Race and Equity in the Time of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the racial inequities our country was built on, bringing to light how deeply systemic racism impacts our society at every level. At the same time, the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others expose the fact that anti-Blackness and police brutality have not stopped during this pandemic. In this video, members of Nellie Mae’s community advisory group share the struggles their communities are facing during these dual pandemics of COVID-19 and racism. They encourage us to think of how we can continue to build an anti-racist community, and how we as a foundation can support communities of color in this unprecedented time. We appreciate the time and effort they put into participating in this video, and are excited to amplify their work.


Race and Equity in the Time of COVID-19 was originally published in Nellie Mae Education Foundation on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

“Huey’s Kites”

“Flying kites is such a simple act of freedom. The peacefulness, open field, endless sky and seemingly unlimited ways the kite can move or flow. And yet, this freedom isn’t afforded to everyone. A basic childhood (and adult) act never experienced, to me, is a metaphor to the basic human rights that have failed to be fully realized by Black people and communities of color due to the oppressive (intentionally so) structures in which we exist.

“What happens to society, communities, the world when there are no limitations for people to flourish; when the wind of their freedom can carry them wherever they want?” — Marquis Victor

This film was created by Elevated Thought Founder and Executive Director Marquis Victor and parts of it were featured in Nellie Mae’s Community Advisory Group’s “Race and Equity in the Time of COVID-19” video. We are excited to share “Huey’s Kites” in full here.


“Huey’s Kites” was originally published in Nellie Mae Education Foundation on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

This Moment Shows Us Why Philanthropy Should Reinvent Itself

By: Dr. Gislaine N. Ngounou, Vice President of Strategy and Programs, Nellie Mae Education Foundation

Brooklyn Museum / CC BY

Much of the philanthropic community is earning praise for its response to COVID-19. To date, funders across the country have provided over $10 billion in grants, prompting some to even dub the pandemic as philanthropy’s “shining moment.

While it is encouraging to see many stepping up, foundations should use this experience to reflect on the strengths and shortfalls of our work, and how we can better wield our power and privilege to support communities in the future. COVID-19 is exacerbating inequities and rapidly harming people of color — especially Black people — who for centuries have been failed by our economic, education, and healthcare systems. As painful as the realities and data are, they are neither new nor shocking. We have seen this play out time and time again in the murder of Black people living in this country. Our systems are not broken; they are merely functioning as they were designed to operate — that is, privileging some while perpetually oppressing many. Racism has been the pandemic that Black people in America have endured for over 400 years.

Read the full article in Nonprofit Quarterly


This Moment Shows Us Why Philanthropy Should Reinvent Itself was originally published in Nellie Mae Education Foundation on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

No justice, no peace. Know justice, know peace.

By: Colleen Quint

Photo Credit: Lorie Shaull

I have a confession: I pretty much stopped watching the news a few weeks ago. The daily litany of lies and self-congratulations while we passed 100,000 dead from the pandemic was just too much. A great day for the Dow, indeed.

And then George Floyd was killed, and I turned away again sickened by what I saw. I felt the range of emotions — sadness, shame, anger — and heard the cries for justice. And I looked away. It was just more than I felt I could take on, more than I wanted to deal with.

And that, my friends, is my White Privilege in action. I can look away and tell myself I feel their pain. I can tell myself I am sympathetic and understanding and supportive. I can say “I would never…” And my silence negates any of that self-congratulatory pablum. My silence is complicity.

What can I as a White woman from Maine say about this? What insight can I bring? The reality is, I cannot bring insight because I have no idea what it is like to be a Black or Brown person in America today. I can see it, I can read about it, I can talk with friends and even strangers of color….but I have not grown up with the daily drumbeat of racism and intolerance literally and figuratively beaten into me.

And as so often is the case, it matters less what you say than what you do. And what I can do is hold myself to account, to acknowledge my White Privilege and to listen and to learn. And I can call out racism when I see it. And I see it plenty. I see active racism in the ways we treated George Floyd and Christian Cooper. I see institutional racism in the ways we educate and incarcerate people of color, and in the disproportionate and devastating impact of the pandemic on Black and Brown and Native communities. And I see casual racism in my own weariness and when I allowed myself to look away. As if it were not my fight. As if it were not my responsibility.

