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.

Are The Kids Really Alright?

Reopening Our Region’s Public Schools Amidst a Pandemic and Racial Reckoning

A year unlike any other, we’ve witnessed the deep inequities in our society laid bare by the two pandemics of COVID and systemic racism. During this session, Nick Donohue, President and CEO of the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, will speak with community and school leaders from across the New England region about how school reopening is going, and what working towards a more equitable and just future for schooling in our region looks like. Join us for a conversation on November 5, 2020 at 10:OO AM with The Boston Globe.

Register Here.


Are The Kids Really Alright? was originally published in Nellie Mae Education Foundation on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Statement from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation on “Patriotic Education”

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

The Nellie Mae Education Foundation condemns any efforts by the federal government to silence curriculum and frameworks that explicitly address the centrality of enslavement in the historical narrative of our country. As an education funder, we believe that nurturing a democracy means committing courageous attention to our nation’s history in order to prepare for the future. Continuing to whitewash our public institutions perpetuates violence and injustices, and will only harm our future prosperity as a country. Actions by the federal government to develop commissions to promote “patriotic education,” and threats to defund schools that utilize projects such as the New York Time’s 1619 Project continue to harm and erase the histories and experiences of entire groups of people. This poses danger to our young people, and the future of our nation. 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.”


Statement from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation on “Patriotic Education” 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.

Educators for Black Lives

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

I vividly recall the first time I led a conversation on race in my classroom. The conversation happened on Monday, February 27th, the day after Trayvon Martin was murdered by George Zimmerman. At the time, I was a 22-year old resident in the Boston Teacher Residency program.

The conversation with my sixth-grade scholars happened just as schools were reopening from February vacation week. I had been in the program for seven months and had recently become the lead teacher for two classes of students.

Having this conversation with sixth graders was not something I had been trained to do. In fact, I had never imagined having this conversation. We discussed race in my teacher residency program, but facilitating a conversation centered on race with sixth graders stemming from an incident involving police brutality aren’t one and the same.

At the time, my sixth graders and I were reading Maniac Magee, a fictional novel that explores the topic of racial segregation. In the week leading to February vacation, we had created a visual representation of the West and East Ends in this fictional town the protagonist frequently crossed and that separated the Black and White communities.

While we discussed racial segregation in the context of the novel and looked at the New York Times’ Mapping Segregation map in Boston, the discussion my mentor and I had prepared to have quickly made the themes of the novel so much more real.

As my enthusiastic sixth graders all clad in school uniform entered the classroom, we gathered in a circle, which was a contrast from the usual rows in the classroom. My mentor teacher and I both took deep breaths preparing to discuss the elephant in the room, and in many classrooms and communities across this country.

This was my first conversation with my students about Black lives being murdered. I was not okay, but I needed to make sure they were. It was my duty to make sure they were okay, not only because of my identity as an educator, but also because of my identity as a Black woman.

We first asked students to jot down what they heard on the news and at home. They provided so many different tidbits and details of the story: “Black boy”, “iced tea”, “Skittles”, “murder”, “Florida”, “going home”, “hoodie”, “fight”, “gun”, “going to jail.”

From this initial entry point, we then discussed how they felt about the murder of Trayvon Martin. Some students shared they felt great sadness. Others expressed anger and fear. Many voiced worries for Trayvon’s family and friends. Lastly, students asserted a need for justice and fairness.

From this conversation, we were able to explore the themes in the text more fully. Without prompting, students rapidly connected the novel to the real world. They openly challenged the racism both in the text and in the real world. This first conversation was a defining moment in my teaching career; it transformed my teaching practice and strengthened my rapport with students. This conversation let my students know that I saw them, fully.

Unfortunately, I would go on to facilitate many similar conversations year after year — with the murders of Eric Garner, Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, and Sandra Bland. And while I became more skilled at leading these conversations, they were never easy. The emotional weight, from my students and myself, of it all, always lingered.

I learned to center conversations about race and anti-Blackness into my school’s core texts through the use of questions like, “What does the reference of Othello to a “black sheep” or “Moor” reveal about racism and inclusion in Venice, Italy?” After all, how can you teach the themes in Othello without discussing race and anti-Blackness?

