Celebrating Joy and Working Towards Liberation (Interview with Outright Vermont’s Dana Kaplan Part…

Celebrating Joy and Working Towards Liberation (Interview with Outright Vermont’s Dana Kaplan Part Four)

We got the chance to talk to Dana Kaplan, Executive Director of Outright Vermont, an LGBTQ+ youth-facing organization, about the history of Outright, the current programs and events the organization is running, and the importance of centering youth and intersectionality in social justice work. This installment delves into more of Outright’s anti-racism work and goals for the future. This is part four of a four-part interview series about Outright. Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

We’re in a moment where movements for anti-racism are in the national spotlight. How has this current moment affected Outright Vermont’s work?

What’s true is that we know this is not new work, these are certainly not new needs, and these are not new conversations for black and brown folks and for our social justice movement work. The amplification and national spotlight has created a different level of opportunity, accountability, and inability to turn away. I think that’s primarily what has shifted. There are lots of ways youth are doing their own work and leading at some of the intersections of creating an anti-racist, anti-transphobic community, school system, and GSA. Some of these efforts are happening around School Resource Officers in schools, work Outright’s youth organizers are choosing to be part of organizing in their local communities and towns. Vermont is unique in that even though we are a small state, schools and communities are at really different starting places of progress, based most often on the level of community backlash and conservative politics they are navigating. Some youth are organizing to have the Black Lives Matter flag raised, while others are intentionally bringing in conversations around implicit bias and white supremacy. But it’s important to note that based on the previous administrations’ active emboldening of racism and hate, the level of backlash and threat is pretty shocking. The insurrection at the Capital brought to light just where we are as a country. It feels like we are at a tipping point, and it’s on all of us to show up for this work right now. Black and Brown folks have been erased, ostracized, and pushed out for way too long. It’s on all of us to wrestle with the questions and really ask what shifts people are making in this moment. It’s not a time to be comfortable. That’s never when change happens. As LGBTQ+ folks, with experiences of coming out and transitioning, we can tap into our lived experiences with transformation to know that liberation isn’t comfortable, but it’s necessary.

What are some goals that Outright Vermont has, both short-term and long-term?

Some of the work we’re up to is deeply internal — tuning our organizational capacity to be right-sized so as to set a strong foundation for the years to come. Some of that is about systems attunement, from fundraising and evaluation, to program growth and communications. Some of it is about accountability to our commitments as a staff and board to keep an anti-racism practice front and center, so we can make sure not to move from places of white supremacy, and can course correct when we do. You know, there has long been a sense for many non-profits that we have to work from a scarcity model — as an LGBTQ+ organization that inherently moves through a landscape wherein we are not the majority, I think we may get that burden of expectation to stay small more than many. So part of our work as a radical and transformative organization is to say “we get to take up space, we get to be here, we get to have the things that we need in order to be healthy and sustainable and thriving for years to come.”

One of our programmatic goals is to grow Camp Outright, starting with doubling the number of sessions we hold. Our organizational strategic plan really centers outreach and access to the most marginalized of youth, so that all LGBTQ+ youth throughout Vermont have hope, equity, and power. We are prioritizing efforts of care and mentorship with QTBIPOC youth, and being intentional about how we spend time and attention showing up for our partner orgs in this work together.

It’s not missed on anyone that it’s been a really hard and devastating year; when we’re talking about a population of folks who were already five times more likely than their cis/het peers to have attempted suicide in the past year (2019), who are already feeling disconnected and isolated and struggling to feel like they matter in their communities, adding the pandemic to that landscape has been really challenging. We will continue our work to make sure that youth know there’s always somebody who has their back, and we will continue to work structural and systems change so we can see a different tomorrow. Some of the programs we offer will always continue to have their place in the form they are now, and other pieces will continue to expand so that we’re more effectively having impact for those that need us most.

For a small, Vermont non-profit to have secure funding beyond one year out is a pretty radical accomplishment in and of itself, and something we’ve been working hard to cultivate over time. To have that backing in the form of multi-year grants from folks like Nellie Mae and other foundations who recognize the importance of saying ‘here’s a little breathing room, we believe in the work you’re doing and we trust you to use the money where you need it in order to keep moving forward in your mission’… That’s a massive gift!

Another interesting and really important thing happening in the world of philanthropy right now is more conversations about what it means re-distribute wealth and engage in direct reckoning of the ways money is tied to race and racism. Having transparent and explicit exchanges around how people have even gotten access to their wealth and what it looks like to really shift dynamics is something we are invested in organizationally. This isn’t just a conversation to have at the program level; it’s a conversation that needs to happen in the board room, with donors, and with youth. We really appreciate collaborating with foundations like Nellie Mae — so clear in your vision and commitments to creating equitable educational spaces. It’s truly an honor for Outright to be part of your orbit.

Is there anything else that we haven’t talked about you’d like to mention?