No justice, no peace. Know justice, know peace. Say. Their. Names.

Colleen Quint is a Board Member at the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, and President & CEO of the Alfond Scholarship Fund in Maine


No justice, no peace. Know justice, know peace. was originally published in Nellie Mae Education Foundation on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

An Educator’s Letter to Families in This Moment

This letter was written by Manuel J. Fernandez, Head of School at Cambridge Street Upper School (CSUS) in Cambridge, MA to CSUS Families

Dear CSUS Parents and Caregivers,

1968 was a pivotal year in my upbringing. I was in my early teens, and it was the year of assassinations (notably Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy), urban protests, college campus takeovers, the rise of the anti-Vietnam protests, and so much more. Growing up in Brockton, Massachusetts, I felt pretty invisible as a Black Cape Verdean boy among my white classmates. I only felt noticed when one of them would call me the N-word or bullied me verbally and physically. I know now that I suffered from internalized racism, which was burrowed into me every time my white teachers were dismissive of my racial harassment concerns. I did not like being Black, and it seemed no one else liked it either. The only Black teacher I had was when I was a high school senior. He was the P.E. teacher, and he wasn’t too impressed with my unathletic and uncoordinated self. I am not sure what was internalized in my psyche from that, but I certainly didn’t fit the stereotype of a tall Black boy.

I observed many changes in society at that time and within my self-identity. In the ensuing years, I latched on to the Black Consciousness movement spurred on by my Uncle and Aunt’s membership in the Black Panther Party. I became more and more racially conscious through the readings of James Baldwin, W.E. B. DuBois, Toni Morrison, and the literature of the Harlem Renaissance period. As I came to know of the many contributions Black people had made to the country and the world, I felt proud of being Black. I was becoming increasingly aware of my Cape Verdean ancestry, particularly about our history in southeastern Massachusetts. I was equally proud.

As a young educator, I endeavored to support the aspirations of my Black students and advocate for their needs with higher-ups. I became increasingly aware that my white students and the white educators I worked with needed my support to embrace an anti-racist lens. We learned from our consultant Beverly Daniel Tatum (author of Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria) that anti-racism was an active choice. Choosing not to be actively engaged in the dismantling of racism in our society was to implicitly or explicitly support racism. This past week, I have heard from scores of those students, Black, White, Asian, Latinx, and LGBTQ accomplices. I am so proud of these many women and men who, like me, have made the struggle for racial equity their life’s work.

This week that pride has been tempered by feelings of rage, fear, and despair. As the father of three Black daughters and two young Black grandsons, I cannot look at the graphic videos of unarmed Black men and women being murdered without seeing my family members in harm’s way. They all embody some of my voice — proud, unapologetic, and strident on all issues of equity. I caution my daughters often to consider their surroundings when they publicly object to inequity. They don’t always heed my advice.

As a Black school leader, I have struggled with ways to support our scholars devoid of my emotions at a time when they need clarity and perspective. Since its founding in 2012, CSUS has centered equity in our mission. At this time, I find comfort in the leadership and advocacy of so many of our CSUS educators. They have stepped up in a big way and have responded to scholar inquiry on the horrific events of the past few months and engaged scholars with strategies rooted in an anti-racist lens to help CSUS move forward.

I have spent my forty years as an educator as a staunch advocate for equity and anti-racism. It has not always made me friends, but it has created opportunities and a vision for all the scholars that I have been fortunate to serve. I will continue to do that as long as I am able. I will stand for my scholars and with my colleagues to advance anti-racism in our school and the community. There is no other choice. I hope you choose to do the same within your sphere of influence.

1968 changed America. Unfortunately, the change was incomplete, and many of the small gains have little influence on our present situation. 2020 is changing our society, whether because of the pandemic or because of the heightened awareness of the anti-Black racism and other forms of bigotry that pervade every aspect of our society. We can embrace the change and stay the course. But the new day that we want for all of our children and grandchildren will not be realized unless we all step up.

Thanks for reading.

