Anti-bullying groups were shocked this week to learn that their top ally in the Obama Administration is leaving his appointed position at the U.S. Department of Education to lead the nonprofit organization Be the Change.
In a time of declining budgets, Assistant Deputy Secretary of Education Kevin Jennings was perceived as a forceful supporter of programs that sought to improve the conditions for learning, as well as a force in elevating bullying to a national issues. He heads the department’s Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools and helped organize the first ever White House Conference on Bullying.
So advocates were surprised Thursday when Be the Change announced that Jennings would join the group as president and CEO. Be the Change describes itself as “a nonprofit that creates national issue based campaigns by organizing coalitions of non-profits, social entrepreneurs, policymakers, private sector and civic leaders, academics, and citizens.”
In a farewell e-mail to nonprofit leaders and others obtained by JJIE.org, Jennings wrote: "It is with great excitement that I tell you that I have accepted the position of CEO of Be the Change, a nonprofit that creates national issue based campaigns such as ServiceNation and OpportunityNation.
"The two years I have spent as Assistant Deputy Secretary of Education have been incredibly exciting. I’m very proud of milestones I’ve been a part of such as leading a national campaign against bullying that culminated in the first-ever White House Conference on Bullying, keynoted by President Obama, in March 2011: launching a new approach to school safety through the Safe and Supportive Schools grant program; and driving the creation of the new Green Ribbon Schools program to promote environmental awareness and literacy in our K12 schools. It has truly been an honor to serve in the Obama Administration."
National media organizations focused on Jenning’s experience as an activist for the civil rights of gay students, a background that drew opposition from social conservatives. As a federal official, however, he gained notoriety for advocating anti-bullying efforts in the schools.