Funders, It’s Necessary to Support Healing and Rest

In a year unlike any other, marked by a global pandemic and persistent racism and violence, we must reckon with what it means to not simply go back to “the way things were.” The way things were was not working for far too many. Our policies, systems, and practices, for the most part, have centered whiteness and white supremacy at the expense and exclusion of the experiences and expertise of Black, Indigenous, Latinx, AAPI, and other communities of color in this nation. We know that many non-profit organizations, communities, and schools — especially those led and staffed by people of color — are often under-resourced, deeply impacted, and overworked. We also know the deep pain and trauma that many have experienced this year. In a grind culture that too often values productivity and capitalism over people and wellbeing, it’s no surprise that so many people are functioning in a constant state of exhaustion.

As funders, let’s step up by not only providing general support to our grantee partners, but by thinking about how we can regularly support our partners in accessing healing and rest.

At the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, we’ve seen so many of our grantee partners working around the clock to meet community needs. In Chelsea, Massachusetts, Gladys Vega, Executive Director of La Collaborativa — a community-based organization serving Chelsea residents — spent the majority of the pandemic working 16 hour days. We’ve seen and heard stories of educators who are working at all hours to support students learning remotely, hybrid, and in-person. In fact, we’ve even seen many educators departing or considering making the hard decision to leave the profession after impossible and unrealistic expectations have left them feeling devalued, exploited and exhausted.

“White supremacy is killing us all — in both blatant and subtle ways.”

Even in our sector — philanthropy — we see people working hard to push for sustained change to better support communities most impacted by racial injustices, while navigating trauma within entrenched philanthropic structures. Really, we are all exhausted. But this is particularly true of Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and AAPI people invested in liberation and racial justice work. White supremacy is killing us all — in both blatant and subtle ways.

As funders, we must make a commitment to alleviate some of the trauma that our grantees have gone through not just over the past year, but as they do the work and bear the costs we know come with fighting for equity, justice, and freedom. Healing justice is a critical and necessary part of social justice movements. Without it, we will not have the stamina to move forward.

Activist, political strategist, and organizer Charlene Carruthers advocates for adopting healing justice as a core organizing value and practice — reminding us that everyone needs healing because real work for justice and liberation comes with pain and requires intense self-work, self-care, and community care. Additionally, we know that women of color are at the forefront of these movements, and we often pay for it with our lives and our health. This work is non-negotiable for our survival, and it isn’t easy — whether it’s happening in community-based organizations, public education systems, schools, government offices, the health sector, faith-based institutions, philanthropy, or other parts of the ecosystem. But rest and healing is also non-negotiable for us to sustain ourselves in these movements for change.

As Audre Lorde wrote, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

At Nellie Mae, we are centering healing justice as part of our capacity building program for grantee partners. This past fall, we ran a youth-driven rapid response fund aimed at supporting the mental health of young people, as the pandemic pushed many into remote schooling and separated them from their friends, educators, and networks. Last year, we began a partnership with Getaway and Rachel Cargle, to support opportunities for Black people working for social change — including many educators — to receive a free night of rest away to allow time to recharge and heal. We are aware that these efforts require more resources. We’re organizing time for our staff and community advisors to engage in sessions about healing from racialized trauma, exploring how trauma stemming from racism distorts thinking and sends signals to the body.

“Imagine what a world could look like where healing and rest became a norm, rather than a last straw that we turn to after burnout.”

As healer, trauma specialist, and psychotherapist Resmaa Menakem reminds us, “we heal primarily in and through the body, not just through the rational brain. We can all create more room, and more opportunities for growth, in our nervous systems. But we do t{“type”:”block”,”srcClientIds”:[“e778ec83-6740-4485-8d09-2f7740e6dfbe”],”srcRootClientId”:””}his primarily through what our bodies experience and do — not through what we think or realize or cognitively figure out.” Resmaa advises that our bodies are important parts of the solution and where changing the status quo must begin. They cannot sustain themselves in racial justice and liberation work when they are in pain, exhausted, or constantly harmed by various forms of oppression, overt or subtle.

