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.

Race and Equity in the Time of COVID-19

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


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

“Huey’s Kites”

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

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

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


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

This Moment Shows Us Why Philanthropy Should Reinvent Itself

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

Brooklyn Museum / CC BY

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

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

Read the full article in Nonprofit Quarterly


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

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

By: Colleen Quint

Photo Credit: Lorie Shaull

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Silence is Complicity

At the time we’ve reached the unthinkable milestone of 100,000 deaths as a result of COVID-19, we’ve also witnessed the murders of too many Black Americans at the hands of violence and white supremacy: George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Nina Pop, Sean Read, Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor. These are merely a few of the names of Black individuals that have died at the hands of racism — there are unfortunately many more that have gone unnoticed and unheard of by the public. Racism is a virus too.

The COVID-19 pandemic has just pulled back a curtain on the racial inequities that are foundational to our country. In Wisconsin and Michigan, the percentages of affected residents who were Black were more than twice as high as the proportion of Black people living in those states overall. Here in Massachusetts, the highest per capita rates of infection reside in working-class immigrant cities like Chelsea and Brockton, who both have high concentrations of people of color.

How our society moves forward depends on our ability to understand why these inequities exist, and the actions we take to address them. As Merlin Chowkawayun so rightly notes in an analysis of these statistics in the New England Journal of Medicine, “disparity figures without explanatory context can perpetuate harmful myths and misunderstandings that actually undermine the goal of eliminating health inequities.” False narratives around Black people being able to tolerate higher levels of pain, for example, date back to slavery. That explanatory context is something that white people love to sweep under the rug — the pervasiveness of whiteness and violence in our country.

COVID-19 is only uplifting what has been so ingrained in our nation’s history for decades — the constant state of violence against Black people — in our economy, our justice system, our health system, our education system.

As an organization, we wholeheartedly stand against anti-Black racism, and are committed to ensuring that we can take the steps to becoming an anti-racist organization. We are committed to supporting our grantee partners who are on the front lines of racial equity work in public education, by supporting organizations led by and serving people of color through general operating support grants, and supporting community organizing groups that are working to ensure that young people of color have a seat at the table in educational decision-making, to name a few. As an organization, we will continue to do our own learning around white supremacy, our complicity in upholding this system as a philanthropic entity, and we will take action to dismantle it. As a white leader, I am committed to holding myself — and other white people — to do better.

White people must step up and take action, and hold each other accountable. It is our responsibility to examine how we are complicit in the spreading of this virus of racism, and how we benefit from it every day. Silence is complicity. This moment calls on us to reflect on the type of society we want to build and take action. Our future depends on it.

Nick Donohue is President & CEO at the Nellie Mae Education Foundation


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