United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan forcefully reiterated President Obama's challenge for the U.S. to lead the World in college graduation rates by 2020 at a Martin Luther King Day Luncheon in Washington D.C. hosted by Education for a Better America (EBA) and the National Action Network (NAN) on January 15 of this year. This challenge coupled with the projection that half of the new jobs in the next decade will require some type of post-secondary education, America's dropout crisis, the severe under representation of minority and low income students in institutions of higher learning, and mounting disparities in the areas of health and finance culminate in a need for a holistic response.
EBA and NAN have partnered with Florida International University (FIU) and Miami-Dade County Public Schools (MDCPS) to host a Higher Education Awareness, Dropout Prevention, and Health Initiative aimed at addressing these needs in South Florida on May 10, 2013 from 7:30am to 1:30pm. It will be held at FIU, one of the nation's largest universities with an enrollment of 50,000 students, and is part of a nationwide endeavor by EBA to increase the pursuit of post-secondary education, increase civic engagement, prevent school dropouts, increase financial literacy, and promote health and wellness across the country. Hundreds of students from Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the nation's fourth largest school district, will be brought onto the FIU campus for the event. Ninety percent of the district's students are Black or Hispanic and seventy-four percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced lunch. Under the leadership of MDCPS Superintendent Alberto Carvahlo, one of the event's featured speakers, the district was awarded the Broad Award for excellence in urban education in October of 2012.
The gathering is also significant because it will bring major Black and Hispanic leaders at the national and local level to FIU; an institution headed by Dr. Mark Rosenberg that graduates more Hispanics with Bachelor's and Master's Degrees than any other university in the United States. National Action Network President and MSNBC PoliticsNation Host Reverend Al Sharpton and Carvahlo will be the "Career Spotlight" Speakers for the event and Jorge Plasencia and Jose Diaz-Balart will be honored with special presentations. Plasencia serves as Board Chairman for the National Council of LaRaza, the nation's largest Hispanic Civil Rights organization, and is the CEO of one of the top advertising firms in the country, República. Diaz-Balart, regarded as the "Brian Williams of Telemundo", has broken barriers in Hispanic media and is the anchor for Noticiero Telemundo and Host of "Enfoque", Telemundo's Public Affairs Program.
Lorenzo "Ice Tea" Thomas of 99 Jamz will serve as the host and Sharpton Entertainment artists will give musical performances. National Action Network South Florida President Bishop Victor T. Curry and MDCPS District Director of Performance and Improvement Ronda Vangates are slated to give remarks and there will be a financial literacy workshop by author of "Bold Moves to Creating Financial Wealth" and FIU Board of Trustees member Gerald Grant. A health and wellness workshop will be presented by FIU College of Medicine Assistant Dean Dr. Pedro Jose Greer. Greer is the founder of Camilus Health Concern and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2009. The event will also include a campus tour and workshops on college admissions and financial aid. EBA Board President, Dominique Sharpton, stated that "the event is a tremendous opportunity for a multiethnic coalition to come together around important issues in the areas of education, health, and finance."