Hill Harper, one of the country’s leading actors and social activists, and Marian Wright Edelman, a longtime leading advocate on behalf of children, spoke at a conference supporting young people and families. The Prince George’s County Public School System (PGPS) convened the “Family Institute Inaugural Conference” on Sept. 10 at Charles H. Flowers High School in Springdale, Md.

Hill Harper is a nationally known actor and author. (Courtesy Photo)

An estimated crowd of 1,000 parents, administrators, teachers, staff, and education activists attended the conference to learn about support services for families with children in PGPS and to network with education and social science professionals and organizations, with the support of the superintendent.

“This is a tremendous turnout for this event,” Kevin Maxwell, PGPS superintendent, said during the opening session. “We were expecting maybe a few hundreds but this is great. I am confident that there will be an opportunity to share information, enhance skills, and strengthen the bonds between school, family, and community.”

Maxwell, with the support of the Prince George’s County Board of Education, founded the Department of Family and Community Engagement in 2015 to advocate and support family and community input in the education of the county’s children. The conference is an outgrowth of the department and discussed four topics ranging from the rights of the parents in PGPS to supporting children who are autistic.

Hill and Edelman each led a discussion, with Hill focusing on helping children through the education system and Edelman talking specifically on how to advocate for children in the county, state, and national political system. Edelman served as the keynote speaker to the opening session. Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund based in the District, told the audience the nation’s No. 1 priority should be the education and protection of the nation’s children. “The greatest security threat to our country won’t come from some group outside of our country but from not preparing our children for the future,” she said. “Our nation’s public policy should support strong parenting and strong families.”

Edelman called for a national comprehensive early childhood education system that is federally supported. She said strong families and strong communities produce successful children. “We must remember that every child is sacred,” she said. “We need to work to see that children succeed and plan for that. We need to work to end child poverty in the richest nation on Earth.”

Harper served as a special guest speaker during the opening ceremony and explained why education is so important to the nation. “Children are our future,” Harper said. “The future belongs to those who are not afraid of innovation, doing the necessary work to move forward and offering new ideas.”

Harper is best known for his role as Dr. Sheldon Hawkes on the CBS hit television series “CSI: NY” and having written several New York Times best-selling books ranging in topics from communicating with an incarcerated young man to money management.

“Life as in physics, you need energy to get things done,” Harper said. “To change the future of our children, we need to apply more of our energy.”

He encouraged the audience to take the lead in bettering the lives of children. “Don’t let other people do it-you are the leader,” Harper said. “Bring your heart to the table and you can move the meter if your heart is into it.”

“I am here today because I want to learn creative and innovative ways the county education system aligns with my own view of education,” Abraham Ajenifuja, a resident of Beltsville, Md., told the AFRO. “I am here to contribute to that discussion.”

Ajenifuja said that he is writing a book that is that will talk about creating a school system where each child is treated as important and capable of learning.