Dr. Steve Perry, Essence editor-in-chief Constance C.R. White, Olympic Gold Medalist Sanya Richards Ross, N.Y. Giants Aaron Ross

*Well, 2012 started off — meaningfully –- with essence and purpose.  Only the warmth and allure of Essence magazine could get an impressive crowd out in frigid degree weather to attend a launch reception of the magazine’s ambitious and empowering new initiative – a yearlong education series entitled, Mission Critical: Education First! — on Tuesday, January 3, 2012, in Top of the Strand penthouse suite at the Strand Hotel in New York City replete with a warm and inviting fireplace.

Essence editor-in-chief Constance C.R. White was joined by New York Giants star Aaron Ross and  his physically fit wife, Olympic gold medalist Sanya Richards Ross, as co-hosts and believers in Essence’s passion to help ensure the academic success of African American children today.

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Essence.com general manager Dawnie Walton, Essence senior editor Patrik H. Bass, Essence president Michelle Ebanks

To make this educational project standout amongst others Essence will team up with experts in the education field and empower readers with a lot of practical tools featuring influencers in education, politics and entertainment.

“There’s still a lot of gaping disparities in the kinds of opportunities that our kids have in education, versus what other kids have in education,” stated White.  “So, this is our attempt to help level the playing field.”

Essence will provide “solutions, ideas, inspiration, and hope” that speak to this problem.  And they leave no stone unturned.  The series will cover issues with home schooling, tips on finding the best quality schools in your area, and resources on how to take a failing school and make it better.

Mission Critical will combine the power of storytelling and the voices of leaders to help African American children move forward in school and in life — as well as to favorably influence and motivate the community around what has been called “the civil rights issue of our generation.”

The glowing evening, made more radiant by a crackling fireplace, was attended by influencers in education, politics and entertainment who share Essence’s concern about the plight of poor education in this country, such as  New York One’s celebrity newscaster Cheryl Wills, N.Y. Giants star Michael Clayton and CNN education contributor Dr. Steve Perry; and in addition to White, representing Team Essence, Michelle Ebanks, Bob Meadows, Vanessa K. Bush, Dawnie Walton, Patrik H. Bass, and the magazine’s dynamic publicity divas Dana Baxter, Sheila Harris and Chloe Williams.

Event co-host Richards Ross also spearheads The Sanya Richards Fast Track Program which, since its inception in 2007, seeks to combine sports with literacy and numeracy through this dynamic and outstanding initiative enjoyed by youth in Richards Ross’ native island home of Jamaica.

Through magazine articles, open forums, Town Hall meetings and one-on-one conversations, Essence’s Mission Critical series will combine the power of storytelling and the voices of leaders to help African-American children move forward in school and in life — as well as to favorably influence and motivate the community around what has been called “the civil rights issue of our generation.”

The first article in the series was written by Dr. Steve Perry, renowned education advocate and author of the book, “Push Has Come to Shove: Getting Our Kids The Education They Deserve (Even If It Means Picking a Fight).”

As a former teacher and social worker, and currently a principal in Hartford, CT, Dr. Perry is a passionate advocate of equal education and stresses the importance of parental involvement resulting in better school environments.

Perry also emphasizes the significance of parental involvement in the politics of education in order to improve not only what goes on in the school but in the community as well.  (Photo Credit: Brad Barket / Picture Group)

Audrey J. Bernard is an established chronicler of Black society and Urban happenings based in the New York City area.

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