Featured resource: Professional Learning Conditions and Practices


In honor of Black History Month, we invite you to learn from Black voices on the Instruction Partners team as they share their journeys in education and what drives their passion for this work.

Read their stories below, presented in alphabetical order.

Black history is our history—our story and our glory.

Ashley Amachree, Director of Partnership Data

Growing up on the South Side of Chicago made it nearly impossible to ignore the inequities in education. I became hyperaware that I was being afforded more opportunities at my selective enrollment schools than my friends who went to my neighborhood school, even though I was no more deserving. I decided to pursue a career in education because I felt that all students should have positive educational experiences that not only provide them with the tools to succeed academically but also pour affirmation and support into them so that they may actually see themselves as capable of accomplishing their wildest dreams.

I decided to pursue a degree in mathematics specifically because I know that high-level math courses serve as a barrier to access for many students who look like me. This path could be isolating and lonely. My first experience with a college academic advisor was being told that I should take a lower-level math course because she didn’t think I would be successful in multivariable calculus. Not only did I successfully complete the course, I completed a math major and graduated magna cum laude. I wanted to be a living example of what is possible for my students because we get enough implicit (and explicit) messages that we cannot do it. The truth is, with appropriate support, we can do anything.

This work means so much to me because we know that positive educational experiences can change a student’s life trajectory. At the same time, we know that there are systems in place that make it much less likely for students from historically underserved populations to have those experiences. I am lucky to have had an education that catapulted me onto a successful path. I have grown from bringing my voice into educational spaces and learning from others’ diverse perspectives. I want every student to feel the love, care, and support that comes with a quality education. It should be the rule, not the exception.

Demerial Banks, Program Operations Lead

I’ve always loved school and learning. Knowing the why and how of all things both ordinary and complex fuels me. Initially, I thought of school as my safe space. Throughout my formative years, I was one of very few Black students in the classroom. I had great success, but there was nothing that could compare to my first experiences in undergraduate. I didn’t really know or understand who I was until I entered my freshman year at an HBCU.

I was affirmed in ways that I didn’t know I needed. In my intro to African American studies course, I first learned that I had been code-switching and conforming to my environment. I had been bearing the weight as the representative of the Black community throughout my life. The mental and emotional weight of some of those experiences still impacts me today.

In undergrad, my educational experience was more than academics. Since I was able to bring my authentic self into the classroom, I was able to thrive. I was more open to learning, asking questions, and taking risks. It was preparation for life. I do this work because it is my belief that children shouldn’t have to wait for a pivotal moment late in their educational journey to experience the fullness of being seen, heard, and developed.

Timeka Davis, Math Content Lead

I grew up in a southside neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois called Englewood. Although my parents were so proud to finally be able to buy our own home, they knew that I did not receive the best education in this area. I do not remember anything positive about my education between kindergarten and 2nd grade. I do remember the gangs, drive-bys, and people just trying to survive. I also remember that my parents created a safe, caring, and education-focused atmosphere inside of our home; they had me take the school bus and, many times, public transportation to a better school that was about 45 to 60 minutes away to gain an education that would put me on the path to success.

This path did not start as an easy journey. There were literally only a handful of students who looked like me in the entire school. My first teacher at the school did look like me—a Black female—but I felt the most unliked by this person. She would continuously point me out for things such as talking, not practicing my reading, etc. It got to the point where some of my white classmates started to stick up for me and tell the teacher, “it’s not even Timeka, why do you keep picking on her?” That and a conversation from my parents about how hard I really did work at home made her soften up a little around me. These microaggressions from someone who looked like me was the first time I ever experienced anything like that, but it did not make me shy away from education; it motivated me to work even harder. And, by the grace of God, after 3rd grade, I was blessed with other educators who, ironically, did not look like me, truly believed in me and motivated me to do my best.

I fell so much in love with education that I always wanted to be at school and be a “teacher” in any setting that I could. When I was in 7th and 8th grade, I tutored students who were in 3rd and 4th grade. When I got to high school, I spent my summers tutoring at elementary schools in marginalized communities although, since 3rd grade, I attended schools in areas that were clearly affluent. As I entered college, I knew I wanted to major in education. And, I felt that I could most give back to our society by being an educator and a positive role model in marginalized schools. I wanted students in these settings to know that they had an advocate and someone who believed in them as I did growing up.

