May 18, 2022 is the 57th anniversary of Head Start, a federal program created by President Lyndon B. Johnson to “help meet the emotional, social, health, nutritional, and psychological needs of preschool-aged children from low-income families.” The program is free for eligible children and offers a range of educational activities with a focus on emotional development and strengthening family relationships.
The inspiration for Head Start came from President Johnson’s 1964 State of the Union Address, where he declared a “War on Poverty” to eradicate income disparity across the U.S. After his speech, the Johnson administration brought in experts to create a child development program that would support disadvantaged preschool children. This became the Head Start program.
A key aspect of the program, according to Head Start is that it must be “culturally responsive to the communities served,” and every community is required to invest in the program by donating volunteer hours or funding. In 2007, the Improving Head Start for School Readiness Act introduced changes to the program, which include sourcing higher qualified teaching candidates and increased program monitoring. Today, the program is operated by local non-profit organizations in all 50 states, and it provides services to over one million children a year.
Robert F. Smith’s Family legacy Inspires His Philanthropy
Robert F. Smith’s father, William R. Smith, was deeply committed to his community in Denver, Colorado. He was an early advocate for bringing Head Start to Colorado. In addition to his career in education, William R. Smith was Chairman of the Board of the Unite Denver YMCA and served on the North City Park Civic Association to ensure the children and adults in his community had access to gathering places where they could exercise and learn. “My dad led a civic association—North City Park Civic Association—and one of the things that he focused on was…how our community would be treated in terms of various things like social services.” Smith said regarding his father at the 2021 Black Men in Leadership Virtual Conference.
Inspired in part by his father, Smith has launched multiple initiatives dedicated to expanding education access for marginalized communities. In 2019, Fund II Foundation, in which Smith is founding director and President, launched internX to provide minority students with STEM and business-related internship opportunities at top-ranked U.S. companies. To date, the program has matched over 12,000 college students with internship opportunities to help build their professional networks, launch their careers and help talented students become valued employees.
In Denver, Smith supported Vista Equity Partners and its local portfolio companies in their joint sponsorship with Denver Public Schools for the launch of the Montbello SMARTLab. The STEM lab features 21st-century learning opportunities in a highly diverse but economically disadvantaged school district. Denver, Smith’s home city, also named a public school the Robert F. Smith STEAM Academy in 2021 to inspire its students to aspire to excellence. The school’s mission is to help students excel in school by simulating a learning environment inspired by Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
Learn more about Smith’s educational initiatives for marginalized students, including the ground-breaking Student Freedom Initiative.