Co-authored by Julieanna Richardson, the founder of The History Makers
Nearly every school-aged child in the United States is likely to know that the president of our country is a Black American. Do they -- or the adults in their lives -- also know that an African American woman rose from an intern to CEO of one of the country's Fortune 100 companies? Do they know that an African American man built a billion-dollar investment management firm, or that an African American atmospheric scientist developed the first computer model to predict the earth's climate changes?
Many, if not most of us, believe that President Barack Obama and high-profile sports, media and entertainment personalities, such as LeBron James, Beyoncé, Robin Roberts, are exceptions -- the only African Americans making great contributions. Many of us are wrong.
It's not just a matter of setting the record straight. Certainly, we must tell the untold stories of the innumerable achievements of African Americans in every realm of American life -- the arts, sports, medicine, education, science, the media, business and government -- despite the obstacles and challenges. But more importantly, we must support an educational philosophy and tools that systematically help them both understand and acquire the fundamental skills they will need to succeed personally and professionally: goal-setting, the ability to communicate effectively, financial literacy. Every student must believe in his potential for success; every student needs role models with whom she can identify and strive to emulate; and every student needs to feel encouraged to aspire to positions of responsibility and leadership.
For every story of achievement, there is one of defeat: Fewer than half of African American men graduate from high school; in schools across the country as many as eight of every 10 African American fourth-graders performs below grade level in reading and math; in nearly every state the majority of children in residential juvenile justice facilities is African American; and children of color are disproportionately poor in all but two states, according to data from the Children's Defense Fund. Students from disadvantaged backgrounds and those in underserved schools are failing or dropping out at alarming rates.
More broadly across class, race and ethnic communities, one in six students in the United States does not reach the baseline level of proficiency in financial literacy as assessed by the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). Today's students are tomorrow's workers, thinkers, and leaders. We can't afford their lost potential.
Government alone cannot solve these problems. Schools alone cannot solve these problems. Business alone cannot solve these problems. Together, we have a responsibility to help all young people reach their full potential by eliminating barriers to success and creating opportunities for achievement and prosperity. This is a winning strategy any way you look at it: what's good for American society is good for American business.
Seeing is believing.
That's why the PwC Charitable Foundation, Inc. is providing $1.6 million in grant funds to The HistoryMakers to add 2,000 interviews to their innovative video oral history project. The digital archive, which documents the lives of African Americans, currently makes accessible only 25 percent of the interviews HistoryMakers has conducted and recorded, personal accounts of accomplishment and success against the odds -- a living library of role models and inspirational examples. With the PwC Charitable Foundation, Inc.'s support, The HistoryMakers Digital History Archive will be expanded and made available free to public and charter schools for hundreds of thousands of students.
Creating a more inclusive history of American life will produce an enduring record of great cultural value. Equally, if not more valuable: the project's scalability -- the opportunity to maximize the benefit. One compelling oral history viewed by 100 teachers, who share it with 500 students, who talk about what they have learned with 1,000-2,000 family members, who tell neighbors and friends and coworkers. Every story of triumph and success counts. And counts again.
We don't have all the answers, and no single industry or enterprise can go it alone. It's a collective journey. By working together we can create resources that equip students with the skills, tools, and motivation to succeed. HistoryMakers reminds us: history teaches us who we are, where we came from, and where we're going. If we want and expect every student in the United States to achieve his or her greatest potential, we all must do our part to help them get there.
Shannon Schuyler is the president of the PwC Charitable Foundation, Inc.