Arthel Hicks, Talent & Recruitment Lead

Despite a biracial background, my identity as a Black girl has always been entrenched in my experiences, even as a young person with little to no exposure to Black culture. I was born to a Black father and a Polynesian mother, and my parents divorced when I was very young. I had no contact with my father, and, though I was loved and accepted by my mother’s side of the family, I felt that his absence and the absence of his extended family caused me to internalize a distinct feeling of “otherness” that made me long to know myself wholly. It wasn’t until I left Hawaii and entered into the diversity of California’s public schools that I was able to find friends and peers who revealed to me the part of my identity that had been missing for so long. Suddenly I was able to name and identify racially charged encounters I had experienced as a child; I was hearing other Black girls and boys verbalize their struggles and insecurities around hair and colorism; and I was seeing and learning about the nuances of Black history and culture. Unbeknownst to me, I had opened up Pandora’s box, and, with the joy and excitement I had found on my journey of self discovery, there was also a painful realization of the collective Black experience, particularly within America.

In the same California public schools where I had found acceptance and affirmation, I was exposed to uncertainty surrounding post-secondary life. Tenured teachers were aloof and impersonal, racial equity was not discussed openly or incorporated into the curriculum until my senior year, classrooms were overcrowded, academic counselors were few, and even when I met with one it felt as though I was just an appointment on a calendar. As a Black woman, I felt that every system I had encountered had failed me, and I now seek to channel all of my frustration, pain, embarrassment, and confusion into the fuel that drives the work that I do at Instruction Partners. This work means so much to me because I believe in the power of an equitable education to transform lives, and every day that I show up is a day serving students. In my role, I am the first line of defense for students, managing the recruitment process for positions that will go on to impact school leaders and, ultimately, students’ experiences and outcomes. It is my duty to help ensure that the ones filling these positions will influence school leaders and teachers to equip students with the tools, knowledge, life skills, and guidance they need in order to better understand and improve their communities and the world they live in, find their purpose in life, thrive within society, and lead joyous and rewarding lives.

Yolanda Hudson, Director of Instructional Support

The saying, “It takes a village to raise a kid” is certainly true in my upbringing. I am one of four children born to parents who married at 18- years-old while still in high school. Although my mom graduated, my father eventually dropped out in the 12th grade. His decision not to complete high school made it complicated for him to gain and keep substantial employment. My mom worked a lot, but we often struggled and depended on the help of family to help us make it through the tough times. I can’t ever remember a time when we went to bed without eating, but we definitely recognized that there was a struggle. As a result, I grew up shy and never felt like I was quite as good as my peers.

For me, school was the one place I felt like I was on an equal playing field with my peers. I had teachers who cared for and encouraged me, and—as a result—I blossomed in school. I was the kid that always had the good grades and equally good conduct to match. This gave me the opportunity to enroll in honors classes and optional programs and really exposed me to opportunities that I may not have otherwise had.

My love for math began in my 7th grade pre-algebra class taught by Ms. Holliman. I remember Ms. Holliman being just a great teacher with a big smile. She lit the match for my love for mathematics, and it was on from there. I knew, at that young age, that I, too, wanted to become a teacher. My mom and dad always impressed the importance of education on us. As a result, I moved on to earn my bachelor’s degree in math and science at my alma mater, the HBCU, Lemoyne-Owen College. My grandmother’s house sits across the street from the college, and I spent multiple summers attending their National Youth Sports Program. My brother and I share the credit for becoming first-generation college graduates in my family—my brother was the first, he graduated a year prior to me with a bachelor’s in criminal justice. We were also two of the first in our family to pledge Pan-Hellenic Greek-lettered organizations—Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. for him and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. for me. Since that time, we have had the opportunity to witness several others in the family, both in our generation and subsequent generations, earn their college degrees. Education truly has made the difference in our lives.

I chose the education field because I know the difference that this heartwork has made for myself and my family. I wanted to be the one to show students who may look like me or have similar backgrounds that where they begin does not dictate where they can go; it’s simply a part of their journey. They hold the keys to their future and can make the same generational change in their own families. If I can make a positive impact on at least one person on my journey through life, then, my living will not have been in vain. Working in my current role affords me the opportunity to move beyond just impacting my immediate community but to make an even bigger impact, supporting teachers and leaders across the country in providing students with educational experiences that will be the difference-makers in their lives.

