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Celebrating Black Leaders in Chicago-Northwest Indiana

In honor of Black History Month, we asked three of our members to share reflections on a Black role model that they’ve met during their educational journey.

February 26, 2019

A male Teach For America teacher reading to his students.

JuDonne Hemingway (Indianapolis, '11), Assistant Principal, Butler College Prep

"This year I have learned the power of standing proudly and courageously as a woman and leader of color. My confidence as a leader in my skin came from the inspiration and influence of two very powerful women in my life: Constance Jones, CEO of The Noble Network of Charter Schools and Carmita Semaan, founder and president of the Surge Institute.  

In the short time that I have known both Carmita and Constance, I can say that they have given me the permission I needed to stand boldly and firmly in my values and in my leadership. Many personal and professional challenges called me to question what it means to show up authentically every day in my identity and in my leadership. They pushed me to consider the areas of my life where complacency and comfort were being prioritized over growth. Seeing them as authentic Black women stepping up unapologetically to speak truth to power encouraged me to reunite with that same fire inside my own heart; to bring forth the power I’d hid in an effort to make other people comfortable.

Thank you Constance and Carmitafor your love, your mentorship, your grace, and the permission to show up in my birthright."

Donnell McDavid (Chicago-Northwest Indiana, '18), 6th Grade Teacher, East Chicago Lighthouse

"Working in East Chicago was a new adventure for me. As a first-year teacher, having a model of excellence helps you to make regular progress checks and have a sounding board. Ms. Denise Collins teaches 5th Grade ELA/ Social Studies at East Chicago Lighthouse Charter School. I am honored to inherit her former students, as she instills the mantra of "working out of excellence" in all of her students. As a proud resident of Gary, she goes above and beyond to validate her students' identities and their brilliance. After returning to school from several snow days, we could hear Ms. Collins all through the halls greeting students with a resounding, "Happy Black History Month!" and hugging and high fiving students as they started their day. Ms. Collins truly holds no punches when it comes to helping students embrace their culture and validates who they are. Through her words and her actions, Ms. Collins helps students believe that they matter, and as a result she helps teachers like me to see that we matter as well."

Aimée Eubanks Davis (Greater New Orleans, '95), Braven Founder & CEO

"Dr. Anthony “Tony” Recasner, my first school leader as a 1995 corps member in New Orleans, profoundly impacted my leadership development. To have Dr. Recasner as my first real boss was a blessing. In addition to sharing my background as an African American, he also shared the background of the students we taught, which I learned was an incredibly powerful experience to draw on when creating a school environment.

He also taught me the beauty of listening—what he called “taking a third ear,” which was as applicable in 1995 with parents as it is in 2019 when leading an organization. Taking a third ear is when someone comes to you with a complaint and rather than getting defensive you choose to listen. And then you listen some more. And then you listen again...and, then, and only then, do you respond. This is how you can get yourself in a place to truly hear hard feedback.

As the founder of Braven, a nonprofit that works to ensure college students—who identify as people of color and/or having come from a low-income background—gain the skills, networks, confidence and experiences necessary to land a strong first job after graduation, Dr. Recasner’s ability to demonstrate the power of shared backgrounds and deep listening has helped me lead with empathy and urgency, just like he modeled so many years ago for me."