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Black Community

13 Black Leaders Who are Shaping the Future of Their Communities

This Black History Month, we’re acknowledging Black leaders in the Teach For America network who are stepping up to expand opportunities for students in our highest-need communities. 

By The TFA Editorial Team

February 1, 2018

Every day, Teach For America’s Black staff members, alumni, and corps members are leading in their communities and the places where they work to meaningfully expand opportunities for students in schools, school systems, and every field that impacts them. For Black History Month, we are recognizing and honoring Black members of the TFA network who are leading from all sectors to serve their communities. Here are some of their stories.

 

Helping Students Find Their Path to Success

Morgan Williams (Houston ’10)
Director, Alumni Leadership & Culture, Teach For America

Williams co-founded myGPS along with her mother. Together with counseling interns, they facilitate 60-minute sessions, once a week, to help middle school students discover their personal gifts, talents, passions, and values. Through this work, students are empowered to build and own their story—helping them to create a path for their future.

“As a corps member I came to learn the complexities of the education reform movement and the need to collectively join forces as a community to support the positive growth trajectory of students. As an alum, I've translated my passion for building leadership capacity into my individual contribution to the collective work we are doing as an organization.”

Terrance Sims Jr. (Milwaukee ’15)
Teacher, Milwaukee Prep School

Sims was nationally recognized for creating the “Representation is Key” project, which gave his fourth graders a fun way to celebrate Black History Month by dressing up as historical Black figures they admired. Sims photographed students recreating iconic moments of Black history. His photo of three students dressed as characters from the Oscar-nominated movie Hidden Figures went viral and was shared by the actresses themselves, as well as covered in several national and local media outlets.

“The project was created to reaffirm the beauty, power, and academic excellence of the students in my school. The image of my three young students embodying the instrumental role that Mary Jackson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Katherine Johnson played in helping NASA to win the space race has given momentum to the entire project.”

Cinique Weekes (Massachusetts ’14)
Manager, Teacher Leadership Development, Teach For America

During their time in the corps, Weekes and fellow corps member, Scott Jean founded the Griffin Step and Dance team at their placement school, as a way to show their middle-school students the joy of dance and help them build self-esteem and discipline. The team continues to meet twice a week from January through May, bringing art, culture, and joy to the school. 

“Our motto is, ‘It's all about practice.’ That is true for the dance floor as well as the classroom. We are building lifelong skills in our students in hopes that they thrive off of their success here and share that feeling with other classmates, family members, and individuals that are a part of their lives. What I love most about my dance team is the development of the person I see throughout their time on the team.”

 

Empowering Black Women and Girls to Reach Their Full Potential

Courtney Cross-Johnson (Houston ’11)
Manager, Alumni Community, Teach For America

As a member of the Dallas-Fort Worth Urban League Young Professionals, Cross-Johnson serves as the co-chair of the Marketing & Communications committee and is a member of the Community Outreach committee. Her service with the HERitage Giving Fund helps bring together a room of Black women philanthropists to fund nonprofits in North Texas that specifically serve women and girls. Cross-Johnson also volunteers with Black Girls Code-Dallas, an organization that encourages girls age 7 to 17 to enter STEM fields.

“By being a member of these organizations, my commitment to Dallas has grown exponentially. My fire is fueled more by being committed to my students and ensuring that they have quality educators and opportunities for learning outside of the classroom."

Candice Wilson-McCain (Charlotte ’07)
Manager, Teacher Leadership Development, Teach For America

In 2012, Candice Wilson-McCain founded FLY Math Club, a nonprofit with a mission to create a world where every girl believes she is capable of achieving success in math, ultimately closing the gender gap in STEM fields. The organization provides a supportive and collaborative learning environment for girls in fifth through eighth grade where they can build their math confidence among their peers through out-of-school math clubs. 

“I currently serve as a Coach for first-year math teachers in the corps and I see firsthand how the gender and race gap in STEM starts at an early age. Working with the girls in FLY Math Club, I'm able to brainstorm possible strategies to engage girls in math class with my corps members based on my interactions with girls during out of school time.”

Liv Dooley (Las Vegas Valley ’09)
Founder, Colorfully Candid

During Dooley’s experience working with students across the K-12 grades, she realized the importance of emotional intelligence. Students in low-income communities often experience additional levels of stress and she saw how this played out in the classroom as her students were distracted and struggled to focus on their academics, without a healthy outlet for processing their feelings. In 2016 she left the classroom to found Colorfully Candid, a nonprofit that offers workshops and retreats to enhance emotional intelligence and equip young women with the tools to effectively handle stress so they can succeed.

“Although Colorfully Candid serves girls of all races and ethnicities, we host events in communities with large populations of African Americans because emotional health isn’t always discussed in communities of color. The young ladies encourage me daily as they grow in their confidence and communication skills, display more compassion toward others, and set big, hairy, audacious goals for themselves and their futures.”