Makhala Hurst, Director of Professional Learning & Support

Education has been my family’s entry point on the journey toward true liberation. Growing up in Oakland, California, I learned about the power of education and advocacy by watching my mother complete community college, attend college and law school, and eventually become a lawyer. I saw the way she navigated a system that was not designed for her to succeed as a young, single, and Black mother. Through her journey, I learned the importance of self-advocacy, perseverance, and having a village to support you.

Through my schooling in Oakland, I felt very connected to my cultural identity and thrived in a tight knit community. I attended a small middle school that was rooted in multiculturalism. My teachers affirmed our Blackness and celebrated our heritage alongside other cultures. We had Tai-Chi and African dance as electives, we celebrated several cultural holidays and traditions, and we read texts that were written by diverse authors. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this experience prepared me to navigate the world while being centered in who I am as a Black woman. This was the type of schooling that helped inspire me to become a teacher and later principal. This was the type of education that every child deserves, one that makes children feel seen and whole while they learn.

In high school, I attended a boarding school in Southern California where I was the only Black girl in my graduating class. This world was a juxtaposition to what I was accustomed to in Oakland. The school was dripping in privilege and power and I had very few tools to access my new environment. I battled with self-confidence, and embracing my cultural identity as a young Black girl. I had no Black teachers on campus to look to as a mirror, but I did have one teacher who pushed me to run for school government, which shaped the trajectory of my high school experience. Eventually, I found my village and found my voice in my new environment by joining school leadership. Though I continued to grapple with a sense of “otherness,” becoming a leader empowered me to persevere through this challenge. This sense of belonging allowed me to show up as my best self academically, socially, and I eventually found my way to an excellent college.

The tenacity I learned from my mom, the sense of self I gained from being raised in Oakland, and the leadership skills I learned in high school gave me the ability to survive schooling, navigate two completely different worlds, and access higher education. I became an educator because I want to see a world where all students are poured into and have what they need to thrive and excel. Students should be able to bring their full selves to school and that should be enough for them to thrive. As educators, it is our job to ensure that the conditions are in place to provide students with an education that allows them to fully belong, be their best selves, and move leaps and bounds along toward their liberation.

Cammie Mabry, Director of Instructional Support

I might’ve been or still might be what some would consider a “know it all.” For as long as I can remember, I have always had a love of learning new things. I consistently finished my work early with little to no effort. Even when I attended daycare, my teachers would have to find additional work for me to do because I would complete my assignments before everyone else and immediately become a disruption. I would talk to my friends, walk around the room, play with things, you know…just get into stuff. I wasn’t a bad student; I was a bored student. 

As I continued through school, I remember being placed in the advanced class with the “smart” kids. Having experienced both types of classes, I never felt like the work was more challenging, it was just much more work. I never understood why I had to do more work versus more challenging work. That never made sense to me. Does smart equate to more?  I used to always wonder what made us “smart.” More importantly, who made the declaration and what criteria was used? I never understood why these labels existed, but I did understand what label I would and would not allow myself to carry. Honestly, I did not mind being known as a “smart” kid. 

You see, smart kids get more opportunities in school. They get special treatment. They get to say the announcements and run errands for the teacher. They get noticed by the counselors and the administrators for all of the right reasons. They are at the top of the list when it comes to things at the school. When scholarships and opportunities come up, the “smart” kids know about them first. This may not  have been true for every school but it was definitely true for me. Being a “smart” kid gave me the opportunity to be nominated for Governor’s School of North Carolina, and I was one of two students from my high school chosen to attend. 

Governor’s School is a four-week summer program for gifted and talented high school students, and I was chosen to attend the location at Old Salem College in Winston Salem, NC. I wish I could say that this experience was amazing and intellectually challenging and “all of the things.” But I can’t.  Yes, I took some college courses. Yes, I learned alot about myself. Yes, I met some amazing people that I still keep in touch with. Yes, I was one of the “smart” kids. This time was different. This time I was also one of the “smart Black” kids. I was one of only a handful of Black students chosen to attend. Black students did not make up 5% of the population. That stuck with me more than anything. 

I remember leaving Governor’s School with many more questions than answers. Why are there such a small number of Black students here? Were  they not smart enough? Or, were they just not given a chance? Am I smart enough, or am I just here because they had to meet a quota? 