Peace, Manuel


An Educator’s Letter to Families in This Moment was originally published in Nellie Mae Education Foundation on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Introducing Our New Community Advisory

In January, we announced our new strategy to make advancing racial equity in public education the central focus of our grantmaking. Today, we are excited to share another important development — the onboarding of our new Community Advisory.

We are tremendously grateful to our inaugural Community Advisory, whose contributions last year guided the development of our new grantmaking strategy. As philanthropy seeks to address longstanding inequities that have only worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important that voices from New England communities continue to be involved in foundation decision-making. This year’s cohort, again consisting of individuals who have deep relationships in the communities they represent, will work with our staff and Board to provide perspective and guidance as we implement our new strategy.

Collaborating with this talented array of partners will help ensure that community insights are consistently part of all the work we pursue. We will continue to ask ourselves how our work will ensure that affected communities are driving change. We are grateful and better as a Foundation for the partnership of our Community Advisors in defining our path ahead.

We hope you will join us in welcoming the following members to our new Community Advisory, and we look forward to keeping you updated on our work together.

Grace is the Executive Director for Communications and Community Partnerships for Portland Public Schools. In this role, she oversees the district’s work on family engagement, youth development, and partnerships with community-based organizations. She is an educator with specialization in English Language Learner education, immigrant education and has international experience with non-governmental agencies specializing in refugee work. She is passionate about multi-racial and cross-class coalition centering people of color in leadership to achieve social and racial justice.

Ina is a Program Coordinator at WEE. She previously worked at the Attorney General’s Office as a Program Coordinator for the Safe Neighborhood Initiative and later as a Legislative Aide for then State Rep Marie St. Fleur. After working for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Ina moved on to the private sector and worked at Pearson Education where her last position was Inventory Analyst.

Olga is the Executive Director of Women Encouraging Empowerment (WEE) located in Revere, Massachusetts. Olga helped launch the Revere Education Justice Alliance (REJA) and was one of the first immigrant women to serve in a leadership role on Revere High School’s Parent Teacher Organization (PTO). She is an alumnus of Revere Public Schools’ Parent Leadership Training Institute.

Manuel is the Head of School at the Cambridge Street Upper School. He has over 30 years’ experience working as an educator in numerous communities in Massachusetts including Boston and Taunton. Manuel views himself as not only a school leader, but also a leader in anti-racist work.

Mario is the Chief of Social, Emotional and Behavioral Learning at Holyoke Public Schools in Massachusetts. Prior to that, he was the Managing Director of Social Emotional Learning at UP Education Network, also in Massachusetts, and the Director of School Climate and Culture for Hartford Public Schools in Connecticut.

Marquis is the Founder and Executive Director of Elevated Thought, a creative arts youth organizing group in Lawrence, Massachusetts, where he has deep roots. He holds a master’s in education and previously taught in Revere and Boston, and is currently pursuing his Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership at Northeastern University.

Helen is a student in Lawrence Public Schools and a youth member of Elevated Thought, a creative arts youth organizing group in Lawrence, Massachusetts.

Milagros is a high school junior in Lawrence Public Schools and a youth member of Elevated Thought, a creative arts youth organizing group in Lawrence, Massachusetts. She is also a member of her high school’s Student Government Association, and a winner of the Citizenship Award and the “Be Kind, Be Humble” Award. After high school, she plans to major in the health sciences.

Michele is a Senior Associate for Everyday Democracy. She is also Director and Co-founder for New Hampshire Listens at the UNH Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire. Her work on and off campus is focused on inclusive civic engagement, community problem-solving, and building coalitions for community-initiated change efforts. She works to bring people together across perspectives and backgrounds to solve problems and create equitable solutions for their communities.

Sarah is Executive Director of Granite State Organizing Project. She has over twenty years’ organizing experience and is highly engaged in grassroots work. She also founded Young Organizers United (YOU), a group of high schoolers from various backgrounds who are dedicated to strengthening multi-issue and multi-racial coalitions designed to overcome disparate treatment in high schools.

