Honoring Black Excellence in Early Childhood

In celebration of Black History Month, we recognize and honor the impact of Black early childhood educators, authors and caregivers.

Child Care Provider Reading Book to Toddler

Q&A: Early Childhood Equity Perspective Innovation

Black leaders in the early childhood field are on the front lines of racial justice. See how they are using their background and perspective to move the field forward.

Photo credit: The Shippensburg News-Chronicle

Brenda Jones Harden, PhD, is Professor of Social Work at Columbia School of Social Work and the President of the ZERO TO THREE Board of Directors.

Brenda Jones Harden

Why is Black History Month significant to you as an educator?

“I am an African American woman who was raised in a racially segregated neighborhood in Washington, DC. As an infant and toddler, I spent my days in the physical and psychological arms of two grandmothers, three great grandmothers, and one great grandfather, who gave me my first lessons on the import of the Black extended family, so eloquently described by scholars such as Robert Hill in his seminal volume “The Strengths of Black Families.”

I attended racially segregated pre- and elementary schools, but flourished under the nurturance and pedagogical skills of unsung Black women who had devoted their lives to teaching Black children.”  


Clinton Boyd, Jr., Ph.D., is the Executive Director of Fathers, Families, & Healthy Communities, a Researcher at Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, and a former ZERO TO THREE Fellow. 

Clinton Boyd, Jr.

What does Black fatherhood mean to you and how does it affect your work?

“Whenever I think about Black fatherhood on a personal front, I immediately reflect on the countless Black men in my family who are committed, exceptional, loving, and perfectly imperfect fathers. Ever since I could remember, the Black men in my family have challenged conventional wisdom about Black fathers: that persistently stereotype us as absent, irresponsible, and “deadbeat” dads. Rather than prove the stereotype accurate, I have observed the Black men in my family debunk these myths about Black fatherhood. When I became a young father at the tender age of 15, the Black men in my family served as good examples of great fathers to pattern myself after.

Informed by my experiences as a Black father, my professional work seeks to rewrite the narrative on Black fatherhood through rigorous research and grassroots organizing.”

What excites you about the future of diversity, equity and inclusion in the early childhood field?

“As the U.S. population becomes more racially and ethnically diverse, I am heartened by the courage displayed by advocates to push for culturally responsive teaching to become a mainstay in the early childhood field. In a pluralistic society, the educational system must validate and affirm students’ cultures and ensure that the strengths of each child’s culture are reflected throughout the learning environment and within the school curriculum. 

Culturally responsive teaching is especially important for Black children, as not-so-subtle efforts are underway to rewrite our country’s true, if sometimes unpleasant, history by suppressing discussions about race, racial inequality, and racial pride in America’s public school classrooms. As our nation enters the next frontier of racial justice advocacy, we must resist present-day efforts to whitewash our public education system and strive to create anti-racist early childhood environments.”   

Tammy Mann, PhD, is President and CEO for The Campagna Center and Chair of the Committee on the Board of Directors of ZERO TO THREE.

Tammy Mann

What is one of your favorite childhood memories and how has it influenced your work with young children?

“My favorite childhood memory centers on memories of how I felt growing up in my community. Whether at home, outside playing, at school, going to church, attending a block party on our street, or going to the park for extended family picnics, all of it made me feel embraced, like I belonged. It made me feel safe and loved. 

We have an incredible opportunity to create that sense of belonging and support across every program that we operate, especially programs touching children in their earliest years of life. Our commitment centers on making sure everyone who walks through our doors has access to opportunities that help them realize their full potential. This is true across the cradle to career continuum that so aptly captures the range and scope of our work. The gift of serving in this moment of our organization’s 73-year history has fed my soul and makes me hopeful about the future.”

As an organization we support the clinicians, educators, care providers…all the professionals, who are on the frontlines of care. They are also on the frontline for social and economic justice. And we must support them in that cause as well.

Pioneer Spotlight: Paving the Way Impacting Lives Framing the Field

Black leaders were key in forming some of our nation’s largest early childhood initiatives and programs to date. Black History Month is an important time to reflect and recognize these historical figures and their contributions to the field. 


Black Joy Collection

Sharing stories is a great way to help young children learn more about themselves and the world around them. We’ve identified a few books to read during Black History Month that celebrate Black joy and serve as a starting point for what will be a lifetime of conversations about positive self-identity.

The ABCs of Black History


by Rio Cortez and Lauren Semmer

This book takes a bold journey through the alphabet of Black history and culture. In addition to rhyming text, the book includes back matter with information on the events, places, and people mentioned.

Love Will See You Through

by Angela Farris Watkins and Sally Wern Comport

The niece of Martin Luther King Jr. reveals six timeless and universal principles that encompass the civil rights leader’s greatest legacy, reinforcing the truth that “the universe honors love.”

The Colors of Us

by Karen Katz

Seven-year-old Lena and her mother observe the variations in the color of their friends’ skin, viewed in terms of foods and things found in nature.

Dream Big, Little One

by Vashti Harrison

Whether they were putting pen to paper, soaring through the air or speaking up for the rights of others, the women profiled in these pages were all taking a stand against a world that didn’t always accept them.

When Mama Braids My Hair

by Monique Duncan

The tradition of African hair braiding is more than just a Sunday routine. Come join Nikki on an adventure as she is transformed into an Egyptian queen, a Nigerian goddess, a Zulu warrior, and a Maasai girl. 

Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry and Vashti Harrison

A little girl’s daddy steps in to help her arrange her curly, coiling, wild hair into styles that allow her to be her natural, beautiful self.

Young, Gifted, and Black

by Jamia Wilson

This book uses positive yet simple affirmations to encourage the next generation. Highlighting the talent of Black leaders and changemakers from around the world, young dreamers will develop confidence, self-assurance, and self-belief.

Skin Again

by bell hooks and Christopher Raschka

Celebrating all that makes us unique and different, this book offers new ways to talk about race and identity. Race matters, but only so much–what’s most important is who we are on the inside. Looking beyond skin, going straight to the heart, we find in each other the treasures stored down deep. Learning to cherish those treasures, to be all we imagine ourselves to be, makes us free.

Black is a Rainbow Color

by Angela Joy and Ekua Holmes

From the wheels on a bicycle to the robe on Thurgood Marshall’s back, Black surrounds our lives. It is a color to simply describe some of our favorite things, but it also evokes a deeper sentiment about the incredible people who helped change the world and a community that continues to grow and survive. 

Your Life Matters

by Chris Singleton and Taylor Barron

Written by national speaker Chris Singleton, who lost his own mother in the 2015 Charleston church shooting, Your Life Matters teaches kids to stand tall in the face of racial adversity and fight for the life they dream of. Each page depicts a famous hero from Black history mentoring a child of today and encouraging them to use their mind, heart, voice, and hands in that fight. 

Celebrating Black Fatherhood

Daddy Matters

ZERO TO THREE teamed up with YouTube star La Guardia Cross to create a four-part web series that explores why dads matter and what matters to dads.

These videos can also serve as powerful tools for fathers those who work with fathers to show them they are not alone, and to open up important discussions on a range of issues around fatherhood. We’ve also created discussion guide for each episode with questions to serve as conversation-starters resources related to the topics covered.

Related Resources: Professionals

Related Resources: Parenting

Related Resources: Policy and Advocacy

More than half of babies being born today are children of color.

We envision a society that has the knowledge and will to support all infants and toddlers in reaching their full potential, regardless of race or national origin.