Meet John


is a lifelong educator who is committed to a more just and prosperous Maryland. He served as President Obama’s U.S. Secretary of Education. In naming John to serve in his Cabinet, President Obama described John as “an exceptionally talented educator,” citing his commitment to “preparing every child for success” and his lifelong dedication to education as a teacher, principal, and leader of schools and school systems. Today, John leads an education civil rights organization and is also a professor at the University of Maryland, College Park.

John headshot

John giving speech

School saved John’s life when he lost both of his parents as a child.

John’s mother passed away in October of his fourth grade year when he was 8. John then lived with his father who struggled with undiagnosed Alzheimer’s. Home was unstable and scary, but inspiring teachers made school a place that was safe, nurturing, and engaging. After his father passed away when he was 12, John moved around between different family members and schools. As a teenager, John was angry at his life’s circumstances – like many kids who have experienced trauma at an early age – and he got in trouble so often that he eventually got kicked out of high school. But while many could have seen a young Black and Puerto Rican kid whose life was in crisis and written him off – as happens for so many young people - phenomenal public school teachers, mentors, and a school counselor believed in John and gave him a second chance.

The educators that instilled in John a sense of hope and possibility inspired him to become a teacher himself and to go on to serve as the 10th U.S. Secretary of Education under President Obama.

John in school John in Briefing Room
Family Group Photo
John and Obama John with his dog

John’s family roots run deep in both the best and most challenging parts of Maryland’s history. John, his wife Melissa, and daughters Amina and Mireya (who attend Montgomery County public schools) live in Silver Spring, MD — not 25 miles from where his great-grandfather, Charles King, and his family were enslaved. The cabin where King’s ancestors lived still stands today in Gaithersburg, MD. But just one generation later, in 1894, John's grandmother was among the earliest graduates of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. This history of both inequality and progress is still very much alive today in Maryland. As the first Black and Latino Governor of Maryland, John would work to move us forward together toward an ever more just future.
“Building a movement for real change may sound like a long-shot, but the truth is my whole life has been a long-shot – in fact, my ancestors could not have imagined that I would be where I am today. I am living because they survived. I am running for them and to make good on the promise of a better future for Marylanders for generations to come.”
John and his wife

As Maryland is still dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and its related crises, John believes that the state should recover in a more equitable and just way -- making room for more Marylanders to contribute to the state’s future prosperity. In October 2020, he founded Strong Future Maryland, a progressive advocacy organization working to advance bold policy solutions for a more equitable, sustainable, and prosperous state. Strong Future Maryland is working to strengthen the state’s social infrastructure, create broad-based economic development that expands opportunity for underserved communities, and take action on climate change and environmental justice.

John believes in the potential of every Marylander, and knows that we cannot afford to rely on chance for more Marylanders to have the opportunity to succeed.

“As a teenager, I was angry and I got kicked out of high school. I often say that I am the first U.S. Secretary of Education to be kicked out of high school, but I hope I am not the last...everyone deserves to be seen, heard and to be given a chance to reach their full potential.”

Serving alongside President Obama, John led an agency with a nearly $70 billion budget and was responsible for early childhood education, K-12 public schools serving more than 50 million students, and higher education including nearly 20 million students in the nation’s public and private colleges. John has the executive leadership and management experience to move the state forward and make Maryland a national leader on the issues that matter. John will work to give every child in the state a fair shot at success, expand economic opportunity and dignity, create more good paying jobs, and guarantee universal health care as a human right and a healthy, sustainable environment for all Marylanders.

A lifelong educator, John will be a governor who leads by listening, creates seats at the table for those who have too often been ignored, ensures government is a force for good in people's lives, and believes in the potential of every Marylander.


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John Headshot