Amaka is a youth empowerment coordinator for Manchester Public Schools, focused on centering youth voices and creating space for intergenerational dialogue and relationships. Additionally, she serves as a School Climate Specialist to provide support to middle school staff, student, and families. Ashley has over five years teaching experience within the Manchester Public Schools. In addition, she organizes the district’s Youth Equity Squad. Ashley is dedicated to positively impacting many lives of all ages, especially the minds of the future. She thrives from serving others and creating a positive atmosphere.

Mohamed is a student in Manchester Public Schools and a member of Granite State Organizing Project’s Young Organizers United (YOU), a group of high schoolers from various backgrounds who are dedicated to strengthening multi-issue and multi-racial coalitions designed to overcome disparate treatment in high schools.

Julia is a high school junior in Manchester Public Schools and a primary leader and member of Granite State Organizing Project’s Young Organizers United (YOU), a group of high schoolers from various backgrounds who are dedicated to strengthening multi-issue and multi-racial coalitions designed to overcome disparate treatment in high schools. Julia’s goals after high school include attending college.

  • Tauheedah Jackson, Institute for Educational Leadership, Connecticut

Tauheeda serves as the deputy director for IEL’s Coalition for Community Schools, where she is responsible for engaging local communities and supervising the programs, logistics, and daily operations of the Coalition. She brings nearly 20 years of experience working in youth development, local government, philanthropy, school districts and out-of-school time programs.

  • Chanda Womack, ARISE, Rhode Island

Chanda is the Founding Executive Director of Alliance of Rhode Island Southeast Asians for Education (ARISE) located in Providence, Rhode Island. She was recently recognized as Studio 10 and Providence Monthly’s Who to Watch in 2020. She was also the recipient of the NAACP Thurgood Marshall Award, the YWCA’s Women in Achievement Award and the Providence Youth Student Movement POWER Award.

  • Jeny Daniels, ARISE, Rhode Island

Jeny is a youth leader at ARISE and class president at her school. She also participates in outdoor track and field, theater, and orchestra. Jeny enjoys these activities because she can make a difference and express herself.

  • Krisnu Chuon, ARISE, Rhode Island

Krisnu is a youth leader at ARISE. They are also a volunteer at their school library, Cranston Central Public Library, and Miriam Hospital.

Karla is the Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Equity Institute where she oversees the organization’s creative vision and leads strategic initiatives that focus on developing equitable polices and practices. In her previous roles, she has worked to develop frameworks and resources centered in equity, culturally responsive teaching, and personalized learning. Karla is also a strong advocate in her state and beyond voicing the importance of recruiting and retaining teachers of color. She is a Deeper Learning Equity Fellow and was recently selected as a Pahara NextGen Fellow, Winter 2020 Cohort.

Christine is a teacher at Tuttle Middle School in South Burlington, Vermont where she teaches sixth grade Social Studies. Christine aims to place relationships at the center of her work and is committed to dismantling systems of oppression and decolonizing education together with her colleagues in the school’s Diversity Working Group and students in Peer Leadership.

Infinite is a staff member of the Vermont Equity Project, which aims to deepen understanding across the state and among policymakers on how the state’s funding formula discussion needs to be linked to increasing quality education for all of Vermont’s students. Infinite was formerly responsible for the Lead Community Partner (LCP) work in Burlington and Winooski.

Judy is the Executive Director of Gedakina, a multigenerational endeavor to strengthen and revitalize the cultural knowledge and identity of Native American youth and families from across New England. Judy is a life-long award-winning educator who specializes in sharing indigenous knowledge with children, and is also on the Board of Directors of OYATE and the Native American Scouting Association.

Lighting Candles: Finding and Studying Schools that are Achieving Equity

Guest Author: Eric Toshalis, Senior Director, Impact & Improvement, KnowledgeWorks

There’s a maxim I like a lot these days: “I’d rather light a candle than curse the darkness.” I like it because it underscores the need for illumination and resourcefulness when bad news can sometimes obscure the good. It suggests that when we’re faced with a challenge, we can start to move past it when we use existing resources to investigate our current situation. The lit candle reminds me that sure, problems exist — but solutions do too. Rather than sitting in the gloom and yelling about how bad things are, we’re better served when we gather information then find a way out.

