What are the responsibilities of your role as National Senior Managing Director of Black Community Alliances at Teach For America (TFA)?
It’s my primary responsibility to build external partnerships between TFA and grassroots organizations committed to furthering the collective interests of the Black community. This role exists across four other identities: Latinx, Asian American, Native Hawaiian & Pacific Islander and Native communities. We seek to amplify opportunities for TFA staff members, alumni and corps members through our external partnerships and collective learning. We also work with organizations on recruitment initiatives to ensure that we are providing the information needed to increase the number of teachers of color, in the classroom. For me, specifically Black men and women.
What does your day to day look like?
A lot of my time is spent traveling to classrooms and meeting with partners around the country. TFA places teachers in 53 communities across the country. I’m having discussions with team members across TFA, both nationally and locally, to draw connections between the partnerships we are building and making sure that they are useful in real time. I’m talking to different constituencies, sometimes press and sometimes policy makers, to ensure that our mission and day-to-day actions are reflected in the partnerships I am building, while simultaneously revisiting and nourishing our existing partnerships.
What’s your favorite thing about your job?
Getting people ignited about education. There is something to be said about being Black in the education space in a country that seeks to politicize something that we know to be ancestral to our community. Students should regularly see a reflection of themselves in teachers and leaders. These leaders should also share their life’s walk. I enjoy pushing our teaching and policy communities to see that education is not so separate from who we are at our core and that we matter.
What drove your decision to boomerang back to TFA after leaving for a while?
At the time I left TFA I was the Manager for Community Engagement in Connecticut. As I thought ahead about my career, I knew it was necessary for me to have more direct experience with students and practitioners. So I went and led youth mentoring and teen programs at 1199SEIU’s Child Care Corporation. My decision to come back to TFA was motivated by the realization that it was a unique place where I could approach education from a social justice, culturally responsive orientation. That is very critical to me. What I’d learned through my work with 1199 and the relationships I made there and the broader education community, combined with having been apart of the TFA family for nearly six years made me uniquely positioned to return and serve in my current capacity. It became essential in my purpose to bring people who come from communities like mine in Harlem, along with me on the journey toward educational opportunity and access; people who believe that education and the act of teaching with responsiveness to people’s culture regardless of where they come from is essential to teaching the whole child and generations after them, and will be committed to this work both in the classroom and outside of it.
What is your perspective on education reform today?
I would encourage that one shift the language. Yes, reforming education is important but a lot of the work is in dismantling systems of oppression and ensuring that they work for us in ways that they weren’t designed to. Public schools were not built to work for black and brown people. We were left out of them for decades. Now that we’re here, it’s critical that we work alongside those who have had generational access to ensure that our schools and the systems around them work to meet our needs.
What do you think is the biggest challenge facing black students?
We have to be relentless in ensuring that classrooms, school buildings and the spaces that surround our children are a positive and motivational reflection of who they are and who they want to be. Curriculums were not designed with our history and today’s progress in mind, which has a detrimental effect on our kids. If students are not seeing what they can and want to be it’s very easy for them to opt out and become something they don’t have to be.
How do you suggest people get involved?
We have a social responsibility to come back to classrooms to talk to students about our journey and our careers. If you have the opportunity to volunteer a couple of hours to have lunch with kids I would highly recommend it. Some of you may even take your skills and apply them to teaching so that you can build well-rounded connections between the work you’re doing and developing the minds of the next generation. Building partnerships with people and allowing them to come into the TFA family to create cross industry connections and conversations, with education serving as the foundation. I encourage all people to take on this challenge, particularly in neighborhoods like mine, that are written off as inaccessible. On the policy end, there are so many conversations happening between legislators. Our politicians need real stories to be able to understand the impact of education on our plight, for better or for worse, so share yours.
How does Harlem influence you?
Harlem made me who I am. I imitated the leaders around me, whether they served in a formal capacity or not, they advocated for the community. From Minisink Townhouse, The Kennedy Center, Lenox Avenue, 7th Avenue, Harlem made sure Harlem had the services we needed when the government wasn’t looking out for us. I owe Harlem for my career, friendships and the innate hustle that comes with having been born and raised in a space as dynamic as this. It’s everything I am as professional and as a Black woman.
What’s next for you?
There’s part of me that really feels committed to broadening the education and social justice space with people who want to get in at their level. I want to think through how we get the information that we know about social movements and this historical impact of our people, from spaces that require levels of privilege, in a language that the streets can understand. I do not know exactly what that looks like but that’s where my mind is.
How do you stay motivated?
The people that I surround myself with. I am careful about how curate my circle of friends to make sure that we all add in positive ways. I also love yoga, which keeps me grounded. And I’ve had to learn as someone who is in a passion job to take time for myself and not feel guilty about it. I’ve learned to compartmentalize work and get my ego out of the habit of thinking that the movement isn’t going to move because I’m not one the line.