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Roger Wilkins, who died at 85 Sunday morning, was everything the newspaper reports say he was: a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, a tenacious warrior in the fight for civil rights, a scholar who brought his probing intellect and perspective to matters of race and class in American history. He was also a very good friend to all of us at Ed Trust, having taken a chance on us as a founding board member back in the mid-1990s and giving generously of his time for more than a decade.

In those early years, of course, nobody talked much about long-standing disparities in the achievement of different groups of young Americans, much less about the gaps in opportunity that produced them.  And reporters at The New York Times, for whose editorial board Roger wrote for many years, couldn’t even be bothered to return a phone call from the likes of us. “The Education Trust what? Are you a foundation?”

As we worked to make closing gaps in both opportunity and achievement a high priority, Roger was with us at every step — patiently guiding us away from minefields and toward more productive routes. Deeply knowledgeable about past battles in the fight for civil rights, he supported our battle with sage advice, challenging our thinking in ways that made us smarter and more effective over time. And the Times, along with other papers, started calling us, rather than the other way around.

Indeed, as I think back about the wins we’ve had along the way, I know that a lot of the credit goes to two Wilkinses: Roger, the board member, and his daughter Amy, who became our vice president of government affairs and communications. The fierce intellect and deep understanding of American politics shared by both Wilkinses fueled our work as an organization for many years.

I hope Roger rests in the kind of peace that he never quite achieved in life, knowing that his fight and legacy is carried on by many — including those of us here at the organization he helped found.

Pictured is Roger Wilkins with, from left, Debra Gustafson, Jennifer Black, Lisa Akard (all from Ware Elementary School in Kansas), and Kati Haycock at Ed Trust’s 2007 national conference.

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