This Black History Month, a local Facebook campaign is sharing the stories of African American educators who have helped shape Buffalo’s educational system. The campaign is also raising awareness for the first-ever Excellence in Education Awards scheduled to be held in May.
WBFO’s education reporter Kyle Mackie spoke to two of the leaders behind the campaign: Nina Heard, co-founder of Friends For A Better Buffalo, Inc., and Dr. Barbara Seals Nevergold, co-founder of the Uncrowned Queens Institute for Research & Education on Women, Inc., and former president of the Buffalo Board of Education.
Terrance Heard, co-founder of Friends For A Better Buffalo, husband to Nina and at-large member of the Buffalo school board, also joined in an extended conversation.
The following interview transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity.
MACKIE: So, let's talk first about this Facebook campaign. A different educator for each day of the month in Black History Month, right?
N. HEARD: Absolutely. So, with February being Black History Month, we thought what better way than to celebrate our Buffalo educators who have set the foundation for the current educators? And with Dr. Nevergold's Uncrowned Queens Institute, we were able to pull from her database and find educators already there, and so we're doing this Facebook social media blitz so that we can help people understand that there were people before the current educators who set history, whether they were teachers, whether they were superintendents, whether they were working for the board of education. We have all of that highlighted for the entire month of February for our residents here in Western New York to see, and actually across the world right? Facebook is worldwide.
MACKIE: And what's the [Facebook] backslash again for people who want to find the page on Facebook?
N. HEARD: Absolutely, it's Excellence in Education Awards Buffalo.
MACKIE: Okay, and of course, Dr. Nevergold, we have to address that you are one of the featured educators in the campaign. You have dedicated your life to education here in Buffalo, I understand you're a graduate of both Buffalo State and University at Buffalo—
SEALS NEVERGOLD: And the Buffalo Public Schools. Don’t forget them.
MACKIE: Right, and Buffalo Public Schools, [and you’re] former school board president. So, what do you hope people take away from your story and your lifelong commitment to Buffalo and to education in the city?
SEALS NEVERGOLD: Well, I certainly hope that they take away the fact that education is so important and so crucial for our children at every time in the history of African American people. We saw and still see education as the key—the key to opening doors for opportunity, the key to opening doors for success, for the future and to the next generation and the next generation. And I want to say that, wearing my other hat as the co-founder of the Uncrowned Queens Institute, the fact that what we have done is to collect the biographies of educators but also of people in every walk of life, men and women whom we call Uncrowned Community Builders. And the fact that their story, I think as Nina said, really tells the story for young people that, ‘You have a long history of individuals who came before you, you know, who really paved the way for you and now it's your turn to step up to the plate.’
MACKIE: Do either of you want to highlight any of the educators stories that you've found most impactful or any of your favorites who have been featured this month?
N. HEARD: Oh my gosh, you probably, because you know the history, Barbara. So many, oh my gosh.
SEALS NEVERGOLD: Yeah, there are so many. I would say Dr. Lydia Wright, who actually we have a school named after in Buffalo, and she was not an educator per se, she was a physician, she was a pediatrician. However, she came to Buffalo, she was not a Buffalo native, and she got involved with education, and she got involved with the school board and she was on the appointed school board, the first African American to be appointed to the school board, and then on to the elected school board. So she was really instrumental in the desegregation fight and so her story is really one that's impactful when we look at early educators.
We have some others—I probably don't have time to go into it—but I think if people go to the website and certainly if they go to the Facebook page, they will see the stories of these educators, somewhat truncated on the Facebook but then when they go to the webpage uncrownedcommunitybuilders.com they will find the full story.
N. HEARD: What I also like about our Facebook posts is because we can encourage young people that success does look like them as well. I partner with a good friend of mine, Jennifer Parker, on a program titled exactly that: Success Looks Like Me. And these Facebook posts let our young folks know, ‘Hey, we had some great people in history who became principals, who became superintendents and if they can do it, we can do it.’
MACKIE: Right, and I was taking a look this morning through some of the educators who have been celebrated and they were all pioneers in their field, whether as an administrator or a teacher, principal, what have you. So, of course we know that, as with any heritage month, Black History Month is not enough to recognize and celebrate the contributions of African Americans to this country, to Buffalo, but you know, what do you hope for this campaign? That it can make some kind of inspiration for current students as you said, Nina?
N. HEARD: Yeah, like I said the main thing really was to show our younger generation that they too can be successful in education and go to the highest heights no matter what their background is, no matter what side of town they live on, that they too can be successful in education. And so I'm just hoping that it's encouraging those, because we know our generation, our millennials, they're on social media, so they're seeing this.
NEVERGOLD: I think the other thing that, too, that’s important and you mention Black history kind of being relegated to one month, the fact that we really should emphasize that Black history is American history and so not only African American youth are being exposed to these stories and these histories but also youth from other diverse communities, other ethnicities, so that they get an opportunity to see that individuals in the African American community were contributory to the whole school district.
MACKIE: Okay, so I understand that this Facebook campaign is all leading up to the first Excellence in Education Awards Buffalo. Tell me what those are [and] how can people submit nominations?
N. HEARD: We’re so excited to roll out this red carpet for our educators, our teachers, for our resource officers who work in the schools, for those counselors, support staff, and so people can nominate those unsung heroes by going to www.friendsforabetterbuffalo.org. And so that’s really the best way to show [a] thank you to those who go above and beyond to make sure that we are producing the next leaders for the city of Buffalo and Western New York.
MACKIE: And what’s the deadline for submitting nominations?
N. HEARD: The deadline is Feb. 28, and I’ll tell you, because I forgot it was a leap year, actually we can push that out to Feb. 29.
MACKIE: [To Terrance Heard] Anything else, any other comments you’d like to share at all? What, to you, is the significance of doing this campaign and highlighting these educators who have shaped history?
T. HEARD: Being a former educator in the Buffalo Public Schools, I see the need to recognize the teachers and the support staff that’s inside the schools that put in the hard work with our children. I’ve seen teachers retire year after year and not receive any recognition, you know, for the work that they’ve done, but all over the country you hear people always talk about the work that one teacher did in their life that supported them, that gave them that inspiration to move forward, and I believe this is the perfect opportunity for us to finally in the city of Buffalo recognize these teachers for their accomplishments, support staff for standing by the children, those volunteers that come into the schools that work with the kids and that’s there to edify and move forward, you know, through all the troubles and tribulations that goes on in our lives.
MACKIE: Thank you for those comments. And there’s so much to be said on this issue, but one thing we haven’t talked about is all of the research that shows that greater diversity among teaching staff benefits all students, not just African Americans or other minorities. Is there anything you’d like to add on that, Dr. Nevergold?
SEALS NEVERGOLD: No, I think you’re right to point that out, that sometimes we forget that there are people, as Mr. Heard said, in our lives who have made quite an impact on us and we don’t really realize that or they don’t realize that until much much later, and it’s not necessarily a person of the same race or the same ethnicity, it could be someone completely different, it’s the fact that that person listened to you, that person spent a little bit more time with you, that person made you feel valued and appreciated [and] that you were not only special but also capable. And so that’s what we want to recognize. This award is for people throughout the system, who have contributed to the education of children, and so that’s important to communicate that it’s the human factor that we’re looking for, and that’s what we’ll be recognizing, the human factor, the relationship that has been built between a child and that educator.
MACKIE: Okay, thank you. Well, I think we’ll end on that note. Thank you so much, all of you, for taking the time today and coming into our studios.
N. HEARD: Thank you, Kyle.