Nonprofit founder receives national honor



Guidance of elders, engaging parents keys to NdCAD’s success


By Charles Hallman
Staff Writer

The Champions of Change program, created as part of President Barack Obama’s Winning the Future initiative, recently honored Gevonee Ford, the founder/executive director of the Network for the Development of Children of African Descent (NdCAD), a nonprofit family education center in St. Paul.
Ford was among eight “Champions” January 12 at the White House recognized for the work they are doing to better their communities, said an official White House press release. “Mr. Ford has continued a tradition of Black leadership by working with hundreds of children and their families each year to increase reading proficiency and learning confidence amongst students…as well as increased parental and community involvement,” wrote White House Public Engagement Associate Director Erin Hannigan on Ford, who has worked in early childhood and education in Minnesota for almost 30 years.
“I knew I had been nominated by someone from the [Obama] administration a few months before,” Ford told the MSR after he returned from his first-ever trip to the nation’s executive mansion. “When I got the email, the first thing I did was print out the email [invitation] and read it over and over just to make sure it was real.”
Ford said after a morning White House tour, and prior to a scheduled afternoon panel discussion, the eight honorees “had an opportunity to talk, meet each other, network and exchange cards,” he pointed out. “That was a great experience to learn about the great work, so much good that is happening in different parts of the country. The White House being the catalyst for bringing us together to meet was powerful in itself.”
Each honoree talked about their respective work and took questions from the audience of around 100 persons in attendance, explained Ford. “One of the questions I was asked was to share some of the key lessons that we learned here at NdCAD in building the organization. One was the importance of recognizing the elders in our community, and really looking to the elders for guidance, expertise and the role that they play [in the community].
“The second lesson is to keep creating opportunities for our people to be engaged in building our community and creating opportunities for our parents to be engaged in the education of our children,” said Ford, who has been with NdCAD since its inception in 1997.
He also reflected on the many contributions of such elders as the late Kwame and Mary McDonald, both of whom were very involved in the founding of NdCAD and its success over the years. “Elder Kwame was so involved in so many ways,” recalled Ford, who adds that the center’s library is now named the McDonald Family Reference Library.
It also is now home of “a large number of [Kwame’s] African literature and his books” which McDonald bequeathed to NdCAD after his death in October of last year, said Ford. “His gift is an amazing collection of books from some of our greatest thinkers. It was part of his legacy.”
Ford also reflected, “All that kept running through my mind while at the White House: the faces of so many of our elders, our young people, our educators and the community here who have been involved in this work. I was receiving this recognition, but it was really on behalf of so many folk who are part of building this organization.”
President Obama was not in attendance at the January Champions of Change event, reported Ford.
NdCAD plans to hold “a community celebration” sometime in March to locally recognize Ford’s honor. “I wished I could have taken everybody with me to D.C., but that wasn’t possible. We want to honor everybody who has had anything to do with the creation and development of this organization.”

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