One thing that doesn’t get talked about that much, but feels really important, is the joy and beauty of being LGBTQ+, of being a trans person, and youth getting to celebrate that part of themselves and their identity that’s often the basis of hurt and harm in other spaces. Media coverage tends to focus on the disproportionate health outcomes that exist — the bullying, the self-harm, the suicide, and the very real and serious health equity considerations that deserve our attention. But we also need to create spaces for joy, so that queer and trans people can honor and celebrate those special parts of ourselves, because there is something very beautiful about our identities, and too often the focus is on stories of tragedy and harm. Working towards liberation and justice for LGBTQ+ people ultimately makes the world better for all of us. Working for a world that is free of racism makes the world better for all of us. As much we have to talk about the harm, it’s also really important that we make space for the joy and the celebration. There is hopefulness that comes when we all have the chance to be our true selves, with the love and care and resources we need to do just that.


Celebrating Joy and Working Towards Liberation (Interview with Outright Vermont’s Dana Kaplan Part… was originally published in Nellie Mae Education Foundation on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

A Letter from Our Youth Advisors

To the United States Secretary of Education

Dear Secretary of Education Cardona,

Congratulations on your confirmation as U.S. Secretary of Education, and the wonderful opportunity to support young people nationwide.

We attend public schools in Lawrence, Mass. and are members of Elevated Thought, an art and social justice organization that addresses forms of systemic injustice through youth development, beautification projects, public outreach, and paid opportunities for BIPOC creatives.

We are optimistic and motivated for the future, especially because you share our focus on achieving equity and addressing systemic racism in education.

As students who are most affected by the decisions made about our learning, we want to make sure our voices are included in shaping education policies and priorities. We encourage you to regularly engage with young people because our experiences uniquely qualify us for solving the most pressing issues facing our schools.

Photo by heylagostechie on Unsplash

We are optimistic and motivated for the future, especially because you share our focus on achieving equity and addressing systemic racism in education. For our public schools to live up to their promise of opportunity for everyone, we believe the following should be key areas of focus for the new administration:

Hiring more teachers of color

It makes a tremendous difference when children see teachers and educators who resemble themselves. Teachers of color can relate to young people in ways that white teachers sometimes cannot — due to different environments growing up, different economic situations, and different traditions and customs. As students, it is relieving to talk to people who have walked in our shoes and understand our struggles.

This is especially important within predominantly white institutions. Sometimes teachers of color are the only solace and support students of color can turn to when they are stressed. It alleviates pressure off students of color from having to explain to their white educators why they feel overwhelmed, or serve as “educators” to their peers when discussing sensitive topics such as racism, prejudice, and discrimination. In addition to having more teachers of color in schools, making sure that educators are trained in anti-racist teaching will help young people feel seen and heard.

Our education officials need to be cognizant of the opportunity gaps between urban and suburban schools — an issue that’s been discussed for decades now.

On that same note, hiring more teachers who are part of the LGBTQ community or have queer/homosexual identities serves the same purpose. This is especially important for children who are coming to terms with their sexualities, and realizing that there is nothing wrong with identifying outside the heterosexual norm.

Photo by Juan Carlos Becerra on Unsplash

Equitable school funding

Our education officials need to be cognizant of the opportunity gaps between urban and suburban schools — an issue that’s been discussed for decades now. It is vital that equitable funding for public schools is prioritized so that all young people can receive the best quality education. Students in public schools should not be forced to suffer in underfunded districts and be deprived of learning opportunities their peers experience in wealthy communities.

Mental health supports and discipline reform

We urge you to support policies that combat the school-to-prison pipeline. This involves finding alternatives to disciplinary practices like suspensions and expulsions, and providing mental health education and services that are culturally accessible nationwide. Similar to the importance of hiring BIPOC educators, students need better representation in mental health supports, guidance counselors, and social workers.

Education standards that apply to real-world learning

Too often, our learning and classes are tied to meeting vague standards that do not relate to skills we will need in our daily lives. It is important that standards are tied to real-world learning and skills that will be applicable throughout college and career.

Miguel Cardona, we wish you all the best as you transition into your new role. We look forward to hearing more about your ideas to improve our nation’s education system, and hope to work with you in building a better future for America’s youth.

Sincerely,

Milagros Pena, Elevated Thought, Lawrence, Mass., Community Advisor to the Nellie Mae Education Foundation

Helen German-Vargas, Elevated Thought, Lawrence, Mass., Community Advisor to the Nellie Mae Education Foundation


A Letter from Our Youth Advisors was originally published in Nellie Mae Education Foundation on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Youth Leaders and Adult Allies (Interview with Outright Vermont’s Dana Kaplan Part Three)

We got the chance to talk to Dana Kaplan, Executive Director of Outright Vermont, an LGBTQ+ youth-facing organization, about the history of Outright, the current programs and events the organization is running, and the importance of centering youth and intersectionality in social justice work. This installment explores Outright’s work with non-LGBTQ+ and adult allies as well as the importance of youth leadership. This is part three of a four-part interview series about Outright. Read Part 1 and Part 2.

Can you speak about some of your work that is focused on allies who are not LGBTQ+, and how you balance that work with the work you do supporting queer youth?

