower others.
"Here in Birmingham I am active in my community as the Deacon of the Bethel Baptist Church and the Vice President of the Optimist Club, where I work to help bridge the gaps for young people who are struggling in our community. Currently, I am leading a project to build a museum that will spotlight the success stories of members of our own community and serve as an inspiration and constant reminder to our young people about what is possible.
"Head Start embodies Dr. Martin Luther King's vision of a more prosperous society for all, as well as our national commitment to ensuring every child, regardless of race, gender or zip code, is given a chance at success. So, as we celebrate Dr. King's legacy of public service in the name of equality and opportunity, let us remember the Head Start professionals, volunteers and alumni who are a living reminder of what is possible when our nation's children are given a Head Start in life.”