And that’s what the REMIQS project — and the website we’re launching — are designed to do! We’re using better data to find our better schools, to learn what those schools do to produce better outcomes among our traditionally least served students. We will use what we learn to engage in practice and policy conversations about what we need to do to spread the best approaches. We are doing this with a clear understanding of the systemic challenges we need to overcome in public secondary education, not the least of which is the persistent inequities the system is designed to produce. But while we continue to tackle those larger issues, we also focus on what’s working now and how we might scale it up. We think this is way better than going down in a “blame of glory.”

That’s why we’ve built this website. We’re taking what we discover in the REMIQS project to illuminate where equity is being achieved. Not where it might be, not where it should be, but where it actually is being achieved. Then, through this website and other means, we’re communicating what we find so that parents, educators, policymakers, school system leaders, employers, university officials, researchers, and students themselves can learn from it.

At this very moment, our team is working with states to access data that will allow us to find schools that promote disproportionately positive outcomes among our least served populations. Those populations include:

  • Black and Brown students
  • students from low income families
  • students who qualify for special education services
  • English Learners

We’re interested in “disproportionately positive outcomes” because we believe that to reduce opportunity gaps, we must see greater rates of positive change in traditionally underserved populations than the rates evident in more privileged groups. We’re looking for schools that are eliminating that gap — not by bringing the top performing students down — but by lifting marginalized students up at an accelerated rate. This is equity. This is what we think good schools do.

In designing this project and communicating its developments on this website, we want to be clear that we’re not moving the goalposts in how we evaluate schools. Test scores still matter, as do graduation rates and attendance. Those items just aren’t enough anymore, especially when there are such rich data currently being ignored. Furthermore, we are not seeking to crowd an already stuffed field with a new school quality measure. And we’re definitely not using data to tell states and districts where their worst schools are so officials can “hold accountable” what are (sometimes erroneously) understood to be underperforming sites. Nope, we’re not doing these things. Why curse the darkness, right?

The REMIQS project is unique because it’s using a more robust set of outcomes to find a representative national sample of schools that are already achieving equity. Essentially, we’re finding the bright spots and illuminating what they do so we can do those awesome things elsewhere. The more candles, the better!

This post originally appeared on the REMIQS site.

Update from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation on COVID-19 Response

Dear Grantee Partners, Friends, and Community:

We know that many of you are providing direct support to educators, community members, young people and their families as they navigate this pandemic and the inequities that only become exacerbated in such a situation. As a philanthropic organization, we remain steadfast in upholding our responsibility to support New England communities during this challenging time.

Today, we want to share some updates around additional flexibility for current grantee partners, and also share an update on some new funding commitments we have made as part of our ongoing COVID-19 response.

Extending Flexibility

As a follow up to the note we shared about changes in the Foundation’s operations and grant expectations, we hope the following measures will lift some of the burden from our current grantee partners during this unprecedented time, especially for organizations that are in need of additional supports to maintain and sustain themselves during this difficult time.

· We are now offering grantee partners the opportunity to convert any restricted funds to general operating support or to support work around COVID-19 response, to the extent that it is helpful to your organization.

· We’re providing the option to request payments earlier than scheduled.

· We can provide a no-cost grant extension for your grant if needed.

· In lieu of an extensive final report, we welcome a brief final report that includes a spending report and describes how your funds were used.

If you are interested in pursuing any of the above opportunities, please reach out to your Program Officer to communicate your intent, including your most current spend-to-date report so that we can better organize ourselves to support you. We will also be doing our part to reach out to you in the near future to determine how else we may be of service. In the meantime, we are available as needed to provide support as you continue to navigate these challenging times.

COVID-19 Response

As an organization committed to advancing racial equity, we recognize that communities of color are disproportionately affected by this virus and the racism that stems from it. We have been humbled by the response to our Racism is a Virus Too Rapid Response Fund and were reminded that there is so much work to be done on many fronts to fight racism, xenophobia, and Sinophobia.

