Black Leaders Sustain the Head Start Legacy

Senator Rev. Raphael Warnock

Black History Month is an opportunity to reflect on Head Start’s history in the Civil Rights Movement. It is also a moment to look towards the future and acknowledge the Black voices making history as Head Start champions today. We celebrate these leaders—from members of Congress to the director of the Office of Head Start—who represent Head Start’s legacy and use their national platforms to ensure it remains strong for future generations.

The current Congress is the most diverse in American history with 128 lawmakers who identify as Black, Native American, Asian American, or Hispanic. Among them are Head Start alumni Senator Rev. Raphael Warnock of Georgia, who made history in 2021 as the first Black senator from the state, and Representative Jahana Hayes of Connecticut, who has been representing Head Start’s legacy in Congress since 2018 when she became the first Black woman to represent Connecticut.

Senator Rev. Raphael Warnock

Reflecting on his historic election, Senator Warnock discussed what his leadership means for low-income families whose background he shares.

Senator Warnock has shared he is a product of progress. He got to where he is through hard work, but also good public policy.

“Head Start’s steadfast belief that every child has the ability to learn and succeed in life, if given the opportunity, has literally changed lives,” he said. “I’m not telling you something I heard. I’m telling you something I know. It helped a child from Savannah make history as one of Georgia’s United States senators. As both a parent of two toddlers and a voice for our state in Washington, I am honored to champion the goals and noble work of Head Start.”

Congresswoman Jahana Hayes

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Congresswoman Hayes has also reflected on her Head Start roots.

“Head Start was where I first developed my love of learning and the idea that I could learn,” she shared at NHSA’s 2020 Winter Leadership Institute. “That’s where I really grew to learn the concept of ‘it takes a village.’ It has been my educational philosophy. Every time someone says ‘the school should do this…’ No, it’s the community, it’s the entire community that should be investing in children.”

Before coming to Congress, Representative Hayes was an award-winning teacher.

“When I got a student in my class as a high schooler, I could immediately identify who had child care access, who was a Head Start student,” she says. “Their skills were different, their language was different, their verbal acquisition was different, and that followed them all the way into their high school years. It cannot be replaced.”

Her experiences in the classroom, as a Head Start student and as a teacher, are reflected in her work in Congress as a champion for educational equity.

Dr. Bernadine Futrell

Head Start’s legacy is also represented in the Executive Branch by Dr. Bernadine Futrell, director of the Office of Head Start. A former member of the NHSA team, Dr. Futrell is the first Head Start alumna to serve in this role. From attending the program to leading it, Dr. Futrell exemplifies Head Start’s impact.

“Dr. Futrell, herself a Head Start graduate and a testament to the strong foundation the program lays for success in school and in life, is a mission-driven, innovative leader and we look forward to working with her to continue taking Head Start to new heights,” NHSA Executive Director Yasmina Vinci said upon Dr. Futurell’s appointment.

Head Start alumni share a lifelong love of learning and a commitment to giving back. With their success, Senator Warnock, Representative Hayes, and Director Futrell provide a snapshot of Head Start’s impact. On a broader scale, they represent the ripple effects created by Head Start leaders who want to see the same success for the next generation of children.

Lucy Truschel

Lucy Truschel is manager of Communications at NHSA. Prior to joining the Head Start community, she was an Assistant Director for Frost Valley YMCA and an Early Childhood Policy Intern for the Center for American Progress.

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