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Shirley Nash Weber delivers keynote address during The Shirley Weber Educator Empowerment Tribute event at SDSU on Feb. 7, 2023. (Photo: Erik Good/SDSU) Shirley Nash Weber delivers keynote address during The Shirley Weber Educator Empowerment Tribute event at SDSU on Feb. 7, 2023. (Photo: Erik Good/SDSU)

Shirley Nash Weber Returns to SDSU With a Call to Action

California Secretary of State is honored at event focused on strengthening university’s pipeline of Black Educators.
By Michael Klitzing

Shirley Nash Weber came home to San Diego State University on Feb. 7 as one of the most powerful people in California. As the Golden State’s first Black Secretary of State, she is third in line to the governorship.


But as she looked out onto a room of aspiring Black educators at the Parma Payne Goodall Alumni Center, her message to the audience was clear: You are the ones with the power to make positive change for Black children.


“When our children fail, I take it as a personal assault on me, because someone helped me to not fail,” said Weber, who taught for 40 years in SDSU’s Department of Africana Studies. “We have to take personal responsibility for the world that we live in. And those of you who are teaching have a very unique and wonderful opportunity."


The passionate remarks by Weber — a longtime champion for fighting inequity and anti-Blackness in the education system — highlighted an event aimed at strengthening the university’s Black educator pipeline. Hosted by the College of Education, Black Resource Center and Center for Achieving Black Wellness and Anti-Racist Education (CABWARE), The Shirley Weber Educator Empowerment Tribute drew more than 100 attendees, many of them Black students interested in pursuing careers in the education field.


In her keynote remarks, Weber shared the story of growing up in the Pueblo Del Rio public housing project in Los Angeles. Her father had moved the family there from Arkansas, where he had been threatened with lynching. Though neither of her parents were afforded much of a formal education, she said her father “understood the importance of getting us educated.”


Weber said she was empowered by Black teachers throughout her public schooling.


"Mrs. Johnson made sure we all could read and Mr. Hudson taught us algebra in the fifth grade,” Weber recalled. “I never heard the phrase 'You can't.' There were these teachers — mostly these African American teachers — in these schools where nobody else wanted to teach, who did great work with us.


"My whole experience in public school was really about people believing in me," she added.


SDSU’s efforts to boost Black representation in the education field come amid recent statistics that show 15% of the nation’s public school students are Black, compared with only 7% of the teacher workforce. Research has shown that Black students who have had at least one Black teacher are more likely to excel in school and less likely to be subjected to discipline. 


J. Luke Wood, SDSU's Vice President for Student Affairs and Campus Diversity, Chief Diversity Officer and Distinguished Professor of Education, spoke at the event about his own research showing Black pupils face discipline at disproportionate rates.


“But we find that when an educator is from the Black community, it’s far more likely that those Black students will find someone extolling their brilliance, virtue and morality,” he added. “Having us represented in that space can make for a different experience.”


Former College of Education Dean dean Joseph F. Johnson Jr. and his wife Cynthia Uline, professor emeritus in educational leadership, took the stage to honor five recipients of the Gilda Johnson Shumate Scholarship — a scholarship named for Johnson's mother that supports aspiring educators who are involved with SDSU’s Black Resource Center. One of the recipients, postsecondary educational leadership master’s student Monique Holbert, is an accomplished painter whose work was on display throughout the evening.


Y. Barry Chung, current College of Education Dean, and Estella Chizhik, professor in teacher education, also delivered remarks on the importance of Black representation in schools. The college also set up informational tables where student attendees could learn more about the college’s master’s and credential programs in the education and wellness fields.


"What an energizing evening," Chung said afterward. "Looking around the room and seeing so many Black students interested in making a difference through careers in education was inspiring. Secretary Weber's powerful words were the perfect call to action to do what is necessary and long overdue — building a strong pipeline of Black educators."


Learn more about the College of Education’s Black Educator Pipeline initiative, aiming to improve representation among Black educators.


To support the Black Educator Pipeline initiative with a gift, donate online at To learn more about making a major gift, please contact Megan Beardsley,