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On hope and the Friday Medal

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The Friday Medal this year is about each of you and all of you, as I think Bill and Ida would want it to be.

EdNC’s founding team

Collectively, you breathed life into the “architecture of participation” Nation imagined for EdNC to tell the stories of your commitment to our students, our state, and our future.

You’ve heard me say I am in the business of hope, but only a few of you know why that word is so important to me.

In college, I worked at a shelter for battered women. One night when my 20-year-old self was on call, a young woman gave birth to a baby who was born black and blue. The father had punched the mom’s pregnant belly over and over, leaving the baby bruised. The mom named that baby Hope.

I tell myself if she can choose hope day in and day out, and if Nation can too, then so can all of us.

It is our privilege to do this work in your communities across this state we love and to watch hope bubble up from inside of you on all the days — even given our political hot mess, with funding and without funding, during hurricanes, floods, and even a pandemic.

In sixth grade, I was invited to write a column called “Kid to Kid” for The Charlotte Observer. Watching Rolfe Neill, then the publisher, I learned how to love community, how to show affection and understanding for community, and that no one leader or one organization can create the change we need.

When we launched EdNC, Rolfe sent me a note, giving me a practical way to think about our collective change making:

  • Numbers are one measure, but what’s the best measure of our work?
  • What are we failing at?
  • Where are we making a difference and how do we know?
  • Are we having fun?

Recently, Rolfe asked me to read a book called the “Weight of Ink,” and it offers a spiritual way to think about hope and our work:

“My friend, I urge you. Do not succumb to darkness. Lack of hope, as I learned long ago, is a deadly affliction. And in one so highly regarded as you it is not merely a blight on one precious soul but a contagion that may leave many in darkness. Recall that the light you bear, though it may flicker, yet illuminates the path for our people. Bear it. For in this world there is no alternative.”

I believe it is hope that drives our collective work — including a special shout out to Hiller and the team at the Friday Institute — to transform our education system so every student receives a sound, basic education; every student learns to read; a system with enough elasticity to truly embrace diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging; a system where nutrition, housing, health, and mental health don’t feel elusive; and more and more of us have access to a degree or credential that provides a family-sustaining wage, paving the way for North Carolina to be a state people across all lines of difference will want to call home.

Fear is not, and never will be, a sustainable driver of change.

On a personal note, our colleague MC Belk Pilon is receiving the I.E. Ready award tonight, the highest honor of our community college system. For those of you who knew us as girls back in the day, or know the girls our dads allowed us to be even as grownups, like the Fridays, the dads would be happy tonight.

As her dad said, “the more you do for mankind, the better you’ll like life.”

A special thank you to Alex Granados who has been with me and EdNC since the start. Daily he sets the bar for the rest of us. And a special thank you to my boys and our tusovka for your love and support, for the candles and music and family dinners that mark our time together.

On behalf of Gerry and Ferrel, the Board and Strategic Council, Nation and all of us at EdNC, thank you for your ongoing leadership and public service to our students, our state, and our future.

Mebane Rash

Mebane Rash is the CEO and editor-in-chief of EducationNC.