We are here to change systems and culture, so that youth are validated in their identity and experiences when they’re with like-minded, LGBTQ+ folks, AND when they go back into their home environments. We need the dial moving forward! A huge part of our work is to bring folks along who might unintentionally — or sometimes intentionally — cause hurt and harm to our communities. There are folks on staff who spend the majority of their time working with adult allies. We are here first and foremost for youth, and we recognize that to make things better for youth, we need to look at the people and places of power with an ability to create change and help them do that work. Heterosexism and cissexism depend on cisgender and heterosexual folks not knowing their moments to show up differently. Just like it’s on white folks to recognize where white supremacy and racism harms us. It’s our responsibility to show up differently and do that work so folks of color have what they need and the space to be able to live their lives and dreams. It’s on all of us.

Allies need to have their own spaces to work their stuff out. We don’t want that to happen in such a way that youth are having to carry that burden — that’s why we have family programs and family spaces, because it’s not the responsibility of youth to have to do that educating. But yeah, we have some spaces that are just for LGBTQ+ identified folks. And other dedicated spaces for everybody, regardless of identity. We do our best to be mindful of tending to all the things and people and spaces with intentionality.

What is the importance of having a space where queer youth are not only supported, but are active leaders?

Youth are the experts of their own lives. They know what they need. Especially when we’re looking at LGBTQ+ youth and the places where homophobia and transphobia rob them of the ability to voice what’s needed — for example, it’s inaccurate and transphobic ideology to say that youth are too young to know their gender identity, when we know that that part of your brain forms between the ages of two and four. So when a youth says “I know I’m non-binary,” or “I know I’m trans,” it’s our responsibility to listen, and meet them with, “thank you for telling me. Thank you for letting me in. What do you need? How can I support you? What are your pronouns and what’s your name?”

Our being here is and has always been about working to change the toxicity that youth navigate, so that everyone can live the life they want and need. It’s not enough for us to just give someone a Band-Aid when they’re hurt; it’s our responsibility to say “how did you get hurt? What are the root causes of the set-up, and how can we together create change in this environment so that doesn’t happen again?” Youth are the ones that know because they’re living it! The most powerful and radical thing that adults can do is get out of the way and let youth lead, because they are the ones that know. We see that happening all over the world in terms of youth at the forefront of all sorts of social movements. It’s our responsibility to leave things better than we found them — youth are the ones paving the way for that work to happen.

How do you and other adults involved with the organization ensure that Outright Vermont is truly youth led?

It’s a process! We have the opportunity every single day to check where we’re coming from, to make sure we are living our values. We ask ourselves how to make sure we’re not tokenizing youth, how to meaningfully engage youth in the work so that when we’re planning priorities for the year, those priorities are coming directly from youth, which then becomes the road map for the work the organization takes on. Those priorities: training for teachers, inclusive queer sexual health education, having more gender neutral or gender-free facilities, harm repair, and access for all — that is direction we take from youth specifically, which informs the ways we’re making moves in our programs and staffing. We are also paying youth for their time and expertise, through our youth organizing program (thanks to the Nellie Mae Foundation!) and other youth mentorship roles. The structures for youth leadership within the organization have taken various forms over the years; but the form follows the function — and the function is always working to ensure that youth power is meaningfully woven throughout all facets of what we are up to.

In our final installment next Friday, we’ll delve into some goals Outright has for the future, including some of the anti-racist work Outright youth are doing. Stay tuned for more!


Youth Leaders and Adult Allies (Interview with Outright Vermont’s Dana Kaplan Part Three) was originally published in Nellie Mae Education Foundation on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Outright Vermont: Programs Amidst a Pandemic (Interview with Dana Kaplan Part Two)

We got the chance to talk to Dana Kaplan, Executive Director of Outright Vermont, an LGBTQ+ youth-facing organization, about the history of Outright, the current programs and events the organization is running, and the importance of centering youth and intersectionality in social justice work. This installment delves into some of Outright’s programming and how they’ve adjusted to COVID19. This is part two of a four-part interview series about Outright. Read Part 1.

Can you give a couple of examples of programs and events Outright runs?

Much of what we’re up to is creating opportunities for young people to connect, to have access to conversations that they wouldn’t otherwise get to be a part of. In a rural and remote state like Vermont, it can be hard for folks to access location-specific programming, so having everything go online has been helpful for youth and families that couldn’t otherwise get to our events and groups.

We run both one-off, statewide events and we also have our recurring weekly and monthly affinity-based social and support groups. An example of a bigger event we run is the Queer and Allied Youth Summit, which happens every May in a different and rotating location each year. It’s a 24-hour gathering of 200+ youth that typically includes a march and a speak out, youth led workshops, a townhall, a queer prom, and a sleepout. Pure community celebration, and for many, the first time they’ve seen so many peers like them!

A new event the team put together last year was based on what staff were hearing on the ground from youth themselves. We held a Lavender Commencement. For so many LGBTQ+ youth, commencement is not a given — whether they are enrolled in a more typical high school program or any other sort of degree or journey with a beginning, middle, and end. The cards are stacked such that it’s harder to be set up for success, right? That’s literally how inequity functions. So making it through school is big! We wanted to help validate and affirm their success, especially in the early days of the pandemic. Writer, activist, and trans visionary extraordinaire Alok Vaid-Menon gifted youth their new book, and they shared some beautiful words of wisdom, too. It was really sweet and special, and something we hope to continue to do from here on out.

