Celebrating Latinx Heritage Month: Our Stories Part One

As Latinx Heritage Month comes to a close, we’d like to share some reflections from Nellie Mae staff and board members on what their heritage means to them. Read these personal and important stories below.

Delia Arellano-Weddleton, Director of Engagement and Partnerships: Mi Historia

I identify as Mejicana, Chicana and Latina and I often deal with the tension that comes from being a first-generation American. There is an expression — ‘Ni de aqui, ni de alla’ which describes how I often feel. I don’t always feel that I belong in this country, but I know that I don’t belong in Mexico either.

My family comes from Guanjuato Mexico and belongs to the Guamare Indigenous community. That history gives me great pride and strength. I come from a line of warriors that have had to overcome many challenges.

I value showing up as who I am 100%, be it my accent, my brown skin or the straight hair that connects me to my indigenous roots.

I find pride in the stories that have been passed down to me, whether it is about curranderas or stories that show the strength of my people. These stories give me strength.

I find great joy, knowing that I’ve fulfilled my parents’ American dream and that they can look down and say’ ‘mija you have done us well’. I find joy in passing the torch to my children, nieces, and nephews so that we don’t lose our stories.

The youth give me eseperanza. Historically, social movements have been led by youth and there are many great examples of how Chicanos, Latinos have been leading change. For example, the 1968 high school walk outs in LA, the Young Lords, and the farm worker huelgas.

Youth are having the difficult conversations that other generations haven’t had, whether it is about LGBTQ rights, anti-Blackness in the Latinx community or climate change. They are our hope and I’ll always support them.

Marcos Lucio Popovich, Program Director of Grantmaking: My Reflections

My family comes from San Luis Potosi and Jalisco, Mexico. For several generations (probably beginning in the late 1800s), my family began traveling from Mexico to harvest crops throughout the United States. They were migrant farmworkers working in Texas, Ohio, Oregon and everywhere in between, picking cotton, tomatoes, plums. My grandmother would say that they were not rich in material things, but that they were rich in faith, rich in family, and rich in culture. She taught me to be proud of being Mexican, of being Mexicano, even when the world told us otherwise. She taught me to be proud of our culture, language, and history, and to be proud of the many contributions we’ve made to the U.S. even though it is not written in our history books.

I’m proud of our resilience and work ethic, our courage to risk it all to create a better life for our families. I pray that when the history is written about our current times that we don’t forget to recognize the contributions of migrant farmworkers during this pandemic. They fed our country while working under dangerous conditions.

When I went to college, I met other Latinos that shared similar experiences: Puerto Ricans, Peruvians, Dominicans, Salvadorans. While we each had our own unique histories and cultures, we realized that we faced similar challenges, had similar interests, and that by creating a bond across our various cultures, we could create power, political power, power that can effectuate change. “In unity, there is strength” was our motto. “In unity, there is strength.”

I carry that with me today. No matter what we call ourselves, Hispano, Latino, Latinx, Chicano, Borinquen, we are stronger when we are united. And, we need to continue to find ways to bridge divides, build community, be inclusive and grow the movement for our collective liberation.

Latinos will soon make up 30% (2050) of the U.S. population. My hope is that we foster a people that knows and remembers its history, maintains its pride in its culture and language, rejects assimilation and welcomes acculturation, has opportunities to thrive and succeed, and charts a new and better path forward. The next generation of activists brings me hope that this is possible. “Si, se puede.” Yes we can!

While Latinx heritage month ends after today,

we think it’s important to celebrate Latinx heritage year round. Therefore, look out for the next part in our series coming soon.

Additionally, we understand that language is ever-evolving — and how individuals with Latinx heritage describe themselves varies. We understand this complexity and invite you to learn more here.

Announcing our 2021 Speakers Bureau

 
Nellie Mae Ed. Fdn.
Aug 9 · 3 min read
For the past several years, Nellie Mae Education Foundation has welcomed a new cohort of education leaders into our Speakers Bureau. After a year and a half characterized by the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and systemic racism, and where our schools were forced to rethink where, when, and how learning happens, we are thrilled to welcome our newest cohort of Nellie Mae Education Foundation Speakers Bureau members committed to advancing racial equity in our public education system.

This year’s cohort brings together a group of experts from across the region who are united in their quest to create an equitable education system for all. Education has been thrust into the political spotlight as opponents of equity are working overtime to hinder the ability of our nation’s children to learn the truth about the nation’s founding, as well as ask the critical questions about how we can close the opportunity gaps that have been created and reinforced over the decades.

Our new cohort includes administrators, non-profit leaders, students, teachers, family advocates and more. These leaders recognize that schools can’t begin to educate our youth without creating environments where students feel seen, known, and empowered. We have long realized that schools are about much more than teaching or leading specific subject matters or helping students perform proficiently on tests. They are also about creating the global citizens of tomorrow and shaping a more just and equitable future for all of us

We couldn’t be more excited about this new cohort and the passion, expertise, and fortitude they will bring to the education ecosystem over the course of their time with us. Please see the list of our new Speakers Bureau members below:

Book a speaker for an upcoming event by visiting our Speakers Bureau site!

