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Greg Cantori

–  Greg Cantori, president and CEO of Maryland Nonprofits, Chicago, IL

1965 Head Start certificate

Today, I write as the president and CEO of Maryland Nonprofits, one of the largest state associations of nonprofits in our nation.

Of the many certificates, awards, and diplomas on my office wall, I'm most proud of my 1965 Head Start certificate of completion. I now know that I was among the lucky ones who was recruited and attended one of the very first Head Start classes in 1965.

Our eight-week class took place where the Human Services Department now stands on 63rd and Drexel Ave., in Chicago, IL. How do I know that? Well, my wonderful mom remembers it so well, that she even has the address memorized some 50 years later! She told me how the staff went door-to-door looking for the first Head Start kids to participate.

It boggles my mind how organized and challenging that must have been to get a new program like this off the ground, on a such a national scale, with only months of planning and with no internet, emails, or computers. I honestly don’t remember much of my experience as a 5 year old, other than the large pipes in the basement ceiling and the warmth and care we all received.

So, why am I so proud of my certificate?

It represents all that is just and good in putting children and families absolutely first and foremost. It represents the incredible cooperation, partnerships, and dedication between elected officials, public servants, teachers, parents, and staff. It represents a key moment where Lyndon B. Johnson said: "Here and now, we declare unconditional war on poverty in America." It represents and celebrates the wonderful diversity of the classmates I spent eight weeks with. And it represents the sense of gratitude and success of its holder. Just think, nearly 50 years later, the program remains true to its mission with tens of millions of children getting a real Head Start in their young lives! This is what our younger generation says needs a "shout out"—that is, Head Start is Awesome!