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Black History Month: What it means to our team

At DonorsChoose, we strive to have our organization be as diverse as the students and teachers we serve. Our team is encouraged to engage in affinity groups that help celebrate our differences and build a platform for discussion and learning. 

For Black History Month, we wanted to highlight one affinity group’s work: BOSS (Black Organization of Soulful Staff), our employee resource group for Black staff members. 

Throughout February, BOSS members created a weekly agenda with educational events and helped steer a classroom funding initiative with the support of our partners. Below are some of the team’s reflections on working at an organization centered on educational equity, the importance of representation in the classroom, and how identity impacted their school experiences.

Q: What does it mean to you to celebrate Black History Month, working at an organization centered on educational equity?

Kristina (Steen) Joye Lyles, Partnerships Director: With our country’s legacy of slavery, racial oppression, and segregation, Black History Month is critical when you work at an educational organization. You can’t talk about equity in our education system without talking about the race of the students and teachers that we serve. Much like 70 years ago, students of color today – namely black students – are systematically deprived of the resources they need to learn. I keep this in mind every day that I show up to work, and especially during a month when we acknowledge the truth and power of black history.

As an employee of DonorsChoose, I love seeing when teachers post projects that help other young black students expand their horizons about who we’ve been, and who we can be. – Geoff Hill, Chief Financial Officer and EVP, Fulfillment

Christin Washington, Community Partnerships Associate: Whenever I share stories about my life, it usually involves a special teacher or professor who saw something in me that I hadn’t yet been aware of myself. Working at an organization that addresses educational equity allows me to lift as I climb, ensuring young black students who for centuries have been denied quality education as a result of our race and the neighborhoods we live in, can experience teachers and learnings that marry worlds, set passions ablaze, and unbolt the caps of our potential.

Our goal of having our staff be a representation of the students we serve makes me proud. Seeing the impact we have on Black student’s lives makes me proud. While we focus on BHM in February, the work we do to bring equity in education celebrates Black history every day.– Christopher Prince-Barry, Director of IT

Q: Tell us about a teacher or classroom experience that shaped your views on the celebration of Black History Month.

Geoff Hill, Chief Financial Officer and EVP, Fulfillment: In school, we largely covered the “standard” historical African American heroes. I did not appreciate what I was missing at the time – I’m excited to think about the additional encouragement that many teachers now get to both go deeper during black history month, and incorporate diverse topics and voices into their year-round curriculum.

Ariana Jacobs, Special Assistant to the CEO: My seventh-grade class went on a trip to the Gullah Islands, the Low Country region of South Carolina made up of mostly plantations where enslaved Africans brought into Charleston and Savannah were once held. The Gullah have masterfully preserved their cultural heritage through storytelling and art, and we spent a week learning about their history first hand. The week culminated in us performing a West African dance at the annual Gullah Festival. Like the Gullah, there so many Black stories that go untold—they aren’t written in a textbook and the online information is minuscule. My teacher made it her mission to find these stories, investigate their history, and help us do the same.

Every class during Black Studies 101 at Amherst College encapsulated the complexity and beauty of life – to be in celebration of blackness is to be in celebration of humanity.– Christin Washington, Community Partnerships Associate

Christopher Prince-Barry, Director of IT: My favorite teacher, Mr. Merchant was the first Black male teacher that I had in my life. He taught at Brooklyn Technical High School. He took the time to make sure each student understood what he was teaching during and after class. Although, the most impactful lessons were taught outside of the lesson plan. Often, he challenged us to think critically about the news, politics, and finances. Having him as a role model definitely showed me that it was ok to be a smart Black man in an environment where it was more acceptable to be an aloof teenager.

Inspired by these stories from our staff? You can help teachers with projects that embody the spirit of Black History Month by supporting a project from our Black History Month 2020 Giving Page! 

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