When you learn, teach. When you get, give. “Maya Angelou.” This quote could not be more fitting for our next visionary manifesto candidate. Some associate her major accomplishment as that of bringing forth from her womb a multi-talented global force of nature known as Common, but most know Dr. Mahalia Hines as an equally passionate, resourceful, intelligent and talented individual, who has for decades championed the mantle of educational opportunity for the youth in the Chicago area. It was with great gratitude that I had an opportunity to speak one on one with this woman of true integrity and purpose as she spoke in the raw about her life narrative, journey and the intentions behind the vision God crowned her with. A vision of hope, brilliance and miraculous growth for the city of Chicago and the beautiful children that inhabit this special city. Let us begin the journey.
HoC: What inspired you to give of yourself in such a demanding and powerful way via your educational initiatives as it relates to the youth in Chicago?
Dr. M. Hines: I think what really drew me to the platform was the children themselves in the nuance that when kids find that you really love and care for them, they will do their best as it relates to positive reinforcement and development of their lives. The love that was given in return was immeasurable and witnessed from a place in my spirit that constantly empowered my mind, body and soul.
HoC: You have been very vocal and active in the areas of education in the Chicago school system. You were motivated to the point that you met with then candidate, Rahm Emanuel, when he was running for mayor of Chicago in 2010 in an effort to have a presence within the transitional team. Can you delve into your thought process at the time and what your expectations were?
Dr. M. Hines: I always remained observant within the educational spectrum of the Chicago public school system. The understanding of the political agendas was gained through my ongoing consulting work with both principals and teachers that I had mentored throughout the years. There was a strong sense of disappointment among this select group of educational professionals and I needed to undergird their heartfelt efforts to operate from a point of empowerment and creativity. The only way I could see myself being of use was to gain the attention of the so-called powers that be by way of writing a series of proposals geared towards a productive discussion.
HoC: What had been your concerns on the closing of 50 public schools in the Chicago area, a controversial move initiated by the Board of Education in 2013?
Dr. M. Hines: I don’t feel that closing schools empowers the community; but in contrast, the move to close those select fifty school buildings was necessary. I equated it to having a rotten tooth and leaving it in your mouth and as it continues to decay there is excruciating pain. That is somewhat of an example of what I saw with those particular schools as it related to the children who attended classes at those locations. There were initially one hundred school locations that were slated to close and the members of the board including myself visited every one of those locations. When we completed our assessment, we proposed that there needed to be a revision in the decision to close the initial 100 school buildings. The criteria of those schools were such that they had been on a steady decline in serving the students over a ten-year period with no significant upward movement. It wasn’t just a money issue in my opinion as it was more of a personnel issue – meaning that there were schools that did not have the maximum resources, yet they were performing at a comparable level.
HoC: In 2011 you were appointed to the Board of Education by Mayor Rahm Emanuel. In keeping with your intent of providing a solid foundation of education for the students, has that appointment been worthwhile?
Dr. M. Hines: Yes, it has been worthwhile, but it’s also been one of the most challenging undertakings of my career. Not just from the standpoint of the given political aspects within the city, but to include the scope of the Board of Education, arguably the 2nd highest employer in the city of Chicago. And when you are dealing with the aggregated amount of funding dynamic, there are relevant decisions based around what the aldermen of the communities determine. It’s not just the mayor’s office that wields the weight of the decision making by way of a unilateral platform.
HoC: Let’s get into the Common Ground Foundation and the goals and intentions of the vision that you and your son, Common, created which seems to be somewhat of a microcosm of the journey that you began within the educational realm decades ago. How did the two of you manifest such an amazing organization that has become such a beacon of light and hope in conjunction with the Chicago Public School system?
Dr. M. Hines: I see the Common Ground Foundation as an extension of what my goals were as it relates to the children within our communities. And, Rashid (Common), built upon those foundational supports and expanded them beyond what I thought would be possible. The vision is to create global leaders cultivated from those students, who already possess the heart and characteristics of thoughtful leadership, but lack the opportunity of exposure to the environments and individuals that are key players in that ecosystem of human development. Every child can learn regardless of physical and or mental ability. It depends on the mentoring aspects. What the Common Ground Foundation does is undergird the lifestyle dynamics of the students’ environment – from the home to school ratio from 8th grade through High School -with a supportive role geared towards their continued college education. We desire for there to be a reciprocal relationship as these students gain their collegiate academia and come back to the communities to invest in the legacy that served each of them on their respective journeys.
HoC: The Common Ground Foundation seems to adopt an “each one teach one” rule which seems to be moving in very positive albeit subtle political ways on a grassroots level within the south and west ends of Chicago. What if any are the end results of such an endeavor?
Dr. M. Hines: I can cite a real-life example of one of our program candidates named Eric. He attends Clark Atlanta University as a sophomore and achieved the honor of class president during his freshman year. Eric is leading the fight against discrimination and unjust incarceration of our young adults within the African American community. Eric completed the four-year trajectory within the Common Ground Foundation and we were able to empower those essential leadership skills that have now allowed him to exercise his full potential.
HoC: Dr. Hines on behalf of The Visonary’s Manifesto and heART of Cool, I want to thank you for allowing us the opportunity to capture such an authentic narrative regarding your life’s work. I would however like to ask a final question. There is a young child in Chicago going through the extreme challenges of his or her environment and possibly feeling a deep sense of hopelessness. What would you, Dr. Hines, as the mother of Common who himself was once a child say to this other young conflicted youth in regards to keeping hope alive in his/her spirit?
Dr. M. Hines: I love you and it’s because of that powerful love I have for you as you are where you are. God has a plan for your life without limitation. It is because of that Godly love that you are created with a divine purpose. And if you can just step out on faith and face those challenges with an understanding that it will be hard at times. However, even in those moments, it’s going to be ok because it’s not how you fall, but how you get back up.
For more information on Dr. Mahalia Hines and the Common Ground Foundation, please visit the website at https://commongroundfoundation.org/who-we-are/