Still reflecting on this experience years later, I realize that although this conversation brought great fear and anxiety, it was absolutely necessary in the classroom. Students, like their educators, are watching the news and using social media. They are having these conversations at home. I am reminded that we need to have these conversations in classrooms regardless of how uncomfortable, afraid and emotionally naked we may feel. Not talking about race in classrooms further invalidates the real-world experiences of the Black community and Black youth.

As a former Black educator, I am incredibly proud and overjoyed to announce today that the Nellie Mae Education Foundation is launching a Rapid Response RFP that centers Black educators and those in service of Black lives inside and outside of their classrooms. I invite you to read more about the opportunity here.


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

Announcing our Supporting Organizations Led By People of Color and Amplifying Youth Voice grant…

Announcing our Supporting Organizations Led By People of Color and Amplifying Youth Voice grant recipients

As movements to combat systemic racism and anti-Blackness progress throughout the country, we have a moral and civic responsibility to foster a public education system that enables all of our young people to succeed and our communities to thrive. We are proud to support work that advances racial equity in service of an excellent and equitable public education during such an important moment for our society and to introduce our grantee partners who are leading these efforts.

Earlier this year, the Nellie Mae Education Foundation launched a new organizational strategy to advance racial equity in public education as the central focus of our grantmaking. Today, we are excited to take another important step in this work through two new grant funds that support youth- and community-based organizations, centered in communities of color who have been historically and systematically left out of education decision-making.

To ensure that these organizations have the supports they need to continue their important work and strengthen their development, we are providing flexible, multi-year grants. We hope this contributes to the attainment of a shared vision of high-quality, equitable public education.

Our Supporting Organizations Led By People of Color grant fund will provide $100,000 annually for three years to organizations led by leaders of color who are working to transform barriers to racial equity in public education. Additionally, this fund will support these organizations in a co-designed leadership development program designed to meet their capacity building needs. These organizations are embedded in their communities and actively engage parents, youth, and educators to address issues such as dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline; promoting more culturally responsive teaching and learning; supporting immigrant students and English Language Learners; supporting students with special needs; and advocating for educator diversity.

Additionally, our Amplifying Youth Voice grant fund seeks to amplify the authentic voices of young people throughout New England, supporting their participation in decision-making that affects their futures. This grant fund will support youth organizing groups with three-year general operating support grants of $52,750 annually, as well as technical assistance focused on building their capacity, power, and voice. These brilliant and committed young people are experienced in leading campaigns such as implementing restorative justice practices in schools; promoting access to financial aid for youth who are undocumented; seeking funding for socio-emotional learning and access to mental health professionals and social workers in schools; dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline; developing ethnic studies curriculum; and advocating for inclusive policies for undocumented and LGBTQIA+ youth.

This is an early part of our strategic efforts to achieve our mission and vision as an organization and contribute to the regions’ future.

We look forward to learning from and working with these incredible organizations in the years ahead, in a collective effort to ensure our nation lives up to its promise of opportunity, equality, and justice for all.

You can learn more about both sets of grantees below.

Supporting Organizations Led By People of Color Grantees:

Make the Road CT (Bridgeport and Hartford, CT): Make the Road CT is a parent and youth organizing group focused on improving educational access and equity for public school students, empowering parents to advocate for their children within the school system, and providing training and planning resources to immigrant families with undocumented or mixed immigration status.

Step Up New London (New London, CT): Step Up is a parent organizing group focused on advocating for racial equity reforms in New London Public Schools. Step Up trains parents on community organizing and advocacy, supports parent-led efforts to advocate within the school system, and implements campaigns to push for reforms.

COMPASS Youth Collaborative (Hartford, CT): COMPASS works with schools, parents, educators, and community members to support disconnected youth, engaging them in relationships to provide supports and opportunities that help them become ready, willing, and able to succeed in education, employment, and life.

Educators for Excellence (E4E) (New Haven, Hartford, and Bridgeport, CT): E4E is a national organization with a Connecticut chapter serving teachers in New Haven, Hartford, and Bridgeport. E4E strives to ensure that teachers are included in education policy decisions. The organization identifies issues that impact schools, creates solutions to these challenges, and advocates for policies and programs that give all students access to a quality education.

The Chelsea Collaborative (Chelsea, East Boston, Everett, and Revere, MA): The Chelsea Collaborative empowers Chelsea residents to enhance the social and economic health of the community and its people while holding institutional decision-makers accountable.