Photo by @NappyStock
Photo by @NappyStock

Imagine what a world could look like where healing and rest became a norm, rather than a last straw that we turn to after burnout. Imagine paid therapy and mental health or rest breaks for leaders and staff of nonprofit organizations and educators. It would look like prioritizing rest as a regular part of our lives, as Tricia Hersey teaches through The Nap Ministry. I’ll admit that I, too, am a work in progress. I’m working on being more intentional about incorporating more of these practices in my day-to-day, including dedicated time for meditation and prayer, connecting with nature, extending grace to myself and others, choosing joy, and cultivating a practice that encourages us to take care of ourselves and each other.

“What do communities, organizations, and schools we serve need to be healthy, healed, whole, free, and joyful on their own terms?”

A world where healing and rest are a norm would look like curated affinity spaces for folks that feel safe and affirming, where they can be held and supported — so that they can continue to show up and do the work in healthy ways. It would look like making identity and joy essential dimensions of how teaching and learning unfolds in schools, as Gholdy Muhammad advocates for in her Historically Responsive Literacy Framework. It would look like embedding healing in the social and emotional learning of youth, such as the work Dena Simmons leads in guiding educators and communities to do through her work at LiberatED. It would look like philanthropy asking the question: what do the communities, organizations, and schools we serve need to be healthy, healed, whole, free, and joyful on their own terms? Lastly, it would mean making the resources available for the answers to that question to be actualized by those most impacted and closest to the work.

Rest and healing are critical parts of the solution if we are to move closer to a more liberated world in which all people feel sustained, healed, held, safe, loved, and like full, thriving versions of ourselves and society.

Let’s continue this pattern of funding healing justice and rest. General operating support resources are essential so that grantee partners have the flexibility to allocate funds where they think best in their racial justice and liberation work. It is just as important to recognize our individual and collective humanity. Let’s fund grantees’ access and opportunities for healing and rest, and let’s also resource organizations and leaders who provide these supports in culturally responsive ways.

To learn more about healing justice and philanthropy:

Organizations like Decolonizing Wealth, led by Edgar Villanueva, are leading healing summits for professionals of color in philanthropy to heal and engage in community care. Feminist funders like the Astraea Foundation, Groundswell Fund, Third Wave Fund, and Urgent Action Funds have long been doing this work and showing us the way.

Examining Student-Centered Learning Through a Racial Equity Lens

Nick Donohue
Apr 15 · 3 min read
Photo by Yogesh Rahamatkar on Unsplash

Over the past decade and in partnership with many educators, organizers, and communities across the region, the Foundation has played a part in advancing personalized, student-centered approaches to learning across the New England region. This approach has been rooted in assumptions that traditional approaches are not sufficient to address the great disparities in learning outcomes. And while we are still very committed to advancing these approaches we are learning more about what is needed to bring the full benefit of student-centered learning to bear in the name of racially equitable outcomes.

Over the last couple of years at the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, we’ve spent time using a racial equity lens to inspect our past grantmaking strategy that had been focused exclusively on student-centered learning. Additionally, we’ve spent time reflecting on our internal culture and grantmaking practices to inspect and disrupt how white supremacy culture shows up within our organization.

I’ve come to believe that without explicitly focusing on race and increasing public urgency around equity, we will never be able to dismantle a system built to separate and sort students by background, race, and opportunity and replace it with a more effective and equitable approach.

As I enter my final year of working at the Foundation, I’ve spent a good deal of time reflecting on the impact of the organization and our grantee partners’ work throughout the region. I’m extremely proud of what we have accomplished together, from advancing innovative, student-centered approaches to supporting young people to thrive. At the same time, I’ve reflected on the limits of our initial grantmaking strategy. I’ve come to believe that without explicitly focusing on race and increasing public urgency around equity, we will never be able to dismantle a system built to separate and sort students by background, race, and opportunity and replace it with a more effective and equitable approach.

Download a copy of the report

Today, our partners at Coalition of Schools Educating Boy’s of Color are releasing the first phase of research examining student-centered learning through a racial equity lens — informed by community organizations, parents, students, and educators throughout the region. This report tells us what many have long known to be true — that the current student-centered framework as it exists has lacked an explicit focus on racial equity and needs to integrate such a focus to be an effective tool in this effort. The research gives us hope that stakeholders view student-centered learning as a strategy to potentially address racial inequities — but we know that there are many conditions that must be present for these practices to take root (equitable access to transportation, mental health supports, and antiracist curriculum, to name a few).

