We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby!
By Debbie Hillman,
Black Child Development Institute-Atlanta
When I was a little girl growing up in Covington, GA, neither preschool nor kindergarten were options for children of color. We had to wait to enter public school in grade one. Private kindergarten was available for other children; but, “our” money couldn’t purchase a slot! We were in the segregated south; so, children like myself had no formal points of entry into early education. Therefore, my parents found a creative way to quench my thirst for early learning!
When I turned six in March of 1962, I accompanied my mom, a fourth grade teacher, into the R.L. Cousins School and began “auditing” Miss Bulloch’s first grade class. I sat next to the “real” first graders everyday and learned everything they did! I was fascinated with the three “R’s,” reading, writing, and arithmetic. She treated me just like the other students; so, I read books, wrote on the chalkboard, and added and subtracted, too! In the evenings, I shared at dinner what I learned during the day, i.e., my growing spelling proficiency. Alice and Jerry, the main characters in our reading books, became my new best friends. I was the teacher for my dolls and other neighborhood friends.
In fact, just two months later, my teacher recommended that I head to second grade with everyone else. Of course, I was elated to finish first grade in just two months, and thought I was ready. But, my mom and dad understood “school readiness”; so, I remained with Miss Bulloch until the following spring!
Fortunately, just a few years later the federal government created the Head Start program to provide underserved children with comprehensive early education. So, three years later, my brother accompanied my mom to our inaugural Summer Head Start Program! My mother was teaching a group of eager learners; and, my brother was afforded the opportunity to enter the world of early education! The world was changing; and, we are still evolving 50 years later!
This exposure to education was invaluable to me because: 1) In the early ’60’s, most young children of color did not have access to organized early childhood education; and, 2) It launched my career in this ever-evolving field.
Thanks to a variety of private and public funding streams, infants, toddlers, and preschool children of color now have numerous options! In the fall of 1979, I became a Head Start teacher. In 1997, I launched Developing Human Resources Consultants. Today, I spend my days providing technical assistance to centers dedicated to providing high quality early care and education experiences! Yes, we’ve come a long way, baby!
Black Child Development Institute-Atlanta is an affiliate of the National Black Child Development Institute, Inc. Established in 1971. NBCDI exists to improve and advance the quality of life of African-American children and families. This nonprofit organization has provided and supported programs, workshops, and resources for minority children, their parents and communities in:
• Early Care and Education
• Elementary and Secondary Education
• Child Welfare
We represent NBCDI’s commitment to create exemplary community-based programs that make a difference in our children’s lives.