The world we live in today is a result of the sacrifices and perseverance of countless individuals who have dedicated their lives to creating positive change in their communities. During the height of the civil rights era in the 1950s and the 1960s, many Black civic leaders like Martin Luther King Jr., Shirley Chisholm, Rosa Parks, Medgar Evers became beacons of hope during a time of change as they fought for racial justice, equality, and advocacy for the Black community. Their tireless efforts have not only brought about significant progress, but have also served as inspiration for many leaders and advocates today. At LEE, we are proud to acknowledge a few of the ones that are part of our community.
These members have made pivotal contributions, and as we continue to support their goals and the new chapters they are writing, we want to highlight their stories and achievements, and the marks they are making on the Black community, history and most importantly, on the future.
Our organization is proud to be the foundation of support for civic visionaries from all walks of life. For Black History Month, we want to honor the many pioneers in the Black community that are continuing the work of civil rights legends of the past. The work for equity is not done yet but we are hopeful that with individuals like our LEE members below, it is a not-too-distant realization for all communities across the world.
Gestina Howard got her start with LEE in 2015, but before she was a member and a fellow, she was motivated to become a community leader when she was just 11 years old. She stumbled across a library book about the horrors of modern slavery - human trafficking. Gestina was deeply moved and envisioned a world where slavery was eradicated. At a young age, she mused: “I believed that if I could learn as much as possible, I could help bring a solution to the problem and we would become a world where women and men were no longer forced, explicitly or implicitly, into forced labor or sexual acts. To this day, I still believe that my hope is not misplaced. That our society can, through the freedoms in which equitable educational opportunities can bring our children, free one the most vulnerable populations within our society.”
Today, as the director of special education for Milwaukee Excellence Charter School, Gestina implements teachings and lessons that she’s gathered throughout her career of service. From her involvement in the YMCA’s Youth-in-Government and Sponsor-a-Scholar to her policy and advocacy Summer fellowship with LEE, Gestina has discovered that the real pathway to success in community leadership is selflessness. According to her, sometimes our engagement for an issue isn’t solely based on how our involvement affects us alone. Rather, we become involved because we know we can create positive change for others. Ultimately, service for the community can be the biggest driving force and inspiration of them all.
Gerald Stratford is a Public Allies alum and LEE member that has made great strides in his advocacy for juvenile justice reform. As a Youth Support Specialist for the Delaware Center for Justice, Gerald works directly with formerly incarcerated youth to get them rehabilitated back into society. He assists them while they are still in detention centers, then offers aid with legal needs, employment, education services, and other basic necessities upon their release.
He owes his start to simply paying attention to the incidents in his community. “I saw how issues like recidivism, inadequate access to quality education and healthcare disparities disproportionately affected certain groups. This observation turned into motivation to be part of the solution.” When we are aware of the issues and we take the initiative to understand the root causes of the problems, we are better equipped to eradicate the problem at the source. In this case, Gerald wanted to fully envelop himself in the issues not to just give people the space to discuss and be seen and heard, but to look for real solutions.
Gerald wants to motivate young Black leaders to rise to the occasion to be the voice that their communities need in areas such as education reform, economic opportunities, criminal justice reforms, and community development, among others. He credits actively listening to people’s needs and educating oneself on history and the present issues as essential tools to support, engage, and uplift marginalized communities.
Ed Morris is a true pioneer in the education sector, with over 20 years of experience and a deep devotion to making a difference. His journey began when he felt called to teach “after spending a year and half doing deep soul work focused on walking authentically”. This calling led him to become the inaugural member of a groundbreaking teaching residency program in Chicago, where he was intentionally placed in underperforming schools to make a positive impact on deserving students.
Since then, Ed has continued to pave the way for educational equity through various roles and positions. He has served as a principal, a program executive, and he is currently the president of VisionPort LLC, a company that specializes in providing organizational development solutions for small businesses, nonprofit organizations, and the public sector. But Ed’s dedication and passion for social justice and equity doesn’t stop there. Thanks to his LEE membership, he got connected to Dallas CORE and advocated for equitable outcomes for students of color in Dallas ISD. He is also a fellow for the 2023-2024 Leadership ISD, where he continues to advocate for change and progress in the education system; and a consultant for The Equity Imperative, which works tirelessly to equip districts, social service agencies, and government bodies in Massachusetts and Illinois with the necessary tools and resources to create a more equitable and inclusive society.
Just like our other leaders, Ed believes that action and stepping out of one’s comfort zone is the key for creating powerful change. “Advancement starts first with where we need to sacrifice our own illusions of comfort. For many of us, that may mean giving up time to get involved and volunteer with ANY local civic engagement entity in their efforts to upset any system that results in marginalized outcomes.”
Uplifting the Black community is vital. With your unique perspectives and experiences, you can offer valuable insights into real solutions for issues that are still rampant today. Here are six ways you can support the Black community:
1. Use your platform to amplify Black voices
As a member of the community, it is important to use your platform to highlight and promote the work of Black community members and leaders. This can be through social media, word of mouth, or any other means of communication. By amplifying their voices, you are helping to spread their message and increase their reach.
2. Donate to organizations
Many Black community leaders run or endorse organizations that support and uplift the Black community. By donating to these organizations, you are providing them with the necessary resources to continue their important work. Your contribution can make a big impact.
3. Attend events and initiatives
Whether it's virtual, an in-person fundraiser, or community event, showing up and showing your support for the Black community is crucial. Not only does it provide them with a sense of solidarity, but it also helps to bring attention to their cause and grow their support base.
Join LEE for a discussion on February 29, 2024 at 6 PM ET with Black elected officials and leaders in the private sector at The Black LEEdership Experience event. This program is designed to inspire Black leaders to grow their leadership potential and be in community with their peers, along with getting first-hand knowledge from esteemed and established leaders.
4. Educate yourself and others
Take the time to educate yourself and others about the issues and challenges facing the Black community. By having a better understanding of these issues, you can become a better ally and advocate.
5. Volunteer your time and skills
Many Black community leaders are in need of volunteers to help with various tasks such as event planning, social media management, or fundraising. By offering your time and skills, you are providing valuable support to these leaders and their organizations.
6. Listen and take action
One of the most important ways to support the Black community is to listen to their needs and take action accordingly. This means actively listening to their concerns, understanding their perspectives, and working towards creating real change and solutions together.
Explore courses like these below to immerse yourself in how decisions and policymaking can leave an enduring mark on communities, and how you can play an important part in that change.
In these uncertain times, it is more important than ever to support and uplift the Black community and its leaders. The struggles and obstacles they face are still prevalent in our society, but through the strength and resilience of these leaders, progress is made.
By showing our support, we are not only acknowledging their hard work and dedication, but also standing in solidarity with their fight for equality and justice. For Black History Month and beyond, let us honor and celebrate the Black community leaders of today, and empower them to continue paving the way for a brighter future for all.