We also run our week-long summer camp which I talked about earlier; this year we are committed to doubling the program, as we intend to run two sessions of camp, based on the need. Last year camp registration for 65 campers was full in just 33 minutes, so the need is real. It’s your typical summer camp with a queer, social justice twist. Dates for Camp are set — July 1–16 — and we are remaining hopeful that we can run it in-person.

In the winter, we also do winter camp reunion to help folks remember the community they have, even in the off-season. Another big event we coordinate is Leadership Day at the statehouse. Youth from across Vermont gather to meet with their legislators and talk about the issues most impacting their lives. We also do a panel with Legislators who identify as LGBTQ, and they talk about the intersections of what it means to be a representative, hold that level of power, and how to do it all while celebrating individual identities. It’s important for youth to see their futures as full of possibilities. It’s also an opportunity for youth to testify in committees on issues that matter most to them — Outright youth have been at the center of creating some important bills that impact their lives, like the gender neutral bathroom bill and testifying about the detrimental impact of conversation therapy.

You touched on this, but is there anything else about how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected OV’s work?

We are definitely having to respond in different ways to issues that are coming up for youth that might not otherwise have been as obvious or pressing without COVID. There are so many youth who don’t have safe or consistent access to technology or the internet, so we’ve worked with some of them directly, and gotten tremendous support from the Vermont Department of Health to distribute the technology they need to remain connected in a virtual world. Often times, our connection to youth has been through the school system, so without school running as usual to be that bridge, we’ve had a different opportunity to go directly to youth. In May we did a statewide Needs Assessment to see what queer and trans youth were needing in response to COVID. A lot of what we heard back was spaces for connection, celebration, and fun. Some folks also talked about the need for support around being stuck in quarantine with abusive or unsupportive family members, or the lack of routine throwing off their ability to care for themselves, or the difficulty in accessing affirming medical care given how inundated health providers are. So there’s been a different level of some basic needs support and safety planning support that typically might otherwise be held by the schools.

We’ve also been doing more mutual aid. In September we did an outside traveling tour of Vermont, bringing gender-affirming supplies and grocery cards to different towns to make sure that some of youths’ most basic needs were being met. In some cases we were just there to say “hi” and be an IRL LGBTQ+ person! Sometimes youth aren’t seeing anyone else like them in their towns and communities, so just showing up and saying “hey I see you, I’m here with you” is an important part of what we’ve been up to.

Next Friday, we’ll explore the importance of centering youth voice and leadership, as well as how Outright works with allies to make the world safer for LGBTQ+ youth. Stay tuned for more!


Outright Vermont: Programs Amidst a Pandemic (Interview with Dana Kaplan Part Two) was originally published in Nellie Mae Education Foundation on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

An Introduction to Outright Vermont (Interview with Outright Vermont Executive Director Dana…

An Introduction to Outright Vermont (Interview with Outright Vermont Executive Director Dana Kaplan Part 1)

We got the chance to talk to Dana Kaplan, Executive Director of Outright Vermont, an LGBTQ+ youth-facing organization, about the history of Outright, the current programs and events the organization is running, and the importance of centering youth and intersectionality in social justice work. This installment offers an intro to Outright’s work and their commitment to anti-racism. This is part one of a four-part interview series about Outright.

Can you give an introduction about what Outright Vermont is?

Outright Vermont is hope, equity, and power alongside LGBTQ+ youth. We are Vermont’s only youth-facing organization for queer, trans, non-binary, questioning, and allied folks. We help create peer connections for youth, strengthen families, and transform communities, systems, and schools. We are here for the joy and the comradery, the education and the rabble-rousing!

How long have you been at Outright Vermont, and what growth have you seen in your time there?

As an organization, Outright is now in its 32nd year! It started back in 1989 when a group of community members came together after recognizing the need to break the barriers of isolation and harm that were disproportionately impacting LGBTQ+ youth. I’ve been with the organization eight years now. Our North Star has always been to uplift the voices of LGBTQ+ youth while working to change the systems that create the most harm for young people. The ways in which we’ve done that and the stakeholders we’ve brought in have transformed over time. We’ve started working with youth as young as 3, and we’ve added family programming, because we recognize the connection between familial and community support and positive health outcomes for youth. We’ve grown tremendously in terms of our work with schools and gender and sexuality alliances (GSAs), which are peer-based support and activism groups within schools.

In your mission, you commit to anti-racist principles and practice. How have you incorporated that lens into your work?

It is a responsibility of all of ours to recognize the ways that white supremacy creates harm for everybody. Especially as a white leader in a state that’s 94% white; it’s in the air we breathe, but with different levels of impact on our QTBIPOC community. It’s important that we approach our work from an intersectional lens, especially as we have a platform to impact change with queer and trans youth, who are also black, brown, and indigenous. Our commitment to anti-racism is both internal and external. Program-wise, we’ve worked hard to ensure QTBIPOC (Queer, Trans, Black, Indigenous, People of Color) youth have priority access to our week-long summer camp program. Thanks to the vision and leadership of staff of color, we established an equity fund a few years ago so as to create a deeper level of accessibility for community members who couldn’t otherwise attend. We know how important affinity spaces are; some of our work is to create QTBIPOC-only space, so youth can just be with each other without the whiteness that they have to navigate all the time. Some of that work looks like white folks being in conversation and accountable to each other and our QTBIPOC community members around what they need from their white peers. Camp is often the test-run for year-round programs, since we get a full week living together in intentionally crafted community, so we can see what’s needed and what works, and build from there.

