By Victor Ochieng
Several statistics reveal disparities between African-Americans and whites. In Dane County, Wisconsin, the gap has been so bad that many individuals, government agencies, and organizations have been working on ways to address the issue.
A report called “The Race to Equity,” released in 2013, provided a 40 life-status comparisons between blacks and whites, and the revelations were more than damning. Based on the report, there wasn’t even a single point in which blacks were at par with whites.
In conclusion, the report relayed that “the county’s black-white disparities…are generally more extreme than those found in most other jurisdictions across the state and nation. There is not a single indicator that we analyzed in which African American well-being is on par with that of whites…. What is extraordinary about Dane County’s numbers, however, is the sheer magnitude of the disparities that we found in many of the most fundamental status indicators.”
It’s because of such disparities that 1800 Days was founded. This is a grassroots initiative that helps parents and the Dane Community at large balance the odds for children before they drop behind. It’s aimed at sealing the achievement gap, underlining that the best results can only be achieved if it’s done before a child sits for the first test.
The initiative’s founder, Harold Rayford, who’s the president of the African American Council of Churches and pastor of the Faith Place Church in Sun Prairie, says he started the initiative after he volunteered at a middle school library within the locality, where the gap became apparent to him.
“I thought the achievement gap started in kindergarten and progressively got worse over time. But after working in the schools I found out that it begins from birth if children aren’t hitting certain benchmarks, and by the time they get to kindergarten they are already behind,” Rayford said.
The 1800 Days initiative has won the hearts of many and all Dane County school districts have given their nod to partner. This is in addition to several other entities, including libraries, universities, churches, and community centers.
Representatives of these entities availed themselves for the initiative’s launch to express their support.
“This is important not just to the state of Wisconsin but for the whole country. I’ve always asked how can we engage our universities in early childhood development but this shows we can do that,” said Ray Cross, UW System president. “It’s also important to us that we’re partnering with a faith-based community.”
Pastor of High Point Church Nic Gibson expressed his support, saying, “I’ve been a dear friend of Pastor Rayford’s and I can’t express how important this is for the community.”
1800 Days focuses on the first five years of a child’s life. It involves working together with parents and availing resources and tools to help them gauge whether their children’s cognitive development is on the right path. The first five years of everyone’s life are key to their intellectual development, meaning if done well, they’re set on the right track and ready for the normal school system.
Another important aspect is linking parents to free, available resources such as libraries that help in the proper growth of their children.
In the future, Rayford is looking forward to expanding the benchmarks to include the period from first grade to high school.