The national spotlight is shining intensely on the challenges faced by Black men in today’s society. Events in Ferguson, North Charleston, Baltimore, and New York City – as well as other cities and towns that have not made national headlines – have propelled much needed societal and individual reflection, questioning and discussion.

While larger societal issues contribute to these realities, we at the NYC Leadership Academy (NYCLA) believe that a high-quality education can change these life experiences. That is why educational equity for all students, particularly the most vulnerable, has remained for more than a decade at the heart of NYCLA’s vision for impact. Towards that end, NYCLA recently gathered the accomplished alumni of our New York City Aspiring Principals Program to address the critical question, “What can school leaders do immediately in their schools to change the life trajectories of Black and Latino males?”

During her opening remarks, Irma Zardoya, NYCLA’s President & CEO, shared staggering statistics from a recent New York Times article entitled “1.5 Million Missing Black Men.” Perhaps the most compelling evidence of systemic inequity is that one in every six Black men, who should now be between the ages of 25 and 54, has disappeared from daily life – primarily as a result of incarceration or early death.

Katie Drucker, NYCLA’s Senior Director of Research and Evaluation, shared with the alumni APP group findings from a study through which she examined the intersection of high-quality school leadership, improved literacy achievement, and the experiences of boys of color. Katie’s presentation was followed by the personal story of Reggie Higgins, APP graduate and principal of P.S. 125, an elementary school in Harlem. When Higgins took over P.S. 125, the school was about to be closed because 73 percent of the students were not reading and writing at grade level. By re-thinking staff expectations, getting creative with the school day schedule, engaging parents, and giving boys role models, Reggie was able to transform his school into one that delivers equity and opportunity to all students. These presentations laid the groundwork for a group activity in which attendees reviewed quotes from study participants about their use of effective literacy strategies and then discussed how they could implement their own methods with Black and Latino males in their schools. Our alumni left the event with inspiration and fresh ideas to make substantive changes for their students.

This alumni event is part of a broader NYCLA initiative, which leverages this heightened awareness of the inequitable experiences of men of color and amplifies our stance on the importance of increasing the number of people of color in leadership roles and education’s role as the ideal equalizer in this country. Our staff and leadership have and will continue to dig deeper into these critical issues and share our perspectives and approach with the broader education community. Here are some examples of this effort:

  • In early April, NYCLA employees participated in a two-day intensive workshop facilitated by Glenn Singleton, a thought leader on racial equity. Glenn challenged our staff to have very open and candid conversations around race and to think about how our own racial identities can have an impact on the ways in which we interact with the world each day. These discussions reinforced our commitment to a social justice mindset in all we do as an organization.
  • Irma Zardoya, NYCLA President & CEO, continues to contribute to the national dialogue around diversity and equity. Most recently, she attended New Schools Venture Fund’s Summit 2015 and participated in an ongoing workshop series facilitated by the US Department of Education – both of which focused on diversity in education leadership.
  • In addition, Irma published a blog post entitled “Beyond Diversity to Equity & Opportunity,” which focuses on leadership as the critical lever and greatest multiplier for improving education. She conveys that education is the most powerful tool to improve life outcomes for the most vulnerable children and young adults. To read the full article, click here.

NYCLA is committed to continuing these vital conversations with our extended national network to influence change throughout the country. For more information on NYCLA’s equity agenda, the recent convening, or to get involved in our work, contact us.