I am proud to support this work that will continue to inspect our current student-centered learning frame, to better lay the groundwork for these approaches to flourish in ways that most center those impacted in conversations, decision-making, and practices. Phase 2 of the Equity and Student-Centered Learning Project will investigate the development and use of equitable student-centered learning practices by community stakeholders in order to advance racial equity in schools. We look forward to continuing this learning journey with you.

Download a copy of the report!

We stand in solidarity with the Asian American Pacific Islander Community

We Stand in Solidarity with the Asian American Pacific Islander Community

We at the Nellie Mae Education Foundation stand in solidarity with the Asian American Pacific Islander community across the nation, condemning the hate crimes that are being perpetuated by white supremacist and misogynist ways of thinking and acting. To claim that these acts were not racially motivated misses the point and perpetuates harm on our AAPI communities.

We acknowledge that these hate crimes did not begin with COVID-19 and have existed in this country for centuries. The hate against our AAPI communities begins and stops with us. And while there are multiple ways to demonstrate solidarity through education, action, and other means, we wanted to share the following resources in efforts of stopping AAPI hate:


We stand in solidarity with the Asian American Pacific Islander Community 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.

Hope for a Brighter Future

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

This new year has caused me to pause and reflect over the past 12 months. The events of the past year have made me even more aware of hope that I have for a brighter future for me, my family, and the youth that I have the honor of working with at Elevated Thought, an art and social justice organization based in Lawrence, MA.

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

This past year has been shaped by a global health crisis, the prevalence of anti-Black racism, and an election plagued by misinformation and white supremacy. It has also emphasized that this world is fragile and its inhabitants are finite beings that often dance with the opportunity of embracing truth, yet ignore the love, justice, and morality that truth produces.

I know and believe at my very core, that my own child and every child, everywhere should have this opportunity; to love, to ask questions, to believe and disbelieve, to dream and experience those dreams coming true through each brushstroke.

I believe that every child should have an education where they can dream in the classroom, hug trees while walking in the woods, and be handed the world as an empty canvas to paint, all while being given the simple instructions of “just try your best”. I know and believe at my very core, that my own child and every child, everywhere should have this opportunity; to love, to ask questions, to believe and disbelieve, to dream and experience those dreams coming true through each brushstroke.

Yet the past four years have reminded me that not everyone wants this dream to come true. I’ve seen public funds re-directed to benefit the dominant caste in society; stretching the already gaping abyss of education inequality in this country. The presidential election in 2016 caused many to be taken aback by the direction our country chose to blatantly move towards. During this moment in time, The Nellie Mae Education Foundation (NMEF) was working with youth and parent organizers, led mostly by people of color, supporting people of color. To say that these community members were nervous about what the election meant for them and others who historically have been marginalized is an understatement.

Fortunately, NMEF chose to step into the urgency of the moment and provide rapid response grants to eleven grantee partners. Based on conversations with grantees, this blog post was written to challenge the philanthropic sector to decide whether to be spectators or participants in the work at hand. As NMEF’s work with grantee partners evolved so did the understanding of the importance of centering community voice in the work.

In early 2019, NMEF extended their table by creating a Community Advisory Group, of which I am a member largely composed of leaders of color closely connected to the communities the Foundation supports. And in January 2020 a new strategy was launched that brought to life a recently adopted racial equity lens, even as we were unaware of what was in store in the months ahead. Due to this new way of working, NMEF made significant changes in how it approached supporting racial equity in education.

There was intentionality about centering youth and leaning on community-based organizations closely connected to young people and their families. Supporting the work of these organizations has allowed for entering into conversations from the perspective of those most closely impacted by the historical inequities that youth of color have been subjected to in the current education system. The Foundation has been able to support organizations working on school discipline policies that over criminalize youth of color, increasing the number of teachers of color, and implementing culturally relevant curricula, to name just a few.

When will this country understand that a larger collective reckoning is in order?

Yet alongside this great work, history continues to repeat itself. When will this country understand that a larger collective reckoning is in order? The next big revolution needs to plant its feet and pivot from this consuming sphere and turn to an evolution of consciousness, action, and care for each other. Though we are an incredibly adaptive species, we continuously fail to aggressively confront our innate desire for power and accumulation and our gnawing existential fear conjured by our capacity for perception and creation. This has led to long-held systems of purposeful oppression, subjugation, and manipulation of those few elements of existence we may be able to grasp as objective truths. Regardless of what we were doing before, we are faced with a now that is pressing on so many levels.

