On Sept. 1, Kim Anglin Anderson will become the first woman and first person of color to serve as executive director of the National Education Association (NEA), the largest union for teachers in the United States.
A native of Fairfax County, Va., Anderson received her bachelor’s degree from the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va., and a law degree from The George Washington University. Before her historic appointment at the NEA, she served three years as executive vice president of the Democracy Alliance, an organization promoting civic empowerment. Prior to that she worked within the NEA for 15 years as a staff lobbyist, director of government relations and founder of the NEA’s center for advocacy and outreach.
Anderson, a lifetime member of the NAACP, spoke with The Crisis about the fast-changing state of education and her vision for the NEA.
The Crisis: What sparked your love of educational advocacy?
Kim Anglin Anderson: My parents and grandmother instilled a strong love of education in me. They felt it provided an indispensable role in access to opportunities. I got bitten by the advocacy bug in high school, when I was studying for a history project and learned about Loving v. the State of Virginia. Because I am biracial, it felt very personal and deeply resonant to see that, in the eyes of the law, I wasn’t considered an illegitimate being. The case was decided in 1967 and my parents married in 1969. It sent an incredibly powerful signal to me about the power of the law to change society.
What are some of the top priorities for the National Education Association?
There is an apparent and ingrained institutional inequity in the way we fund public schools. Every single educator, from teachers to bus drivers, shares a responsibility in upholding the safety and education of our babies. Unfortunately, all of the professions have been bludgeoned by a lack of respect, a lack of pay and the lack of a professional voice. And gun violence in schools continues to persist.
There has been a rise in protests around these issues.
Yes. What’s so powerful today is that students themselves are finding their own voices and speaking truth to power. We’re also seeing an increased level of organization among educators. Educators are standing side-by-side with students to protest family separation, advocating for health care, supporting climate justice and fighting voter suppression. These are powerful voices of real people recognizing the importance of those issues and their disproportionate impact on communities of color.
And all of these issues show up in our classrooms with our students, every day. Educators have a responsibility to students, so the scope of our advocacy efforts has increased exponentially.
How will you address these issues?
I’m very proud of the NEA’s efforts to deal with institutional racism as it shows up in public education. We are having massive trainings around implicit bias and addressing the school-to-prison pipeline. And we are training educators to be that one caring adult for LGBTQIA+ students, which studies have shown greatly reduce those students’ risk of suicide. Our classrooms can be a safe place for every student in America. We also know our students are becoming increasingly diverse. Therefore, educators need to be supported in their own journey to ensure they’re culturally competent and understand the populations they are serving. As we recruit more diversity into the teacher pipeline, students will see more role models who they can relate to at the front of their classrooms, and they’ll know they can aspire to their dreams.
— Emiene Wright