Today, we are announcing a set of grantees from this fund, aimed at responding to the hate crimes and bias against Asian American communities resulting from COVID-19:

Additionally, we want to share an update on another set of grants we are making to support New England communities during this pandemic:

· Boston COVID-19 Response Fund, The Boston Foundation: $25,000

· Hartford Foundation for Public Giving COVID-19 Response Fund: $30,000

· Maine Community Foundation COVID-19 Response Fund: $50,000

· Massachusetts COVID-19 Relief Fund: $50,000

· New Hampshire Charitable Foundation Community Crisis Action Fund: $50,000

· Rhode Island Foundation/United Way of RI COVID-19 Response Fund: $50,000

· Supporting Organizing Work Connecticut COVID-19 Response Fund, CT Council on Philanthropy: $30,000

· Vermont Community Foundation COVID-19 Response Fund: $50,000

We invite others who are interested in contributing to these funds and organizations to reach out to us to learn more.

This crisis calls upon us to think about the world we want to build as we move ahead. For us, that means remaining committed to serving our communities as trusted partners in advancing racial equity throughout this region. We recognize that the impacts of this pandemic will be long-lasting; therefore, we are on this journey for the long haul.

We are keeping you in our hearts and are grateful for your partnership.

In solidarity,

Nick Donohue
President & CEO
Nellie Mae Education Foundation

Learning Resources During COVID-19

The Students at the Center Hub has many resources focused on Anywhere, Anytime Learning:

· 18 Digital Tools and Strategies That Support Students’ Reading and Writing: In this article, the Instructional Technology Specialist from Littleton, Colorado offers a wealth of education technology resources related to literacy development. Educators and students will be particularly interested in the links to specific digital resources. These are presented in sections that correspond to specific literacy skills such as pre-writing, reading, and evaluation.

· 4 Questions to Ask About Multimedia Content: This short article provides advice on selecting the best multimedia resources.

· Digital Learning Day Resources: To help support digital learning throughout the year, this website offers several useful resources which include: A list of free digital tools to support classroom activities, interactive lesson plans submitted by teachers, and links to a large number of resource databases to find more tools and lessons

· How to Move From Digital Substitution to Deeper Learning: This podcast features a discussion of how teachers can ensure they are using technology to support deeper learning and move to more student-centered teaching practices. The guest focuses on practical suggestions and examples for teachers to put to work in the classroom.

· Center on Technology and Disability (CTD): The CTD is designed to increase the capacity of families and providers to advocate for, acquire, and implement effective assistive and instructional technology (AT/IT) practices, devices, and services. This website features free professional development and resources such as articles, recorded webinars, online modules, and more.

· From Hotspots to School Bus Wi-Fi, Districts Seek Out Solutions to ‘Homework Gap’: This article discusses possible ways to address disparities in access to high-speed internet connections in the home. It offers school, district, and community leaders facing such problems ideas from other districts, such as advertising community location with high-speed access or providing wi-fi on buses.

· Equity by Design in Learning Technologies: This report looks at equity in regards to access to and application of new technologies that support learning. It outlines the challenges and explores how learning technologies can provide the greatest benefits for the most vulnerable learners. This podcast provides more information on the report.

· How Giving Students Feedback Through Video Instead of Text Can Foster Better Understanding: This article describes how several teachers have shifted from providing written to video feedback for students. Ongoing feedback is an important part of formative assessment. This piece looks at the advantages of using video to deliver this feedback and provides links to websites and tools for teachers who would like to get started.

· How Podcasts Can Improve Literacy: This article, written by a veteran educator, describes how podcasts can be used as a strategy to boost literacy in any subject, especially for English Language Learners.

· Learning Accelerator’s Practices at Work: Blended & Personalized Learning : The Blended and Personalized Learning Practices at Work site, managed by The Learning Accelerator, is a collection of free, practical strategies and resources to help schools implement blended and personalized learning. The website is divided into sections that explore the basics of blended learning, provide real-world examples, and detail strategies to support implementation.

· KQED Teach Online Courses : KQED Teach offers free online courses on a variety of digital products and tools that can be used to enhance learning. The courses begin with Foundations in Media, which introduces the key digital media literacy concepts. Subsequent courses focus on one digital tool or product with overview modules/lessons, which should take between two and three hours to complete, as well as modules to share lessons learned after using the tool in the classroom.