Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation
Sherman Whites, Jr., is a director in Education for the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, where he is responsible for managing philanthropic investments related to K-12 education, including emerging portfolios related to innovation and community ownership. Prior to joining the Kauffman Foundation, Whites was a program officer for the K-12 Education and Special Interest teams at the Walton Family Foundation.
Whites began his career in philanthropy in 2011 after working with public charter schools in New Orleans as part of the Broad Foundation’s Residency in Urban Education. Prior to his career in education, Whites acquired experience in operations and brand management from several market-leading organizations: Ford Motor Company, PepsiCo, Campbell Soup Company and Target Corporation.
Who is a Black hero or heroine that has motivated you in your career? / Who are you celebrating this Black History Month?
I spent my childhood years near Daytona Beach, Florida, a few miles away from where Mary McLeod-Bethune established the Educational and Industrial School for Negro Girls in 1904. While I learned very little about Black history in the public schools, the elders of the community would make it their business to talk about great leaders who had regional impact, like Ms. Bethune and Harry Moore of the NAACP. This Black History Month I celebrate Mary McLeod-Bethune for her ability to create an institution that has endured for generations, as well as for her disruptive spirit.
How has the history of Black and African American people in Kansas City impacted the work that you do?
As I learn more about the history of Kansas City, themes of determination and resilience continue to abound. The migration of many Blacks to this area was predicated on the opportunity to attend school (Lincoln) to acquire an education. Very similar to Daytona Beach, the ability of Blacks to attain an education became a springboard to economic opportunity in Kansas City. People of African descent have always appreciated the link between knowledge and opportunity. These consistent themes around the sacrifices we are willing to make in order to advance should surprise no one.
What is the most essential work that must be done to ensure equity for Black students in Kansas City?
First, we (the community at-large) must establish a baseline for how much we value Black children. What are our aspirations for these young people? What innovation do we wish to cultivate in this next generation of inventors and entrepreneurs? When we compare the responses to these questions to our current reality, this reveals the gap between our rhetoric and what we believe they truly deserve. The essential work is codifying these aspirations via policy and practice, then holding the structure accountable to deliver what we say we want. The strategies that we design and employ will either get us closer to our aspirations or further away, based on how we choose to integrate the voices, ideas, and concerns of Black families into the work, every step of the way.
What is a cause or organization that you would encourage KC citizens to research this black history month?
BLAQUE KC, which represents a solid model for leadership, knowledge sharing, and advocacy for Black families in Kansas City.