Celebrating Black History Month – Mrs. Helen H. Taylor (1942-2000)

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By Wassy Tesfa, Chairperson, Region 9 Head Start Association Board of Directors

February 2021 ushers in many new consequential events – a new President and Administration – new hope with vaccines and the return to a more normal operation. Additionally, February is a month of remembrance and celebration – this year we are mindful of the thousands who have died from COVID-19, those suffering from the economic impacts and ongoing trauma. Also, we take time to celebrate Black History Month – the journey, struggles and victories in the many stories of our Black brothers and sisters. In Head Start, we have been blessed to have many strong Black leaders over the 55+ years of this program. In all aspects of our work – from classroom floors to program leadership and elected office, Head Start has a rich history to draw from for Black History Month Celebrations.

Standing tall among the great Head Start leaders is Mrs. Helen H. Taylor (1942-2000). She was Head Start’s North Star for six years as the associate commissioner of the Head Start Bureau of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration on Children, Youth and Families (1994-2000). A champion for children, teachers and families living in poverty. As a pioneer in program improvement, she understood the power of parents. “As the national leader of Head Start, Mrs. Taylor urged her staff to emphasize involvement by parents and community. “Keep the faith and trust the common sense of people,” she once said. “Listen to your parents. The best programs involve families, local staff and communities.” (Washington Post, October 6, 2000). Ms. Ann Linehan, the current Acting Director, Office of Head Start shared “She was like no other political appointee or leader that I have ever encountered or ever will. While we were less than a decade apart in years, her genuineness, wisdom, and common sense were eons beyond mine. We worked closely together until her untimely death in 2000. And since her passing, I have worked to achieve the same “True North” that guided Helen as the leader of our Head Start community.”

As a Head Start fellow, a program she started, I am reminded of what a brilliant servant leader she was who set the bar high and was a great example to program directors throughout the nation. She was the bright child of the Zeitgeist that brought us Head Start. Today, millions of children and families benefit from her leadership. This month – let us celebrate Mrs. Helen H. Taylor.

(Picture – Sen. Ted Kennedy, Helen H. Taylor, President Bill Clinton)

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