Nicole Baker Fulgham is the founder and president of The Expectations Project, a nonprofit organization that develops and mobilizes faith-motivated advocates who help close the academic achievement gap in public schools. She previously served with the national staff for Teach for America where she held several key leadership roles, including vice president of new site development, vice president of teacher training and support, and vice president of faith community relations. She received an Ed.D. from UCLA with a focus on urban education policy and teacher preparation.
Those words are emblazoned on the third floor of the National African American Museum of History and Culture in Washington, D.C. I’ve spent many hours in the museum working on a writing project about education policy, race, equity and politics.
The Expectations Project, the organization I lead, focuses on engaging people of faith to become policy advocates to improve America’s low-income public schools. The systemic policy change we seek often seems insurmountable as opposing education factions can dig into their own ideals, unwilling to compromise. Policy and political change require both an eye on the long game and a very thick skin.
In the midst of my policy work and my writing, the African American Smithsonian museum has become a source of inspiration for me. I bring my laptop into that space and explore, reflect, pray and write.
The Making a Way Out of No Way exhibition has a myriad of examples illustrating how African Americans persevered, under dire circumstances, to change the face of our nation. These exhibits show the resilience, creativity and power of a people determined to make a better country, with their faith inspiring them to persist. Regardless of how Christians feel about the current rancor in today’s political arena, we have an obligation to show the same resilience today. That’s how real change happens.
My ancestors were willing to keep fighting, often in the name of Christ, to put an end to reprehensible policies like slavery, lynching and segregated public schools. And some died, martyred, in the name of societal change. I humbly stand on their shoulders because they blazed a trail for me. I would feel like a coward if I weren’t willing to stand up for policy issues that make our nation better. Honestly, any self-sacrifices for my political engagement pale in comparison to what those portrayed in the museum faced. Those ancestors inspire and encourage me to stay the course.
Be strong and of good courage, my fellow Christians. We should engage in politics in a way that fundamentally changes the conversation. We should not cower from it. Christians should set the standard for the political debate, even when others seem to only bring acrimony and incivility.
Find your inspiration. I’ve found mine. Together, let’s continue to make a way out of no way.