Throughout her decadeslong career with the National Urban League, Esther Bush has paid special attention to improving education for African-American children.
And for those efforts, the White House is paying attention to her. Ms. Bush, president of the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh, will be honored as a "Champion of Change" at a ceremony this afternoon at the White House.
"It's an extremely pleasant surprise," she said. "I'm just delighted to be acknowledged; and to have it come from the White House, it's just extremely special."
The Champions of Change program in the White House features a different group of honorees each week "who are doing extraordinary things to empower and inspire members of their communities." During the event this afternoon, Education Secretary Arne Duncan will make an announcement about the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, which was established by President Barack Obama last year.
Ms. Bush, 60, grew up in East Liberty and graduated from Westinghouse High School. She taught high school in inner-city Baltimore and worked as an administrator at Coppin State University before joining the National Urban League in 1980.
She worked for the National Urban League in New York and Hartford, Conn., before moving back to Pittsburgh in 1994 to head the Pittsburgh Urban League.
She also holds a master's from Johns Hopkins University and a doctor of law degree from the University of Hartford.
As an employee of the Urban League, Ms. Bush has been involved in national programs such as Equity and Excellence, which advocates for common core state standards.
The program attempts to ensure, she said, that "a third-grader in Mt. Lebanon would have the same curriculum as a third-grader in Mobile, Ala."
Locally, the Urban League chapter has run the Urban League of Pittsburgh Charter School, which features an extended school day and year and mandatory Spanish instruction. In some years, test scores there have topped all city schools.
She is also active in programs such as the African-American Achievement Trust, which encourages black leaders to be cognizant of African-American achievement in city schools and in programs that promote black student achievement in science, math and technology.
"No matter what I do, the teacher is always in me," she said.
She is particularly proud of the Black Male Leadership Development Institute, a program for high school students that the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh runs in conjunction with Robert Morris University, which includes a weeklong residential component.
If anything comes out of her recognition by the White House, Ms. Bush hopes it is that more people become involved in education. She noted that the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh facilitates volunteer opportunities at Westinghouse High School and University Prep for sixth-grade mentors or 12th-grade graduation coaches.
"The most important message for me to get out is for everybody ... to take the time to give back to your children," she said. "We need their time more than ever."
Anya Sostek: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1308.