For President Barack Obama, a father with two daughters, preparing African-American students for the academic future is one of his top priorities—and, perhaps, one of his most daunting challenges.

Obama has an ambitious vision for the nation’s Black students during his last two years in the White House: ensuring that all African-American pupils receive an education that fully gets them ready for high school graduation, college completion and productive careers in a highly competitive global job market.

After signing an executive order that created the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans in 2012, the president is dedicating new resources to enable African-American students to improve their educational achievement and prepare them for college and a range of professions after graduation.

“The Obama administration, through the creation of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, is dedicating time, energy and resources to help seriously address the challenges facing many African-American students today,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told EBONY.

“Regardless of zip code, every child in this country should have access to a high-quality education that adequately prepares [him or her] for college and career,” Duncan said.  “For the nation to fulfill the president’s goal of leading the world in college graduates by 2020, we will need a significant number of African-Americans to be part of those numbers, and I’m hopeful that the initiative’s work can help contribute to that ambitious goal.”  

For years, civil rights advocates have argued that America’s public schools are failing Black male students. In fact, government officials say many African-American students, both male and female, lack equal access to highly effective teachers and principals, safe schools and challenging college-preparatory classes, and they disproportionately experience school discipline and referrals to special education.

In 2014, The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans will partner with Johnson Publishing Company, Inc. to produce a “summit series” designed to raise awareness about the White House initiative and encourage much-needed positive conversations about African-American student achievement.

The summits will be held at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Feb. 13–14, 2014; at Jackson State University in Jackson, Miss., April 25–26, 2014; at Laney College in Oakland, Calif., June 13–14, 2014; and at the University of Pennsylvania in  Philadelphia, Oct. 24–25.  

“The initiative is uniquely positioned to support African-American students from cradle to career,” David J. Johns, executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, told EBONY. “For the first time, there is a central office within the government to identify and disseminate best practices that ensure African-American students are supported academically and developmentally, beginning at birth.”

Michael H. Cottman, an author and award-winning journalist, covers the White House for He is also co-host of the nationally syndicated radio show Keeping It Real With Rev. Al Sharpton.