Women Shaping History:
Director of the Education Trust
How did you choose your career?
Most of the time, I feel like my career chose me, rather than the other way around. What that means is that I literally can’t remember a time when I wasn’t galled by injustice, especially in education, and determined to do something about it. Fortunately, there’s always been a route for me to put that passion to work, first in California, then here in Washington DC. Sometimes that meant creating something new—like the Achievement Council in California and the Education Trust, both organizations that I founded. Other times I found that I could work this issue through an established organization, like I did as Executive Vice President of the Children’s Defense Fund. It turns out that the vehicle doesn’t much matter; what matters most is moving the ball forward.
What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you overcome them?
In many ways, I faced the challenges that most women of my era faced—getting to the table where decisions were made, then, once there, getting heard. Even today, that’s not always easy. What works, though, is a combination of persistence, preparation and passion. If you really care, prepare your case well, and never, ever give up, you’re likely to make a difference.
Describe a turning point in your life?
There were at least two major turning points in my life. The first was motherhood. I have two fabulous daughters and my life is infinitely richer as a result. But they have been important to my work, as well, giving me four additional eyes through which to see the problems of education, and two additional hearts to feel the impact of educational inequities. The second turning point was moving to Washington, which we did in 1989. Needless to say, moving from state to national advocacy is a real stretch. And serving as number two to Marian Wright Edelman was both a huge challenge and an incredible opportunity to learn from an extraordinary woman leader up close and personal. I carry those lessons with me today.
Who were some of your mentors?
Oddly, my first professional mentors were mostly male: Steven Goodspeed at the University of California Santa Barbara and Robert Johnson at the University of California System Headquarters. But over the years, I’ve also had the opportunity to learn from other women leaders, including my former boss Marian Wright Edelman.
What is your advice to young people today?
My main advice is to follow your heart—to do something that you can be passionate about. When you’ve got passion, you can weather almost anything else. That said, I also feel strongly about preparation. Know your stuff. Learn how to communicate—including both orally and in writing—very well. Think hard and think for yourself. And never, ever give up.
Name some of your favorite books.
I just finished Barack Obama’s Dreams from My Father. It is fabulous. I strongly recommend it.#