FH: Our children don’t learn to read clearly and critically at an early age. Reading is at the core of problem-solving in math and science. We need to have more families turning off the TV and reading more. We can’t have parents watching The Real Housewives while telling their children, “Go and do your schoolwork.” Be an example. Parents may not know how to do the homework, but they can show an interest.
TR: Gains have been made toward closing the achievement gap, but that gap persists. Why?
FH: It all goes back to reading. Middle-class African-American families read less than their white counterparts. Blacks who come from other countries tend to read more and do better in school than blacks born in this country. They seem to have a certain hunger — a certain drive.
Blacks reared in the South who moved north seemed to have a similar drive and determination. They have an old-fashioned approach to hard work. They are not lulled into thinking they have already achieved success. The success of our nation lies in the strength and quality of education all of our children receive.
TR: What role did your experiences during the civil rights era in segregated Birmingham play in shaping your career and success?
FH: It showed me that the only way I would escape second-class citizenship was to be the best and work twice as hard. There was no place like Sixth Avenue Baptist Church, where we were always getting hugs and applauses while being encouraged to do more. There was no time to be a victim. When I saw and heard leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, I saw educated men who were excellent models of leadership. I wanted to be like them.
Denise Stewart is a freelance writer in Alabama.