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!

The Nellie Mae Education Foundation Welcomes United We Dream Co-Founder Cristina Jiménez Moreta to…

The Nellie Mae Education Foundation Welcomes United We Dream Co-Founder Cristina Jiménez Moreta to Board of Directors

Today, we are thrilled to announce the appointment of Cristina Jiménez Moreta, co-founder and former executive director of United We Dream, the country’s largest immigrant-youth-led network, to the Nellie Mae Education Foundation Board of Directors. As a new member of the board, Cristina’s leadership and extensive experience in community organizing will aid the Foundation in advancing racial equity in public education.

“We are honored to welcome her to our Board of Directors as we continue to fight for racial equity and equal access to excellent public education for all students in New England.” — Nick Donohue

“Cristina has been a powerful force in the immigrant justice movement, empowering and organizing young people and communities of color across the country for over a decade,” Nick Donohue, President and CEO of Nellie Mae said. “We are honored to welcome her to our Board of Directors as we continue to fight for racial equity and equal access to excellent public education for all students in New England.”

“The Nellie Mae Board of Directors is thrilled to have Cristina joining us,” said Greg Gunn, chair of the Nellie Mae Board. “Cristina brings unmatched experience in movement and coalition building, community organizing, and public policy that will support the foundation in moving its agenda forward.”

Cristina is a nationally recognized organizer and movement strategist who has been instrumental in building a sustained and influential youth-led immigrant movement. In recognition of her work as a social justice organizer, Cristina received a 2017 MacArthur Fellowship, the Four Freedoms Award, and a spot on the 2018 TIME 100 List. She has been celebrated in various lists including “Forbes 30 under 30 in Law and Policy” and the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s “40 under 40 Young Leaders Who are Solving Problems of Today and Tomorrow.”

“In communities across New England, courageous young people are driving the change they want to see. I am thrilled to support them and continue the fight for a more just future for all young people with the Nellie Mae Education Foundation.” — Cristina Jiménez Moreta

“Young people of color are facing unprecedented challenges, and the work of advancing racial equity in public education has never been more critical,” said Cristina Jiménez Moreta. “In communities across New England, courageous young people are driving the change they want to see. I am thrilled to support them and continue the fight for a more just future for all young people with the Nellie Mae Education Foundation.”

Cristina co-founded United We Dream (UWD), the largest immigrant youth-led organization in the country. Under Cristina’s leadership as Executive Director, UWD has grown into a powerful network of nearly one million members and has played a pivotal role in shifting the policy conversation and narrative about immigrants and immigration, ultimately influencing policy. Cristina was instrumental in UWD’s successful campaign for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. She migrated to the U.S from Ecuador with her family at the age of 13, growing up undocumented.

In recognition of her work as a social justice organizer, Cristina received a 2017 MacArthur Fellowship, the Four Freedoms Award, and a spot on the 2018 TIME 100 List. Cristina has appeared in hundreds of national and local media outlets including USA Today, CNN, MSNBC, HBO, The New York Times, the LA Times, ABC, NPR, The Huffington Post, Univision, Telemundo, and La Opinion. Her writing has been published in the New York Times, CNN, USA Today, Huffington Post, and El Diario.

Cristina proudly serves on the Board of Directors of the National Committee for Responsible Philanthropy (NCRP), Hazen Foundation, and Make the Road Action Fund. Cristina also co-founded the New York State Youth Leadership Council, the Dream Mentorship Program at Queens College, was an immigration policy analyst for the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy and an immigrant rights organizer at Make the Road New York.

Cristina holds a Master’s degree in Public Administration & Public Policy from the School of Public of Affairs at Baruch College, CUNY and graduated Cum Laude with a B.A. in Political Science and Business from Queens College, CUNY. She was awarded an Honorary Doctorate Degree in Letters & Humanities by Wesleyan University.


The Nellie Mae Education Foundation Welcomes United We Dream Co-Founder Cristina Jiménez Moreta to… was originally published in Nellie Mae Education Foundation on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Sharing Our Commitments

Photo Credit: Tim Dennell

Over the course of this year, we’ve witnessed the deep inequities in our society laid bare by the two pandemics of COVID and systemic racism. We’ve seen how these forces have disproportionately negatively affected Black, Brown and Indigenous communities. As a philanthropic organization, we know we have a duty to use our power and privilege to do more to combat systemic, anti-Black racism, especially in our public education system. The truth is that the reality of this double pandemic has forced us to apply a magnifying glass to the deep inequities of our public education system and our society at large.

We cannot go on as business as usual. We know that we have continued work to do in ensuring that our internal culture and grantmaking practices are not reinforcing white supremacy culture. This requires being relentless in acting and putting our money where our values are. Our stated value of operating with a racial equity lens means that we must take necessary urgent action in this moment while planning for this work in the long haul.

Therefore, in addition to our planned grantmaking in 2020 and the early interventions taken at the beginning of the pandemic, we are today announcing an allocation of an additional $20M this year to support work addressing anti-Black racism and COVID relief, especially as both relate to our public education system. These grants are in addition to the more than $10M we are distributing this year as part of our previously adopted strategy.