 

Caring for Community Health and Wellness

Darius Rucker (St. Louis ’12)
Manager, Leadership & Community, Teach For America

Rucker serves as a volunteer coordinator and conference chair with Rustin’s Place, a St. Louis-based clinic that offers health services for young gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer men and adults. Rucker facilitates a support group for men of color who are HIV-positive, and once a month he facilitates an empowerment session for LGBTQ foster youth. Rucker also co-chairs “The Forum,” a three-day conference aimed at raising awareness and advocacy to help eliminate factors that contribute to rising HIV and STI rates. 

“Working with Williams and Associates, Inc. has been a powerful experience for me and allowed me to include conversations around education and how it is experienced by homosexual men of color.”

Johnny Reed (Las Vegas Valley ’13)
Manager, Alumni Leadership & Collective Impact, Teach For America

After coping with his own traumatic life experiences growing up on the South side of Chicago, Reed launched ProjectHEAL, a nonprofit offering trauma-informed professional development to help teachers and students develop healthy coping habits around traumatic experiences. As a member of the Las Vegas Valley Regional Team, Reed facilitates trauma-informed professional development for corps members and alumni in the Las Vegas Valley region. Following the mass-shooting on the Las Vegas Strip, the demand for ongoing trauma-informed professional development sessions has increased with many teachers looking for advice on how to best help their students cope.

“I am constantly attending mental health and wellness conferences and receiving further education on successful trauma-informed practices—alongside culturally relevant literature that explains cultural responses to individual experiences of trauma. I plan to continue delivering a trauma-informed professional development series within the Las Vegas Valley, at the upcoming institute experience, and in other regional locations.”

 

Leading From Within the Community

Mikeael Campbell (Dallas-Fort Worth ’12)
Manager, Culture & Leadership, Teach For America

Campbell serves as a community leader for the Community & Police Leadership Collaborative, a group that builds bridges between the community and the Police Department within his hometown of Tulsa. 

“Relationship building and communicating across lines of difference are needed to be a great leader and I've been gaining firsthand experience as a community leader. One of the major projects of the collaborative is that both parties will attend a community event/experience of the others' choice. The insight and experience our students as young as 4th grade have had with TPD has been great for building empathy and understanding for all involved.”

Tiffany Taylor (Greater Philadelphia ’04)
VP, Deputy Chief People Officer, Teach For America

Taylor serves as the Advisory Board Chair for Detroit Promise Neighborhood, a coalition of committees working to ensure that all children in the Detroit Clark Park and Osborn Promise Neighborhoods have access to excellent educational opportunities that will prepare them for college. Taylor works closely with the program’s leadership and other committee chairs to develop a clear vision, engage local community leaders, and secure federal grants.

“Being able to connect the dots back to kids and families reminds me day-in and day-out is that at the start and end of the day we are working to empower the next generation of rightful leaders of our local communities.”

Angie Brice Thomas (Houston ’07)
MD, Recruitment, Teach For America

Thomas is very active in her local Brooklyn neighborhood, and shares deep connections with its Haitian-American community. She currently serves on the Board of Trustees for Explore Charter Schools, a K-8 charter network founded by a TFA alum, which serves kids in Central Brooklyn. She is also an Ambassador for the Light The World Foundation, a nonprofit that creates educational opportunities for children in Haiti and NYC. For the past four years, Brice has also served as a lead translator at the First Church of Latter Rain, a multi-lingual church with services translated in real-time between English, French, and Haitian Creole.

“I bring my proximity to the local community to my work at Teach For America. I'm active and involved in the very communities that we serve, and where our corps members are placed.  This allows me to bring community voices to the table and better advocate on behalf of our kids.”

 

Mobilizing the Community Towards Positive Change

Keiyonna Dubashi
Director, Classroom Culture & Community, Teach For America

Dubashi currently leads #SaySomething, an initiative that seeks to empower young women of color at North Edgecombe High School to artistically express themselves, speak out against systems of oppression, and to become leaders within spaces historically not accessible to women of color. The group meets weekly, where students have the opportunity to lead discussions around race, class, and privilege. Last year, the group collaborated with students in the Pine Ridge Reservation to address the use of a racist mascot in their high school. 

“This work has helped me to build a coalition across generations and has helped to ensure that students are more than just the performance portion of programming at our events. When determining what professional development looks like, this work has given me the proximity I needed to stay grounded in our mission and the realities of our youth.”

Tami Sawyer
Director, Diversity & Cultural Competence, Teach For America

Sawyer has been a member of the Memphis Grassroots Organizations Coalition and an outspoken leader among activists in Memphis, beginning with leading rallies to protest the killing of Darrius Stewart, an unarmed Black teen, by a white police officer in 2015. She’s since led community vigils and protests of the killing of Black Americans across the country. Most recently, she led Take ‘em Down 901, a successful months-long protest to get the city of Memphis to remove its two confederate statues, despite receiving death threats and experiencing online and in-person harassment. In her recent interview the Memphis Flyer, Sawyer remains strong and focused on the future.

“We can't solve for crime with more cops on the street. We need to solve for crime with youth programing. My dream would be by next summer we’d be able to open a social justice camp to gets kids out of the street looking for something to do—but educational—learning about history and their rights. Training people to be future lawyers and future Justice workers and future activists. Getting kids involved and self-advocating for themselves so, when they see what resources they don't have, they don't give up and advocate for their community.”