In the past year, we created an Advisory group held by QTBIPOC community members, the purpose of which is to look at what’s needed in this moment according to youth, based on their experiences and expertise. They will guide the direction of what’s needed in terms of programming that’s specifically built for and with them at the center.

Part of our commitment is also to use the platforms we have to create space for learning and conversations around race and anti-racism, intersectionality, white supremacy, and harm repair. So when our Education team goes into schools and people ask for tips on how to create culture change to be inclusive of LGBTQ+ people, we also need to uplift the fact that queer and trans people are Black and Brown people. Racism intersects with classism intersects with homophobia and we can’t be siloed in these conversations, or we won’t achieve true liberation.

What’s true is that we are a work in progress. That’s part of the way that white supremacy culture is harmful to us all. We’re taught not to be vulnerable, we are taught to expect — especially as white folks — that we have all of the answers, often at the expense of folks of color. It’s not true, it’s not fair, and it robs us all of a richer, more meaningful existence. It’s our responsibility to engage in these conversations, and most especially with young people at an early age. We’re in a collective moment where it’s impossible to imagine how everybody gets to have their needs met if we’re not rooting these conversations in the systems of oppression that are enacting the harm.

Next Friday, we’ll delve into some of Outright’s programs and events, as well as how the COVID-19 pandemic has effected their work. Stay tuned for more!


An Introduction to Outright Vermont (Interview with Outright Vermont Executive Director Dana… was originally published in Nellie Mae Education Foundation on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Nick Donohue Announces Plans to Step Down as President & CEO of the Nellie Mae Education Foundation

Will support search for new leader after more than a decade of leadership

QUINCY, MA — February 5, 2021 — The Nellie Mae Education Foundation today announced that Nick Donohue will be stepping down as the organization’s President and CEO at the end of 2021 after 14 years of leadership at the organization. During his time at the Foundation, Nick was responsible for shepherding in student-centered approaches to learning as a national education reform strategy and shifting the organization to its current grantmaking strategy focused on advancing racial equity in public education.

Nick has worked throughout his career to expand access to high quality, innovative learning opportunities for students. His leadership in education reform has challenged traditional notions of schooling to respond to our changing world and the systemic inequities inherent in our systems of education, with the goal of preparing learners to contribute to a thriving democracy. Nick’s leadership helped build a community of districts committed to rethinking how they supported students based on individual need, incorporating student voice into the learning process, expanding opportunities for learning outside of the classroom, and tailoring learning to each young person.

Donohue will continue to serve in an active role as the Foundation’s leader through the end of the calendar year, while the Board of Directors — chaired by Greg Gunn — begins a search in the coming weeks for Donohue’s successor.

“The past 14 years at Nellie Mae have been tremendously rewarding for me, both personally and professionally. It has been the honor of my career to work at a Foundation so fiercely committed to rethinking what public education looks like to meet the needs of all learners, especially through the lens of racial equity,” said Donohue. “I look forward to leading the organization during this important transition and through the end of the year. Living into the values we have come to embrace as an organization — and that guide my own actions so much today — means it is time for me to help the Foundation find a new leader whose experience and expertise will support the organization’s new work even more fully moving forward.”

“During his time at Nellie Mae, Nick has led the organization through growth and challenges, always seeking to deepen the positive impact the organization made on young people in the region,” said Nellie Mae Education Foundation Board Chair Greg Gunn. “Several years ago, we embarked on a journey to lean into the racial equity barriers in our field. While Nick is the first to say his journey is ongoing, it was his leadership — and his commitment to Board and staff working together — which in turn helped us be more responsive to communities during the challenges of this past year. We wouldn’t be on this path today without Nick’s values-driven, reflective leadership. I look forward to his support in our search for his successor, a process that is grounded in our racial equity principles, inclusive of the voices of staff, grantees, and community partners.”

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Nick Donohue with Nellie Mae staff and community advisors in 2019

The transition comes at a time when the Foundation has entered the second year of implementation of its grantmaking strategy focused on advancing racial equity in public education, supporting efforts to advance excellent, student-centered public education for all New England youth. In addition, just last year, Donohue led an effort to distribute an additional $20M in grantmaking towards combatting COVID-19 and anti-Black racism in the New England region and nationally, acknowledging that needs exacerbated by the dual pandemics have an impact on youth educational experiences and outcomes, especially in communities of color.

“I am proud of what Nellie Mae has contributed in the New England region — and nationally — to ensure that all young people have access to an excellent and equitable public education. I am proud of our commitment to do our part in the work of dismantling structural racism, and am grateful to those who have helped me learn and ‘unlearn’ so much. I am thankful for the relationships I have built over my tenure here with Board, staff, grantees, and external partners and am heartened by the good work that will continue beyond my time here,” said Donohue.