I like to tell people I didn’t choose education, education chose me. I didn’t start off wanting to be a teacher, but I stayed because this work is so much bigger than me. I continue to do this work because I truly believe that Black and Brown students deserve to live choice filled lives with an enormous amount of joy. I also believe that the building of knowledge is one of many ways for Black and brown students to have that type of life.

Lisa McClinton, Director of Instructional Support

I didn’t realize until I was a young adult how growing up in a small West Texas community as the only Black girl in school had really impacted me knowing, understanding, and being comfortable with my Blackness. That discomfort looked like me begging my mother to stop pressing my hair and to relax my hair so that I could have straight hair that wouldn’t curl up when I would have to practice outside with the marching band in the humid, hot West Texas heat or pleading with her to only buy me white dolls to play with as a young girl.

I have often wondered if my teachers truly saw me, and, if they did, why didn’t I ever feel or know that they did? Why don’t I ever remember experiencing a Black history program in school? Or for that matter, why wasn’t there ever anything about my culture taught, outside of slavery, during any point of my K–12 education? Why, as the only young Black girl in 9th grade algebra, did Ms. Pyssen sit me in the very back of the class near the board and tell me to figure problems out for myself when I couldn’t grasp a concept?

I could have easily allowed the fear, anxiety, and dread that I remember from entering that class and others stymie my aspirations to become an educator, but I had an aunt who changed all of that for me. She was the first person in my family I saw become college educated and teach in a school that very much mirrored my own but make changes and shift mindsets. I observed her use her voice to fight for and ensure that the few students of color in her school had EVERY opportunity to be seen and to celebrate their culture and experiences and not feel like they had to “fit in” or “hide” who they were. She also taught me the importance of students knowing how much you care for them. While she recently passed away, I will forever be grateful for her mentorship, courage, and funny stories to show me what it means to be an advocate for children in communities where opportunities are sparse. This work will ALWAYS matter greatly to me because there are so many students who deserve opportunities for limitless futures!

Alyssa Payton, Math Content Lead

Growing up in a broken home, the school was my safe place. My space to thrive, be a kid, and feel seen. I was always honored as a high-achieving student, but I always felt I could do more, read more fluently, and participate more. I wondered if I received high scores because I wasn’t a behavior issue and fit the “look” of a straight-A student (long hair, lighter skin for a Black girl, well-dressed).

When I got to college, I immediately realized that I was not as equipped as I thought I was—as I was told I was. I had to learn the hard way—I had to work harder than I’d ever worked just to maintain “good” academic standing. It was then that I knew that I wanted to make a greater impact on students in Memphis.

When I started teaching after college, my goal was to prepare five-year-olds to start their educational journey as strong readers and mathematicians. I worked a day in and day out to create an environment where my students received personalized instruction that made them feel challenged and seen. As an instructional leader, I want the teachers and leaders who I support to have the same mindset so that students are proud of their personal growth and know that there is no limit to what they can do.

Mecca Snipe, Operations Coordinator

Education was my one-way ticket to making my dreams of escaping my experiences as a low-income student a reality. Growing up in Brooklyn, my mom and grandma reminded me daily that my only job was to do my very best in school because it was one of the ways in which Black people ascended the socioeconomic ladder. Throughout this conversation, my mom and grandma always emphasized the importance of community and how important it is to bring others with you as you continue to flourish in life. Although I was too young to understand the weight of the conversation, I began to view school as a utopia, a place where I can leave my traumas at the door and fully immerse myself into a world that felt opposite to mine.

As I began to mature, I started to realize that education should be a place where there is room for people to show up as their authentic selves and should not feel the need to leave out parts of themselves to establish communities or become a part of a bigger community. Instead, educational spaces should be a place where all students, regardless of differentiating factors, feel seen, valued, and affirmed. This shift in my mindset influenced my decision to pursue both my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Africana studies. I wanted to commit that, no matter what career path I chose, I will be conscious of how I show up as a Black woman and how I am using my brilliance for the betterment of other marginalized groups.

I chose to pursue a career in education because I want to help other students who are looking for a way to overcome challenges in their lives. Working at Instruction Partners has allowed me to engage in work that helps improve the lives of students in multiple priority groups, not only the ones that I can identify with. As a former student of poverty, I am so happy to be able to create systems and engage in design work to improve the experiences of students who are often excluded and overlooked. This is a true moment of fulfillment for me and a beautiful reminder of why I continue to do the work.

