THROUGHOUT THE MONTH OF FEBRUARY WE WILL BE CELEBRATING BLACK EDUCATORS FROM AROUND THE COUNTRY.
Damilola N. Onilenla
Speech Language Pathologist – Brooklyn, NY
Damilola N. Onilenla was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY. She holds degrees from Seton Hall University in Speech-Language Pathology and Alfred University in Education in Literacy. She is a 3rd generation educator with the New York City Department of Education and has been a speech-language pathologist for the past 6 years. Onilenla has worked with students from pre-k through 8th grade in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Like many educators, she did not aspire to be an educator as a youth, but instead was drawn to the speech field because it allowed her to accumulate necessary credits in line with her college program of study. Over time, Onilenla realized the need for students to be reached on a social-emotional level and in doing so also found her passion. She is currently enrolled in an educational leadership program, with hopes of sitting for the school district leadership certification and becoming an administrator.
Onilenla understands the community she serves and strives to paint a better picture for the students she comes into contact with. She embraces the responsibility of being a role model for youth that look like her. Says Onilenla, “I believe in teaching and empowering those that look like me! I want a young person to look at me and say if she can do it, I can do it too!” She also instills in the youth that they can overcome their circumstances. “Just because you’re from the hood, doesn’t mean you’re of the hood; kind of like the rose that grows from the concrete,” Onilenla explains.
Tara L. Chapman
Music Coordinator, Highville Charter School
Tara L. Chapman is currently the Prekindergarten – 4th Music Coordinator at Highville Charter School in New Haven, CT. She has taught music and other courses on both the Elementary and High School levels for over 15 years. Like many educators, Chapman didn’t initially aspire to teach; instead she wanted to be a performer. While at Berklee College, as a member of the Black Student Union, she became involved in an outreach program where she gave educational music lessons to inner-city youth in Boston. From that experience, she knew wanted to use her musical gifts to impact the youth and immediately switched her major from Professional Music to Music Education. Through her time teaching, she has found that music is not only a great art for students to learn, it also gives them an opportunity to get away from the things they may be dealing with in their lives and be creative.
Chapman understands the need for quality minority teachers in an era where youth don’t see many positive Black figures on TV. Says Chapman, “Our kids need to see successful adults who look like them, working in positive roles. If you look on TV, many times we are not positively represented, and many of our students believe what they see on reality TV is the only way to be successful.” In particular she highlights the need for our young Black men to have male teachers that look like them and understand the situations they go through. “The last school I came from for many of the years there were no black males, at times there was one, but never more than one. The school I am currently at there are a few more, but I truly feel it makes a difference, I believe these males understand what the youth are going through. They understand the black man’s struggle,” says Chapman.
Harry A. Bell
Author, Color a Positive Change
Harry A. Bell, a Bridgeport native, is the author of the self-empowerment children’s coloring book, Color a Positive Thought. Having experienced and overcome many obstacles himself, Bell understood the trials facing our inner-city youth every day. He wanted to find a way to help and empower these youth to overcome the negative situations they encounter. Bell’s vision for the book took many years to develop into a physical product. Since its creation, he has sold over five thousand copies and touched the lives of countless students.
Bell and his book have been featured in numerous publications including the University of Bridgeport Alumni Magazine. He has also appeared on numerous radio shows and newscasts throughout the region. Bell has received over 20 awards for his work with youth from local and state politicians, grassroots organizations and churches. Among the many awards, he is most proud of being honored with his own day in the city of Bridgeport (Harry Bell day is Nov. 26).
Bell has also used his platform to become a community leader with a hands-on approach to improving the lives of children in surrounding communities directly. “Once I started to work with kids directly and daily, I started to see the lack of things our kids needed. When I started to see that, I couldn’t sit back and watch when I knew I could be a big help,” says Bell. He also realizes the importance of bringing hope to communities where it is often lacking. Says Bell, “I believe minority educators play a huge role in teaching minority students because it sends a picture of reflection and a dose of hope.”
LaShante’ A. James
Assistant Principal, Norwalk Public Schools
LaShante’ A. James is currently an Assistant Principal for Norwalk Public Schools. She was educated in the New Haven Public School System, and as a High School Senior, she was selected to attend the Outstanding High School Program. This program enabled her to leave high school a semester early to attend the University of New Haven as a full-time student on a full scholarship for one semester. She earned a Bachelor of Science in English Education and Master of Science in Political Science with a concentration in Urban Education from Southern Connecticut State University. Having a desire to transition into Educational Leadership, she obtained an 092 certificate and Sixth year degree from Sacred Heart University. She attributes her inspiration to impact the lives of youth to her mother (Pamela Monk Kelley), Aunt (Marcella Monk Flake) and Uncle (Clarence Roberts), who were also educators.
James spent 11 years working as a High School English Teacher in grades 9-12 at Riverside Education Academy before taking on the Assistant Principal position in Norwalk. She was awarded the Teacher of the Year Award for Riverside Academy 8 out of 11 years. Additionally, she placed first Runner-up for the New Haven School District’s Teacher of the Year Award in 2010. Besides working in education, James oversees a leadership development and girl’s empowerment program in partnership with LiveGirl at her school. In addition, she is the president of the Bridgeport/Fairfield County Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. Through this organization, they work with High School students in their ASCEND program; which is a youth enrichment program.
James understands the correlation between having quality minority teachers and student success. Says James, “It is important to have quality minority educators, because it is through education that seeds are planted in our children. It is during that time that they are shaped and molded to become their best selves. Having people that look like them allows minority children to model exemplary behaviors that lead to excellence with a sense of kinship. My principal, Mrs. Jeffie Frazier, asked for my report card throughout my middle school and high school career. I felt an obligation to maintain excellence for her. I truly believe that is why I am where I am today. I stand on the shoulders of giants!”
William Fisher, Jr.
Assistant Principal, Sage Park Middle School
Founder, Extra Yard SAT Prep
Keerome Lawrence, a New Haven native and Georgetown University Alum, is the founder of Extra Yard SAT Prep. After returning from school, Lawrence realized that many student-athletes at his former high school (Hillhouse) had one major hurdle stopping them from getting to college; the SAT. He never expected to become an educator, but he knew the importance of helping students improve their scores. Extra Yard started out in 2012 as a Saturday SAT program ran out of the local YMCA. The program grew over time and in January of 2017, Extra Yard at Hillhouse High School was launched, offering free SAT prep for all students and student athletes. The Extra Yard To Go program began the same summer as Lawrence realized the summer break was a crucial time for students to remain diligent in their preparation. Since its inception, Extra Yard has helped many students improve their SAT scores between 100 and 200 points, in 10 sessions or less.
Lawrence realizes the importance of having quality minority educators teaching our youth. “It is important to have quality minority educators in our inner city schools. For one, we need people who can relate to our children based off of having an understanding of their upbringing and being aware of things our children may deal with at home on a daily basis. Strong Black educators also serve as role models to many of the students they teach. When students see a strong Black educator in their schools, they see someone they look like and that may be from a similar background that has become successful. It comes down to having educators that our children feel comfortable with and can relate to.”
For more information about the Extra Yard program, contact Keerome Lawrence at ExtraYardCT@gmail.com