Young people have been especially equipped and adept at turning hope, love, and justice into definitive change and possibility.

For many of NMEF’s grantees, the growing support of the Foundation is tangible hope. Hope that has sprung alive informing the work our young people have done and continue to do. It is an example of philanthropy seeing where they operate and stepping down to serve in unison with brothers and sisters fighting for those few precious, abstract truths that can help lift humans from the chaos, find footing, look around and see the many possibilities of life, and develop ways others can experience that who might otherwise not. Young people have been especially equipped and adept at turning hope, love, and justice into definitive change and possibility.

As we are in the midst of a new year, I challenge the Foundation to continue doing their own internal equity work, all while externally not losing the focus, drive, or determination in centering youth and community-based organizations that are closely connected with youth and families. It is my desire for other philanthropies to take this moment to join NMEF in walking alongside their grantees in the fight for racial equity, as it will take collective action for change to take place in this country. And may we look back in 2025 and be able to see the hope that drove us to making our public education system a place where every child not just hopes, but dreams — and sees those dreams come true.

By Marquis Victor, Founding Executive Director, Elevated Thought and Community Advisor at the Nellie Mae Education Foundation


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

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.

Our Work Continues

Every Vote Counts | Nikkolas Smith (IG: @nikkolas_smith) | Commissioned by Culture Surge

Democracy has spoken — voters have selected new leaders to move us forward to a better future. It’s time we come together to ensure the will of the people prevails.

We know that our work to advance racial equity in our public education system continues. This year has been challenging for so many reasons. Many who have had the privilege of ignoring white supremacy in their everyday lives have now seen it laid bare through the double pandemics of COVID-19 and systemic, anti-Black racism — seeping through all aspects of our society — from our healthcare system, to our schools and institutions of learning, to our democracy.

This election season, we’ve seen real threats to our system of public education. The current administration has sought to institute “patriotic education” that whitewashes and misleads our young people, ignoring calls for more relevant curriculum that reflects their cultures and histories. At a time when COVID-19 is prompting overdue conversations about equitable access to education and supports for students, families, and educators in the era of virtual and hybrid learning, the Secretary of Education has tried to redirect CARES Act resources from public schools to private ones.

In the midst of a pandemic that has left more than 200,000 of our loved ones dead and created the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression, we have turned out in record numbers to vote. Voters have faced deliberate barriers from long lines to attempts to eliminate drop off locations.

Regardless, we have made our voices heard to pick new leaders who will care and govern for all of us. In fact, the number of early voters under 30 who were voting for the first time more than doubled from 2016. Our hope is that they are leading the way toward an America that truly lives up to its promise for everyone.

Now we will hold our new government to account — to not merely tackle the crises the last government created — but to make this a place where all of us can thrive, especially those that have been most harmed by our current systems and practices.

For the sake of our democracy; for the futures of our young people, we are marching on. For us, this means investing in our future by ensuring that all of our young people have access to an equitable and excellent, student-centered education that honors their individuality, culture and history. From recruiting and retaining educators of color, to rethinking disciplinary practices, to implementing anti-racist teaching and learning, to removing police from schools — let’s commit to ensuring our young people feel valued, known and supported in their growth and in exercising their gifts and power.

We remain committed to standing up and behind our partners in the fight against white supremacy and anti-Blackness, especially in our education system. We know that so many of you have been tirelessly working at this day in and day out. And while we celebrate the integrity of the vote-counting process across the country, we know the work is not done. We remain committed to fighting for a more just and equitable world, and still envision a future where all children and youth have access to an equitable and excellent public education. The words of Ijeoma Oluo remind us, “This election doesn’t change the work we need to do, it just determines how much harder that work may be.” The work continues.