Prior to joining the Foundation, Nick served as the New Hampshire State Commissioner of Education where he led systemic reform efforts to innovative teaching and learning. Additionally, he oversaw the implementation of the Rhode Island Commissioner of Education’s order to reconstitute Hope High School in Providence. During his time at Nellie Mae, Nick has also served in a number of leadership roles, including as Chair of the Board of Directors of the Aurora Institute (formerly iNACOL), and previous board affiliations including serving as Vice-Chair of the board of Grantmakers for Education, and serving as a trustee for both the University System of New Hampshire and Community Technical College System.

Nick and his family are looking forward to the next chapter of his life both professionally and personally.

*Read Nick’s letter announcing his plans to step down here


Nick Donohue Announces Plans to Step Down as President & CEO of the Nellie Mae Education Foundation was originally published in Nellie Mae Education Foundation on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Ed Equity Talks Series: #PhilanthropySoWhite

Join Nellie Mae on February 19, 2021, at 12pm, ET for the next in our virtual Ed Equity Talks series, featuring Edgar Villanueva, author of Decolonizing Wealth.

Two years ago, Villanueva moderated the first #PhilanthropySoWhite panel, which served as a call to action for white philanthropic leaders to support racial justice by changing their approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Part two of this conversation will feature white philanthropic leaders speaking to other white leaders about their role and responsibility in dismantling white supremacy, reinforcing that the work cannot rest solely on BIPOC who most often lead these conversations.

Villanueva will be joined by: Nick Donohue, President and CEO of the Nellie Mae Education Foundation; John Palfrey, President of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation; and Hilary Pennington, Executive Vice President of Programs at the Ford Foundation. Vanessa Daniel, Founder and Executive Director of the Groundswell Fund will offer an end session of reflection and response. We hope to see you there!

Webinar Registration — Zoom


Ed Equity Talks Series: #PhilanthropySoWhite was originally published in Nellie Mae Education Foundation on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Watch the recording using the link below: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=29YBL-6udc0&t=2842s

Protecting Our Democracy

Today, runoff races in Georgia reminded us of what is possible when the extraordinary power of organizing and voting is exercised. However, those outcomes were met by the sobering reminder of the fragile state of democracy in our country. We want to acknowledge the pain and distress many of us are feeling today as White Nationalists sought to undermine our country’s democratic system through a violent insurrection. These actions are a result of the racist rhetoric of our current administration and an attempt to deny the voices of millions of Americans, especially Black Americans and other people of color. We at the Nellie Mae Education Foundation believe that public education is a cornerstone in upholding our democracy, and tonight, that democracy was threatened.

We also believe that today’s events are a reminder of the work we must continue to do, including changes to champion racial equity and social justice within our public education system. We condemn the violent actions of the mob that sought to undermine our democratic system and go against our nation’s shared value of allowing the American people to choose their leaders and ensure a peaceful transition of power.


Protecting Our Democracy was originally published in Nellie Mae Education Foundation on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Reflections and Hope

Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash

2020: a year unlike any other, plagued by a pandemic, death, job loss, evictions, and the continued murders of Black people at the hands of law enforcement. And at the same time, we have seen communities come together, respond with strength and love to demand and move forward through these momentous times.

This year, we’ve been reminded of just how fragile our social structures are — folding at the hands of a virus, disproportionally causing harm and suffering to Black, Brown and Indigenous people across our nation.

Educators have been thrust into crisis schooling, forced to completely change the way they engage and interact with young people.

With the closure, disruption, and under-resourcing of the country’s schools, more people woke up to what many have known for so long — that schools indeed are hubs for social supports: not only places to learn, but places where young people receive healthcare, nutrition, mental health supports, and allow caregivers to participate in the workforce. Educators have been thrust into crisis schooling, forced to completely change the way they engage and interact with young people.

At yet, despite the enormous challenges, so many educators have risen to the occasion — organizing and strategizing to creatively deliver content and learning experiences to their students, in spite of personal sacrifices they often have had to make. While we see many young people suffering from isolation, Zoom fatigue, hunger and much more, and we are also seeing accounts of young people who are finding comfort in home learning environments with less rigidity and the comfort to be themselves.

Returning to normal is not good enough, because normal was never enough.

It’s been a challenging year for so many reasons, but we know that returning to normal is not good enough. Because normal was never enough. But, we have hope: and here’s why. Our grantee partners across the region, coupled with so many others, remain hopeful, determined and set on ensuring that we leave this region — and this nation — better than we found it.

In Chelsea, Massachusetts, a city devastated by COVID-19, Gladys Vega and her team at La Collaborativa have worked tirelessly to ensure community members have the supports they need to get by. Young people at Connecticut groups Hearing Youth Voices, Students for Educational Justice, CT Students for a Dream and Citywide Youth Coalition were instrumental in pushing the state to become the first in the nation to require high schools provide courses on Black and Latinx studies. The Equity Institute in Rhode Island took a step further in diversifying the teaching pipeline in the state by launching their inaugural class of “EduLead Fellows” — teacher assistants and support professionals committed to obtaining a bachelor’s degree and teacher certification. The Movement for Black Lives has spearheaded protests and action that have led to police reforms across the nation, and prompted corporations to take time to examine the structural racism within their organizations. And so many other partners have led important work around the region and nation to uproot structural racism in our education system and ensure equitable access to excellent, student-centered public education for all young people.