Southeast Asian Coalition of Central MA (SEACMA) (Worcester, MA): SEACMA supports, promotes, and advocates for the success of the Southeast Asian population of Central Massachusetts in their pursuit of naturalization while also maintaining their own unique cultural identity. SEACMA provides youth and adult programing, educational advocacy, and parent engagement opportunities while advocating for language access and culturally relevant teaching and learning.

The Young People’s Project (YPP) (Cambridge, MA): YPP uses Math Literacy Work to develop the abilities of elementary through high school students to succeed in school and in life, and in doing so involves them in efforts to eliminate institutional obstacles to their success.

Teach Western MA (TWM) (Holyoke, Springfield, and Western Massachusetts): TWM is a partnership founded by Holyoke Public Schools and the Springfield Empowerment Zone Partnership, representing 30 schools and serving more than 11,000 students in Western Massachusetts. TWM works on teacher recruitment, preparation and retention with a hyper focus on diversifying the workforce to reflect the demographics of the children in Holyoke and Springfield public schools and six local charter public schools.

The Teachers’ Lounge (Greater Boston, MA): The Teachers’ Lounge seeks to drive unprecedented student outcomes by greatly diversifying the people, thoughts, and actions of the educational workforce in the Greater Boston Area and beyond.

Wôpanâak Language and Cultural Weetyoo, Inc. (Mashpee, MA): Wôpanâak Language and Cultural Weetyoo, Inc. works to restore Wôpanâôt8âôk (Wôpanâak language) as the principal means of expression among the Tribes of the Wampanoag Nation, and to return language home to Tribal families. Having worked for two decades to reclaim their Native American language from an extensive archival record after generations without fluent speakers, their teachers now instruct hundreds of students each year, including K-12 Wampanaog youth in Mashpee Public Schools on Cape Cod.

Women Encouraging Empowerment (WEE) (Revere, MA): WEE’s mission is to educate, advocate, protect, and advance the rights of immigrants, refugees, and low-income women and their families through organizing, leadership development, and service delivery.

Equity Institute (Providence, RI): Equity Institute serves educators of color in Providence and other Rhode Island communities, with a focus on educator diversity, the educator pipeline, and the retention of educators of color. It develops innovative systems that cultivate culturally responsive schools and communities for all learners through organizational development, research, and networking.

Alliance of Rhode Island Southeast Asians for Education (ARISE)(Providence, RI): ARISE mobilizes policy, programs, and partnerships to prepare, promote, and empower Rhode Island’s Southeast Asian students for educational and career success.

Parents Leading for Educational Equity (PLEE) (Providence, RI): PLEE is a parent-led, grassroots organization with a mission to fight for a parent voice in education decision-making, and for access to a high-quality public school option for all children of color.

Gedakina (Essex, VT): Gedakina is a multigenerational endeavor to strengthen and revitalize the cultural knowledge and identity of Native American youth and families from across New England, and to conserve traditional homelands and places of historical, ecological, and spiritual significance.

Amplifying Youth Voice Grantees

Citywide Youth Coalition (CWYC) (New Haven, CT): CWYC is a youth organizing group dedicated to improving access to equitable education for youth in New Haven. The organization builds youth power through education, leadership development, and anti-racist community organizing.

Blue Hills Civic Association (BHCA) (Hartford, CT): BHCA empowers the people living and working in the Blue Hills and surrounding communities to create stable and attractive neighborhoods through organizing, advocacy, and multi-generational programs.

Revere Youth in Action (RYiA) (Revere, MA): Revere Youth in Action (RYiA) builds youth power through organizing, direct education and working in coalitions for social change. It is one of the few organizations in Revere, Massachusetts that organizes for racial, immigrant and economic justice.

Student Immigrant Movement (SIM)(MA): SIM is a statewide immigrant youth-led organization whose mission is to build the power of immigrant students by identifying, recruiting, and developing leaders across Massachusetts and the United States to address the problems in their own communities.

Worcester Youth Civics Union (Latino Education Institute at Worcester State University, Worcester, MA): Worcester Youth Civics Union works to achieve student excellence by actively engaging on issues of racial and socio-economic inequality in their educational experiences.

Maine Inside Out (MIO) (Portland, ME): MIO is an organization focused on supporting incarcerated and system-impacted youth across Maine to build power, develop leadership, and create community change inside youth prisons and in communities directly impacted by mass incarceration.