It is evident that COVID and the fight against anti-Black racism will require the contributions of many organizations and individuals — therefore, we are increasing and expanding our support through a broad array of additional investments to communities, local, regional, and national organizations, and schools as they continue to do incredible work to address the needs faced by those they serve and represent.

We recognize that the fight for racial equity in public education is intrinsically connected to the fight against anti-Black racism. Through these additional investments, we are supporting the important work of organizations at multiple levels of the ecosystem working to fight for a more just and equitable future.

We recognize that our actions are just a step. We are actively exploring how we might use additional monies in the years to come. This means looking beyond traditional allocations to better show our long-term commitment to our values and mission: championing efforts that prioritize community goals that challenge racial inequities and advance excellent, student-centered education for all New England youth.

At this time, we are continuing to be in conversation with others as we grow in this work. At this time we are not accepting unsolicited proposals, but if you are interested in introducing your organization to us we invite you to fill out this form.

Grants will be made in support of the following organizations:

• The Movement For Black Lives ($2,500,000): To provide general operating support

• The Schott Foundation For Public Education ($2,250,000): To provide capacity building and operating support for work focused on racial equity

• Haymarket People’s Fund ($750,000): To provide capacity building and operating support for work focused on racial equity

• MA Immigrant COVID-19 Collaborative: ($750,000): To provide capacity building and operating support for work focused on racial equity

• African American Policy Forum ($750,000): To provide general operating support

• Center for Youth & Community Leadership In Education (CYCLE): ($600,000): To provide capacity building and operating support for work focused on racial equity

• Education for Liberation Network ($500,000): To provide general operating support

• Abolitionist Teaching Network ($500,000): To provide general operating support

• NAACP Empowerment Programs, Inc. ($500,000): To provide core support for their education programs

• Black Futures Lab ($500,000): To provide general operating support

• Black Lives Matter Boston ($100,000): To provide general operating support

• CT-CORE Organize Now! ($100,000): To provide general operating support

• Waterbury Bridge to Success Community Partnership ($100,000) (Waterbury, CT)

• Leadership, Education and Athletics in Partnership (LEAP) ($100,000) (New Haven, CT): To provide general operating support

• Diversity Talks (Providence, RI) ($100,000): To provide general operating support

• United Teen Equality Center (UTEC) (Lowell, MA) ($100,000): To provide general operating support

• FaithActs for Education (Bridgeport, CT) ($100,000): To provide general operating support

• African Caribbean American Parents of Children with Disabilities, Inc. (AFCAMP) (Hartford, CT) ($100,000): To provide general operating support

• Building One Community Corp (Stamford, CT) ($100,000): To provide general operating support

• African Community Education Program (ACE) (Worcester, MA) ($100,000): To provide general operating support

• SABURA (Brockton, MA) ($100,000): To provide general operating support

• Brockton Interfaith (Brockton, MA) ($100,000): To provide general operating support

• Progresso Latino (Central Falls, RI) ($100,000): To provide general operating support

• Coalition of Schools Educating Boys of Color (COSEBOC) ($175,000): To provide general operating support

A handful of these grants are to current grantees to expand their work around COVID and the fight against anti-Black racism:

• Students for Educational Justice (New Haven, CT) ($47,250): To provide general operating support

• Hearing Youth Voices (New London, CT) ($47,250): To provide general operating support

• Citywide Youth Coalition (New Haven, CT) ($47,250): To provide general operating support

• Blue Hills Civic Association (Hartford, CT) ($47,250): To provide general operating support

• Revere Youth in Action (Revere, MA) ($47,250): To provide general operating support

• Student Immigrant Movement (Massachusetts) ($47,250): To provide general operating support

• Worcester Youth Civics Union (Worcester, MA) ($47,250): To provide general operating support

• Maine Inside Out (Maine) ($47,250): To provide general operating support

• Portland Outright (Portland, ME) ($47,250): To provide general operating support

• The Root Social Justice Center, Youth 4 Change (Brattleboro, VT) ($47,250): To provide general operating support

• Outright Vermont (Vermont) ($47,250): To provide general operating support

Additionally, we are currently working to support 10 New England school districts servicing communities with large numbers of Black and Brown children and their families that have been heavily impacted by COVID-19. These grants will address the complex, interrelated problems posed by COVID-19 and anti-Black racism as schools reopen.

We know this is only one important part of how we can show up as funders at this time. We remain committed to learning, adapting, and improving; to showing up as allies working to combat anti-Blackness in our education system, using our platform and privilege to amplify the leadership of our partners, listening to those who are more proximate and directly connected to this work in communities, everyday. We see you. We hear you. We stand with and behind those that live and breathe the realities and impact of this work daily.

We envision a future where all students have access to excellent and equitable public education that prepares them to succeed and thrive in community. Yet, we understand that for many young people, especially our Black, Brown, Indigenous and other students of color — this simply isn’t true. In the words of John Lewis, “Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble.” Let’s continue that “good trouble!”


Sharing Our Commitments 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.

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.

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.