As we move into 2021, we look forward to continuing to work hand in hand with our grantee partners to ensure that all young people, especially young people of color, have access to an equitable and excellent public education. We know it won’t be easy; but because of so many of our partners — we have hope.


Reflections and Hope was originally published in Nellie Mae Education Foundation on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Continuing the fight against COVID-19 and systemic racism

In October, we announced $20 million in funds on top of our planned grantmaking for this year to support work addressing anti-Black racism and COVID relief — especially as both relate to our public education system. Today we are pleased to share that another set of organizations are receiving grants as part of that allocation.

Because of the collective effort required to fight COVID-19 and systemic racism, this year we have intentionally expanded and increased our support for organizations and individuals leading this work through a broad array of investments. The grant recipients we are announcing today represent multiple levels of our educational ecosystem, serving students, families, educators and community members both throughout New England and nationally. This includes community and youth-serving organizations directly supporting young people and families with mental health, mentoring and social and emotional learning; educator-serving organizations prioritizing virtual learning, culturally responsive practice, and wellbeing for adults (especially educators of color); and advocacy, policy and funder partners and intermediaries working closely with communities of color, and also doing antiracist work in white rural and suburban communities.

We are proud to stand behind and with such incredible leaders who are working to achieve a more just education system that lives up to its promise for all young people. We look forward to partnering with these organizations, and further exploring opportunities that continue our commitment to our mission and values: championing efforts that prioritize community goals that challenge racial inequities and advance excellent, student-centered education for all New England youth.

This year we have seen the pain and hardship inflicted by dual pandemics of systemic racism and COVID-19. But we can also find inspiration and motivation from the communities driving us toward a better future as they address these issues — particularly young people who are mobilizing calls for justice here in New England and beyond.

You can read more about these organizations, and the grants they will receive to support their important work, below.

Community and Youth-Serving Organizations

  • North American Indian Center of Boston: ($100,000): To support their mission to empower the Native American community and improve the quality of life of Indigenous peoples
  • IllumiNative: ($90,000): To support their work to challenge negative narratives and ensure accurate and authentic portrayals of Native communities are present in pop culture and media
  • Massachusetts Center for Native American Awareness: ($50,000): To support their mission to assist Native American residents with basic needs and educational expenses; provide opportunities for cultural and spiritual enrichment; advance public knowledge and understanding; and work toward racial equality by addressing inequities across the Commonwealth
  • Herring Pond Wampanoag Tribe: ($100,000): To support their mission to preserve, promote, and protect the cultural, spiritual and economic well-being of tribal members, educate youth and promote awareness among the public about their tribal history and rights
  • National Indian Education Association: ($50,000): To support their work to advance culture-based educational opportunities for American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians
  • UMass Boston Institute for New England Native American Studies: ($50,000): To support their work in response to the changing priorities of tribal communities as well as their programming and outreach efforts
  • Wabanaki Youth in Science: ($30,000): A program that provides Native youth an opportunity to understand their cultural heritage first-hand and learn ways to manage lands with a broader and more holistic understanding of environmental stewardship
  • Wabanaki Public Health: ($30,000): Wabanaki Public Health is dedicated to improving the health and wellbeing of Tribal community members through connection, prevention and collaboration
  • National CARES Mentoring Movement: ($150,000): To support local chapters in their work to heal and transform the lives of impoverished Black children by inspiring, recruiting and mobilizing masses of caring Black men and women to mentor and nourish them
  • He Is Me Institute: ($50,000): To support the Institute’s “I AM King” Mentoring program in Boston, which is designed for men of color to facilitate activities that provide opportunities for boys of color to gain the social emotional skills and language needed to manage their own lives and identities
  • Social Impact Center: ($50,000): To support the Center’s work to prevent and reduce the impact of violence by addressing immediate and basic needs such as housing, food, clothing and public safety for the disenfranchised residents of the City of Boston
  • Sisters Unchained: ($50,000): Founded in 2015, Sisters Unchained is a prison abolitionist organization in Boston dedicated to building community and power with young women affected by parental incarceration through radical education, healing, art, sisterhood and activism
  • Worcester Education Collaborative: ($30,000): The Worcester Education Collaborative is an independent advocacy and action organization that works to ensure students in Worcester’s public schools are given the opportunity to succeed at the highest possible level

