Education Makes Us Equal
Guest Blogger: Don Cravins, Jr
In my family, public service to the community was ingrained at an early age. My mother, Patricia, was a public school teacher in Lafayette, Louisiana. African Americans have always considered education to be the “great equalizer,” and my mother used her career to help shape the lives of hundreds of students. My father, Don Sr., was the first African American state senator in Southwest Louisiana since Reconstruction. Throughout his 16 years as a legislator and eight as a small town mayor, he focused on juvenile justice and economic empowerment. However, his greatest joy was his commitment to providing direct assistance to constituents. For it was there where he could truly help people, truly make a difference in the lives of people.
That upbringing led me to community service as well. In 2004, at the age of 32, I ran for and was elected to state representative in Southwest Louisiana. My district was entirely contained in my father’s senate district. We made Louisiana history as the only father and son duo to serve in the legislature at the same time. We used the opportunity to greatly expand services to our shared constituents. We were also a part of the rebuilding in the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
When my father left the legislature in 2006, I ran for and was elected to his senate seat. I continued working on rebuilding parts of Louisiana affected by the storms from my perch as Chairman of the Senate Insurance Committee. I also continued the work my father started on juvenile justice as Vice Chairman of the Louisiana Juvenile Justice Commission. However, my fondest memory of public office was speaking to elementary school students. I received pure joy when speaking to elementary students. The hope I saw in the eyes of young African American students was intoxicating. At that age, students actually believed they could grow up to be anything.
However, when I spoke to high school students, much of that hope had diminished. This was especially true in African American males. I felt then (and still do today) my job was to remind them success could be achieved through education, hard work and service. I shared with them that success isn’t based on being famous. Rather it is based on making a difference (even a small one) in someone’s life. I gave the students a motto to live by: “Every person can do extraordinary things living in ordinary times and possessing ordinary means.” In other words, each of us can do something impactful. There is no requirement of a crisis moment or wealth.
Chief Of Staff
In 2009, I left the legislature and continued my public service in Washington DC for then U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu. I assisted her in her capacity as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship and later served as her Chief of Staff. At the time, I was the only African American Chief of Staff in the U.S. Senate. During my time on the Hill, I used every opportunity to highlight the inequities facing many Americans and worked to find solutions to our most persistent problems.
After leaving the U.S. Senate in 2013, I joined the National Urban League. The National Urban League was founded in 1910 when African Americans, at the start of the Great Migration, fled the Deep South to cities like Washington DC, New York, Boston and Detroit. Leaving the brutality of Jim Crow behind them, they entered a North where they hoped to be free of discrimination and segregation. But when they arrived, they soon realized assistance was lacking in obtaining some basic necessities – a good job, a decent place to live, educational opportunities for their children and healthy living. As a result, the National Urban League was born.
Since 1910, we have been focused on these critical economic civil rights issues and have expanded our reach to communities of color across the country. With more than 90 affiliates, robust young professionals and a volunteer network and a Washington Bureau that focuses on policy and advocacy, we are able to touch the lives of nearly 2 million people every year.
Our Washington Bureau, where I serve as Executive Director, builds relationships between our policy experts and lawmakers in our nation’s capital to lead discussions on the issues that uniquely challenge the communities we serve. For me, the opportunity to work at this level, at this organization, is truly a dream come true. Here I am able to use my foundation and experiences as the son of Don and Patricia, a former legislator and congressional staffer, to guide my work and to impact the nation. I am able to once again perform community service that touches those Americans most in need.
Former National Urban League President and Civil Rights Leader Whitney M. Young once said, “Every man is our brother, and every man’s burden is our own. Where poverty exists, all are poorer. Where hate flourishes, all are corrupted. Where injustice reins, all are unequal.” Let us all reflect on this and let it guide our work throughout our lives.
For more information on the National Urban League and the work we do, visit NUL.IAMEMPOWERED.org.
Don Cravins, Jr. serves as the National Urban League’s Senior Vice President for Policy and Executive Director of the Washington Bureau. Cravins leads the development of the National Urban League’s policy, research, and advocacy agenda, while expending the organization’s impact and influence inside the Capital Beltway. In addition to his employment at the National Urban League, Cravins is an adjunct professor at The George Washington University. Cravins also serves as a Judge Advocate in the Washington DC Army National Guard.
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