The Root Social Justice Center, Youth 4 Change (Y4C) (Brattleboro, VT): Y4C provides education, outreach, and capacity building for youth organizers in Brattleboro, Vermont who are focused on promoting anti-racist community organizing.

Outright Vermont (VT): Outright Vermont’s mission is to build a Vermont where all LGBTQ+ youth have hope, equity, and power. They do this through programs that support self-discovery and peer connection, strengthening families with education and adult peer connections, and training, organizing, and networking to transform schools, communities, and systems.

Providence Student Union* (Providence, RI): Providence Student Union cultivates students to become powerful advocates for their own education and well-being, uniting youth from across Providence to take the lead in reshaping their schools and communities.

Providence Youth Student Movement (PrYSM)* (Providence, RI): PrYSM is a youth organization that challenges and supports Southeast Asian youth to become leaders, organizers, and critical thinkers, by offering educational workshops, leadership opportunities, mentorship, and oversight of youth-led community organizing projects.

Youth in Action* (Providence, RI): Founded in 1997 by a group of young people motivated to make change in their community, Youth in Action (YIA) is one of the pioneers of youth-led work in Providence. The organization creates opportunities for young people in Providence to become agents of change through transformative youth programming.

Portland Empowered* (Portland, ME): Located at USM’s Youth and Community Engagement team, Portland Empowered strives to ensure that historically underrepresented student and parent voices are reflected in policy and practice within Portland Public Schools.

Granite State Organizing Project’s Young Organizer United (Y.O.U.)* (Manchester and Nashua, NH): Young Organizer United (Y.O.U.) is a group of mostly immigrant and refugee students attending high school in Manchester. Y.O.U. believes that students’ voices are crucial in shaping and implementing policies that concern their education.

Hearing Youth Voices* (New London, CT): Hearing Youth Voices is a youth-led social justice organization working to create systemic change in the education system in New London, CT. The group believes that organizing is the most effective tool for youth to build power and successfully make change in their communities.

Connecticut Students for a Dream (C4D)* (CT): Founded in 2010 by undocumented young people, Connecticut Students for a Dream (C4D) empowers youth through community organizing, advocacy, and leadership development, as well as providing educational programming for undocumented youth. C4D is the only youth-led, statewide network in Connecticut that fights for the rights of undocumented youth and their families.

Elevated Thought* (Lawrence, MA): Elevated Thought exposes young people to the power of the arts as a tool for social change, helping them to harness their voices to transform their communities. As a community of predominantly Caribbean and Latinx immigrants, Lawrence youth face racial and economic injustices, and Elevated Thought allows Lawrence youth to leverage their creative skills to make positive transformations within their community.

Youth on Board* (YOB) (Boston, MA): Youth on Board (YOB) has been a leader in the field of youth organizing in the Boston area and beyond since 1994. Youth on Board is a youth-led, adult supported program where young people have the space and tools to recognize and utilize the power they hold to dismantle political and economic structures that reinforce inequity. Youth on Board co-administers the Boston Student Advisory Council (BSAC) in partnership with the Boston Public Schools. BSAC acts as the student union of the district, leading organizing efforts, forging relationships with district and city-leaders, impacting policy change, and transforming school culture across the board.

Pa’Lante Restorative Justice Program* (Holyoke, MA): Pa’Lante’s mission is to build youth power, center student voice, and organize for policies and practices that dismantle the school to prison pipeline in Holyoke and beyond. Pa’Lante youth leaders use restorative practices and youth organizing to resolve conflicts, reduce school suspensions, decrease violence, strengthen relationships, increase equity, and build community in Holyoke Public Schools.

Students for Educational Justice* (SEJ) (New Haven, CT): Students for Educational Justice (SEJ) is a youth-led, intergenerational organizing body that drives efforts for racial and educational justice in Connecticut. SEJ envisions a just education system and an equitable society in which all people understand the history of race in the United States, and are actively committed to dismantling systemic racism and other forms of oppression.

*Denotes a returning Amplifying Youth Voice grantee


Announcing our Supporting Organizations Led By People of Color and Amplifying Youth Voice grant… was originally published in Nellie Mae Education Foundation on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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

By: Colleen Quint

Photo Credit: Lorie Shaull

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

An Educator’s Letter to Families in This Moment

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

Dear CSUS Parents and Caregivers,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading.

Peace, Manuel


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