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

Continuing to whitewash our public institutions will only harm our future prosperity as a nation

Allison Shelley for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action

This past week, Donald Trump directed federal agencies to eliminate anti-racism trainings examining white privilege and critical race theory, calling them “a sickness that cannot be allowed to continue.” And just last month, he shared a two-point education platform for a potential second term. Half of it consisted of “Teach American Exceptionalism.” He briefly touched on the idea during his speech at the Republican National Convention, pledging to “fully restore patriotic education to our schools.” Just this past weekend, in a Sunday morning tweet, Trump claimed he’d be investigating and withdrawing funding from California schools that were using the Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times Magazine’s 1619 Project— which explores how enslavement has shaped American political, social and economic institutions.

Continuing to whitewash our public institutions will only harm our future prosperity as a nation. In his direction to federal officials to ban anti-racism training, Trump is preventing us from achieving the ideals on which our democracy depends. Critical race theory, a framework developed by Derrick Bell and other notable scholars that examines how race and racism is perpetuated through existing legal and cultural systems, is a fundamental frame for examining how white supremacy has become dominant culture in our society. Anti-racism trainings are not “un-American” as Trump touts — but deciding not to engage with our nation’s deep history of white supremacy certainly is.

As a white man who holds positions of power and privilege both in my personal life and in my career, I have firsthand experience diving into examinations of racism and the dominance of white culture. Engaging in anti-racism trainings has at times felt unpleasant, tedious, and tiresome. But that discomfort is unmatched to the pain that people of color in this nation experience on a daily basis.

In urging public schools to “teach American exceptionalism,” Trump paints an incomplete and misleading picture of history. This ideology harms our children and society. Many believe that our education system can transform people’s lives, with the potential to open doors of opportunity that were previously shut. But American exceptionalism, coded in language and policies that sustain a culture organized to maintain the dominance of white people, is the reason why public education has not lived up to its promise.

Through these cowardly actions, Trump is blatantly ignoring how systemic racism undergirds all of our public institutions. Distortions of liberty put forward in his vows to protect suburbs invoke policies like the G.I. bill and redlining, which barred Black Americans from homeownership. It brings us to our current moment — where law enforcement will murder Black people in their homes or on the street, but white killers draped in weapons are peacefully taken into custody— or even handed water.

This is not the time to back away from exploring our nation’s true history and confronting white supremacy culture — one that falsely espouses a value of equality while persistently privileging those already so advantaged and oppressing Black people and others. This is not only about the activities of abhorrent fringe groups. It is about ignoring the unchecked assumptions that shape every aspect of our society.

And rather than retreat from facing these insidious pieces of our past and present, it’s time to ramp things up. Resistance to this work means there is a new level of consciousness about its impact — let’s take advantage of this opportunity!

At the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, we are directing our grantmaking to efforts such as a fund dedicated to supporting nonprofits led by people of color, and another to Black educators leading conversations about race in their schools and communities. And we are looking ahead to supporting deeper attention by all of us — and white people in particular — to what is corrupting our collective spirit as a nation.

We must stay the course. Effective tools and resources that the President is trying to shelve only make this important work easier. It is not until we are able to confront our original sin as a nation founded on a bedrock of white supremacy culture that we will truly be able to “make America great.”


Continuing to whitewash our public institutions will only harm our future prosperity as a nation was originally published in Nellie Mae Education Foundation on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Rest as Revolution

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” — Audre Lorde

Rest is an integral but often neglected aspect of any movement — sufficient rest rejuvenates our minds and bodies and allows us to bring our best selves to our work. We recognize that for many Black people, present, past, and intergenerational trauma is compounded as they are forced every day to deal with the hardships from systems that were built to oppress and marginalize them — from our education system to our housing system to our healthcare system and beyond.

Rest, and healing justice, are important parts of any movement, and we believe they are a critical part of racial justice work. As Prentis Hemphill, Director of Healing Justice at Black Lives Matter notes, “Healing justice means that we begin to value care, emotional labor and resilience, not as add-ons but as central components of sustainability that restore us to life.”

Rest is revolution. It can restore, empower, heal, and cultivate joy.

That is why we are teaming up with Getaway and anti-racist educator Rachel Cargle, to lead “A Year of Rest” campaign, which will offer in total 365 nights of rest to Black people working for change, and those fighting for the Black community in combating racism.

Getaway will provide their tiny cabin outposts as spaces to isolate, disconnect from work, and truly rest for those selected. Learn more about the “A Year of Rest” campaign and nominate someone today!


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