Nadirah Sulayman, Director of Antiracism and Equity Internal Learning

“Social Networking”
By Su

Carol Parkinson-Hall. Gina Graves Moody. Patricia Pollard. Dorothy Jackson. Michael Flamer.

I call out the names of a few of the memorable Black educators in my Philadelphia public education experience. Besides a shared ethnicity, each of these educators had other common characteristics that positively impacted my identity and personal development. They saw (themselves in) me. They affirmed me. They held me accountable. They encouraged me to pursue and perform difficult things. They created space for me in places in which I would never have ventured alone. They modeled passion and discipline. And not just me: for every one of their students, regardless of test scores, student behavior, threats, or violence within and beyond their walls of their respective schools. They possessed the superhuman ability to gauge what I needed at that point in my life and work to meet that need with the resources at their disposal. They were my first network.

One teacher took me to art museums in affluent neighborhoods and assured me that my Black face and small voice belonged there.

Another volunteered me for a math competition team even though I was not confident in my competence. 

The English teacher of the group nurtured my love of language with sentence diagramming, cryptogram puzzles, and classroom performances of Romeo and Juliet

One of my teachers was so short she needed to stand on a chair to write our algebra homework in the upper left hand corner of the board. She was so consistent in her instruction and brilliant in method that, after many years of struggling in math, I applied to and excelled in her algebra 2 honors course. She demonstrated the confidence to do the work regardless of any external  judgment or obstacles. 

Yet another teacher urged me to sign up for an AP course populated by the top 10 percent of our graduating class. I spent nights poring over 19th century texts, typing into a word processor, deathly afraid I wouldn’t measure up. But that taught me more about tenacity and navigating the world than any course I took beyond it. 

I carry their lessons, their intentions, some of their skill, and all of their love with me to this day.

Maila Superville, Content Lead

With three brothers and two sisters, you would think it was easy to get lost in the shuffle, but my mom did just the opposite. My mom was the parent who showed up for every parent-teacher conference, supported school activities, and created open communication with the entire staff. Through most of grade school, I vividly remember the staff greeting my mom on a first name basis one month into the school year. This was the standard for my siblings and me. My mom was an advocate for me in school, and she did everything to make sure her Black daughter would never get overlooked or lost in the shuffle.

In kindergarten and 1st grade, my teachers were amazing Black women, Ms. McGraw and Ms. Tammy. My mom pushed hard for me to be accepted early into kindergarten and handpicked both of these teachers. Having loving Black women as my first interaction in school helped form a positive relationship with my education. I quickly nurtured this relationship as I saw myself in my teachers early on. This foundation was critical as the number of Black teachers were few and far between throughout the rest of my educational experience.

Transitioning through elementary, middle, and high school, I interacted with very different student populations. In elementary school, the student population was very diverse, with a balance of white, Black, Native American, Asian American and Pacific Islander, and Latinx students. In middle school, I attended a “magnet” program in a neighborhood school, where the student population was over 85% Black. The unique experience of this school was that there were “non-magnet” students who lived in the area and “magnet” students who were largely bussed in to participate in the “magnet” or specialized program. The “magnet” program in my middle school filtered directly into my high school, which was only “magnet” students. As my classmates and I matriculated to high school, the student population seemed to shift to majority white students with small numbers of Black, Asian American and Pacific Islander, and Latinx students. I don’t think it was any coincidence that the populations shifted when the “non-magnet” students were no longer our classmates. This illuminated the idea, for 7 years, that there were people who believed race was tied to ability, and who created systems that upheld this belief. Of each school experience, it is worth noting that I have the fondest memories of middle school. It was where I felt the most seen and built lifelong friendships. This is not a coincidence, but a direct correlation between the student population being majority Black and me being a Black student.

This experience didn’t shift much as I continued my education. I oscillated between finding Black teachers and Black students who made my experience, thoughts, and dreams real. I am particular about the school populations I serve and the implicit messages I send because I know the value of being seen by my teachers and peers, in a world that does not prioritize Black people and our experiences. I initially got into education because my mom showed me what it was like to have an advocate. I stay in education because I am an advocate, and I want Black students to see themselves and know I see them. So many of my decisions as a classroom teacher were centered around making sure my Black students knew there were no limits. When I’m on campuses now, I still get the same stares, and every time, I make sure I say hi to the little Black girl or boy because I see them. I see them for who they are. I see them for all they can be, and I hope I am doing my best to make their obstacles fewer and their success greater