Advocacy, Policy, Funder Partners, Intermediaries

  • Decolonizing Wealth Project (DWP): ($150,000): To support DWP’s grant funds for addressing issues brought on by COVID-19 and supporting Indigenous communities working for transformative social change
  • Resist Foundation: ($150,000): Resist supports people’s movements for justice and liberation and distributes resources back to communities at the forefront of change, while amplifying their stories of building a better world
  • Grantmakers for Girls of Color: ($100,000): A national funder collaborative that supports Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian and Pacific American girls in the United States — mobilizing philanthropic resources so Black girls and gender expansive youth of color can achieve equity and justice
  • Lawyers for Civil Rights: ($50,000): Lawyers for Civil Rights fosters equal opportunity and fights discrimination on behalf of people of color and immigrants through legal action, education, and advocacy in the Boston area
  • Drawing Democracy: ($50,000): Drawing Democracy brings together philanthropic partners to support Massachusetts grassroots leaders and organizations promoting a transparent and accountable redistricting process, while empowering communities by creating fair voting districts
  • ACLU Local Chapters: ($50,000): The ACLU works in the courts to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to all people in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States
  • Community Change Inc.: ($100,000): CCI offers public discussions, events and workshops for antiracist learning and action
  • SURJ Education Fund: ($200,000): SURJ is a national network of groups and individuals working to undermine white supremacy and work toward racial justice
  • GBH Educational Foundation: ($50,000): To support GBH in building tools, media and research to support educators and families in antiracist, equity-enhanced teaching and learning
  • Daily Kos Education Fund [Prism]: ($50,000): Prism is a BIPOC-led non-profit news outlet that centers the people, places, and issues currently underreported by national media. They are committed to producing journalism that treats Black, Indigenous and people of color, women, the LGBTQ+ community, and other invisibilized groups as the experts on their own lived experiences

Educator-Serving Organizations

  • LearnLaunch: ($350,000): To support LearnLaunch’s work in Massachusetts to provide programs and services that are helping educators around Massachusetts build equitable remote learning opportunities
  • Highlander Institute: ($300,000): A non-profit organization based in Providence, RI that partners with communities to imagine and create more equitable, relevant and effective schools. Highlander works with schools and districts on effective change management, culturally responsive instruction, and now responses to COVID-19
  • LiberatEd: ($350,000): LiberatEd offers an antiracist approach to social and emotional learning and healing, which includes student, teacher and family and community engagement resources, as well as an educator training and coaching program
  • UnboundEd: ($350,000): UnboundEd is dedicated to empowering teachers by providing free, high-quality standards-aligned resources for the classroom, the opportunity for immersive training, and the option of support through their website offerings
  • The Teaching Lab: ($350,000): The Teaching Lab’s mission is to fundamentally shift the paradigm of teacher professional learning for educational equity. They envision a world where teachers and students thrive together in communities that enable lifelong learning and meaningful lives.
  • The Community Learning Collaborative: ($150,000): To support the Collaborative’s work in providing academic support during remote learning as well as enrichment and engagement opportunities before and after school, centered on affirming children’s culture and linguistic backgrounds

As we close out our year of grantmaking, and continue to work responsibly position resources in communities and organizations that are doing good work at the intersection of public education, fighting anti-racism and responding to the needs elevated to the pandemic, we’re also excited to support the following organizations:

Strong Women, Strong Girls: ($25,000): Strong Women, Strong Girls (SWSG) is a nonprofit organization championing the next generation of female leaders through our innovative, multi-generational mentoring programs. As we foster a strong female community, SWSG is building a brighter, broader future for all girls and women.

Cambridge Families of Color Coalition: ($30,000): The Cambridge Families of Color Coalition (CFCC) is a collective of Families and Students of Color working to uplift, empower, celebrate, and nurture our students and each other. Their work is rooted in racial, social, and economic equity. Our goal is to see Cambridge Public Schools be a place where Students of Color thrive academically, socially, emotionally, physically, and in spirit.

The Prosperity Foundation: ($150,000): The Prosperity Foundation (TPF) believes that by creating a participatory philanthropic vehicle focused on improving the lives of Connecticut’s Black communities.

Cambridge Community Foundation: ($50,000): The Cambridge Community Foundation serves as Cambridge’s local giving platform — built, funded, and guided by residents since 1916. They are a convener and catalyst for transformative change.

Boston Debate League: ($50,000): The Boston Debate League offers debate and argumentation programs for young people in Greater Boston, with a commitment to serving students of color and other students who have been denied these educational opportunities.

Maine-Wabanaki REACH: ($50,000): Wabanaki REACH is a cross-cultural collaboration that successfully supported the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Latinos for Education: ($150,000): The organization’s mission is to develop, place and connect essential Latino leaders in the education sector. We are building an ecosystem of Latino advocates by infusing Latino talent into positions of influence.

Education Reimagined: ($100,000): Education Reimagined is firmly committed to the creation of a racially just and equitable world where every child is loved, honored, and supported such that their boundless potential is unleashed.

Education Funder Strategy Group: ($200,000): The Education Funder Strategy Group (EFSG) is a learning community of leading foundations focused on education policy from early childhood to college and career readiness and success.

The Welcome Project: ($100,000): The Welcome Project builds the collective power of immigrants to participate in and shape community decisions. Through programming that strengthens the capacity of immigrant youth, adults and families to advocate for themselves and influence schools, government, and other institutions.


Continuing the fight against COVID-19 and systemic racism was originally published in Nellie Mae Education Foundation on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.