As a young elementary school student, I found myself in the back of a van, rumbling away from the schoolyard, nestled among peers who, like me, were bound for an after-school childcare program that promised safety, learning, and fun. Yet, one harrowing afternoon, that promise was shattered. I witnessed a scene that would forever change my perspective — a peer, vulnerable and scared, being mistreated by someone who was supposed to protect us. The trust I placed in this system and the people who ran it crumbled instantly. In the depths of my young heart, a resolve formed … a silent vow never to return to that place of fear. The very next day, as the van pulled up, my heart pounding with a mix of fear and defiance, I made a choice. I hid behind the playground equipment, my small body trembling, waiting for the van to depart without me. As it left, I emerged from my hiding place, taking my first steps on a long run to my grandparents’ house. It was miles away, but a sanctuary of safety and love. This experience was my first encounter with a system that was supposed to nurture and let down its guard instead. It was a moment of awakening to the realities that many of us face and a precursor to a journey of understanding, advocacy, and the pursuit of equity in every space I would come to inhabit. Have you ever stood on the precipice of a system designed to uplift and educate, only to watch it falter and fail those it was meant to protect?

This vivid memory from my childhood, of fleeing to a place of safety, echoes a profound truth that resonates through the years to our present reality in the United States. Today, countless disadvantaged and minority students find themselves in a similar situation. The threat doesn’t always come in the form of a physical assault. However, it is often systemic failures that leave students feeling unprotected, misunderstood, and undervalued within the educational landscape. Examples of failures worth examining further are the inherent segregation that accompanies special education programs (Taylor & Sailor, 2023), inadequate funding of vocational education and training programs (Lewis, 2023), and infrastructural inequities in after-school programs (Shea et al., 2023). The urgency for after-school educational enrichment programs has never been more critical, especially for those staffed by individuals who mirror the students’ backgrounds and understand their unique challenges and aspirations. These programs represent more than just academic support — they are beacons of hope and safety. They are spaces where students can see reflections of their potential. The narrative we must foster now is one of running toward dreams, goals, and a future bright with possibility. It is about shifting the perspective from fleeing environments that seem to reject our presence to embracing pathways that lead to our empowerment and success. In drawing this parallel between my escape for safety and the metaphorical escape of today’s youth from educational inequity, we uncover a compelling call to action: to mentor, guide, and inspire our students to run not away from the challenges, but toward their most ambitious dreams.

As we commemorate Black History Month, it is imperative to reflect on the systemic barriers that have historically, and still, impeded African Americans within our education system. The story of Ruby Bridges, a young African American girl who became the first to integrate an all-white school in New Orleans, Louisiana, represents a beacon of courage and a pivotal moment in our ongoing journey toward educational equity. Ruby’s brave steps across the racial divide in 1960 challenged the status quo and marked a significant chapter in rewriting Black history — a narrative of resilience, determination, and the relentless pursuit of justice. Her legacy underscores the profound impact of taking active steps to dismantle the barriers of segregation and discrimination. It reminds us that the responsibility to write our history is not only a matter of recording the past, but also actively shaping a future where educational equity is a reality for all African American students. As we honor pioneers like Ruby, we are inspired to confront the current challenges in our education system with the same courage and resolve, ensuring that the path toward equity and inclusion becomes less treacherous for the generations that follow. This Black History Month, let us commit to being architects of a history that future generations will look back on with pride, knowing we took the reins to ensure a fair and just educational landscape for all.

In reflecting on the transition from my personal story of seeking refuge to the broader narrative of today’s educational landscape, we have still only scratched at the surface of the heart-wrenching realities of systemic inequities that persistently challenge disadvantaged and underrepresented minority students. My own experience, a microcosm of fear and determination, mirrors the plight and resilience seen across the tapestry of African American history … from Ruby Bridges’ historic walk to integration to the millions of unnamed students who are competing with the urge to flee from the unkind complexities of today’s educational system. As we observe Black History Month, let us draw inspiration from these stories of courage and change, recognizing that the fight for educational equity is far from over. It is a call to action for each of us (i.e., educators, parents, community leaders, and caring citizens) to rally in support of programs that offer after-school enrichment, mentorship, and career guidance tailored to the needs of underperforming and historically marginalized students. Together, we have the power to dismantle the barriers that hinder their progress, fostering an environment where every child can run toward their dreams with confidence. By committing to this cause, we honor the legacy of those who paved the way for change and contribute to a future where achievements, equality, and collective triumph mark Black history. Let this be our mission — to ensure that future Black History Months serve as luminous bonfires of empowerment, equity, and success, crafted by our united efforts and unwavering resolve. Make a difference.


Taylor, J., & Sailor, W. (2023). A Case for Systems Change in Special Education. Remedial and Special Education, OnlineFirst, 1

Lewis, P. (2023). Innovation, technician skills, and vocational education and training: connecting innovation systems and vocational education and training. Journal of Vocational Education and Training, OnlineFirst, 1-28.

Shea, M., Jurow, A., Schiffer, J., Escudé, M., & Torres, A. (2023). Infrastructural injustices in community‐driven afterschool STEAM. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 60(8), 1853-1878.

About The Author

Bruce A. Johnson, Ed.D., Senior Associate, brings a wealth of experience in racial equity, project management, and higher education evaluation as a result of over two decades of leadership within the North Carolina Community College System. His expertise is in developing and implementing strategies to enhance the capacity of organizations and communities regarding racial equity, STEM education, and higher education credential attainment.