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Where we start: Empowering all our students

Recently, I was reflecting on the famous Dr. King quote, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I wholeheartedly believe the universe bends towards justice, but we are the ones who bend it. We are ones who choose love, courage, and work to expand opportunities that will shape individual and collective futures in our communities.  

As a kid growing up in Richmond, Virginia, I knew I wanted to disrupt inequity though I did not necessarily have a profession in mind. There are innumerable people and fields that move systems of oppression towards fairness and equality, the field of education found me after studying history at Norfolk State University. It is where I plan to stay for a long time.

I first came to Eastern North Carolina in 2012 as a Teach For America corps member teaching social studies at Weldon Middle School. For me, my approach in the classroom then is not dissimilar to my approach as a principal today at North Edgecombe High School: value the diverse perspectives and backgrounds of every single person who walks through your door, believe in the potential of all children, build a safe and inclusive environment, and love. Love your kids, colleagues, and the work. This alone will not make possible an equitable and excellent education for all students in Edgecombe or elsewhere, but it is where we start.

As such, significant investments are being made at North Edgecombe to ensure we build a diverse coalition of teachers, administrators, and community partners grounded in these beliefs and capable of putting students on a path towards lifelong success. We explore a myriad of equity-driven approaches and consistently remind students and staff that everyone is a part of the change process.

Knowing 48 percent of children across our state live in poor or low-income homes, and knowing nearly half of these children have remained persistently poor, according to Public Schools First NC, I recognize the challenges ahead. Yet, at North Edgecombe and elsewhere, we must push on with critical optimism and build on the successes we’re seeing in the classroom while collaborating with others to expand our growing coalition of leaders committed to all kids.

I believe the culture has shifted in North Edgecombe. With it, so too will the narrative about what is possible for kids growing up in our area. In the years ahead, this is how I believe we shape the arc of history: by empowering all students to chase and achieve their dreams while building a more prosperous future for themselves and our communities in Eastern North Carolina.

This belief is audacious. Change is hard, but a transformative moment happens in an instance. They happen every day in classrooms and schools. I hope we never lose sight of the hard fought progress being made, both big and small. As we work collectively to shape a more prosperous future in our communities, I am hopeful an even larger, more diverse coalition of leaders emerge to improve our education system and the many systems impacting it.

Editor’s note: Donnell Cannon serves on the board of EducationNC.

Donnell Cannon

Donnell Cannon is the executive director of Maureen Joy Charter School in Durham.