From Critical Race Theory to Racial Literacy: Shifting the Focus in K-12 Education

The global pandemic illuminated complex inequities in education, creating debate in and around the classroom. As the call for racial justice continues to echo throughout the nation, multifaceted topics of critical race theory and anti-racist education are trending, making it difficult for educators to bring culturally responsive and equity-minded approaches to teaching to the classroom. On Sept. 23, 2021, Morehouse College led a conversation that defines these topics, identifies policies and dives into how educators, mentors and community organizations can authentically engage in conversation and take action that dismantles inequities in education.

Conversation Key-Takeaways

  • When kids see themselves, family and community reflected in their educational curriculum, they perform better. We must continue to challenge young people in the classroom and teach in a culturally responsible way.
  • Connection is the true foundation of teaching. Kids are not interested in you, if you’re not interested in them.
  • Audit the people, places, and spaces that make up your life. Don’t be afraid to judge and own where you are in your racial equity journey, so you can then take that next step toward change.

Watch the Conversation On-Demand

Meet the Speakers

Dr. Nina Gilbert, Director of the Center for Excellence in Education at Morehouse College

Dr. Nina Gilbert is the Director of the Center for Excellence in Education at Morehouse College, and the former Senior Advisor on Education Reform for the Morehouse Research Institute. She has also served as an adjunct professor at both Morehouse College and Mercer University’s Tift College of Education.    

Prior to her transition into higher education, Dr. Gilbert served in a variety of teaching and leadership roles in the K-12 sector, and has served as an educator in district, charter, international and independent schools and founded Georgia’s first single-gender charter school, Ivy Preparatory Academy in 2008. Dr. Gilbert has also been deeply involved in education policy and community advocacy activities and has developed programs and services that promote authentic civic engagement and stakeholder collaboration.    

Dr. Gilbert is a national thought leader and education innovator and works closely with leaders from other sectors and who are in search of her expertise. In addition to consulting with agencies, non-profit organizations and school leaders, she also works in the film and entertainment industry to ensure compliance with local, state and Screen Actors Guild requirements that pertain to the education, safety, and welfare of minor actors and entertainers. She has worked extensively as an on-set educator and labor coordinator with Warner Brothers, Universal Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox, HBO and Netflix productions. She has also served as a consultant and producer for three independent films.  

Because of her many contributions to education, Dr. Gilbert has been profiled by magazines such as Rolling Out and Essence and was identified in 2013 by The Root as an Education Class Act.  She is a 2007 national recipient of Maybelline’s Beauty of Education Award, was recognized on both CNN and Fox and Friends for her commitment to her students. In her local community, Nina has been recognized as an Outstanding Georgia Citizen by the Secretary of State, NAACP and the Atlanta Business League who named as one of the 100 Most Influential Women in Atlanta.  

She has participated in several national educational fellowships including the Pahara-Aspen Fellowship, the 50 State Campaign for Achievement Now (50CAN) and Building Excellent Schools.  She holds a BA degree from the University of West Georgia, an MA degree from Clark Atlanta University and an Ed.D from the University of Pennsylvania. 

Kaya Henderson, CEO, Reconstruction

Kaya Henderson is the CEO of Reconstruction, a technology company delivering a K-12 supplemental curriculum that situates Black people, culture, and contributions in an authentic, identity-affirming way, so that students of all backgrounds benefit from a more complete understanding of our shared history and society. She is also the co-host of Pod Save the People, and leads Kaya Henderson Consulting. 

She is perhaps best known for serving as Chancellor of DC Public Schools from 2010-2016. Her tenure was marked by consecutive years of enrollment growth, an increase in graduation rates, improvements in student satisfaction and teacher retention, increases in AP participation and pass rates, and the greatest growth of any urban district on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) over multiple years. 

Kaya’s career began as a middle school Spanish teacher in the South Bronx, through Teach For America. She went on to work as a recruiter, national admissions director, and DC Executive Director for Teach for America. Henderson then served as the Vice President of Strategic Partnerships at The New Teacher Project (TNTP) until she began her tenure at DCPS as Deputy Chancellor in 2007. She most recently led the Global Learning Lab for Community Impact at Teach For All, supporting educators in more than 50 countries.  

A native of Mt. Vernon, NY, Kaya graduated from Mt. Vernon Public Schools. She received her Bachelor’s degree in International Relations and her Master of Arts in Leadership from Georgetown University, as well as honorary doctoral degrees from Georgetown and Trinity University. Her board memberships include The Aspen Institute, Curriculum Associates, Robin Hood NYC, and Teach For America, and she is the co-founder of Education Leaders of Color (EdLoC). 

Dr. LaMarr Darnell Shields, Co-Founder and Senior Director of Education and Innovation, Cambio Group

Dr. LaMarr Darnell Shields is a social entrepreneur, inspirational speaker, and educator who loves to create and build with  purpose. As  the Co-Founder and Senior Director of Education  and Innovation at the Cambio Group, and former professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Education, Dr. LaMarr Darnell Shields has dedicated his life to inspiring adults and youth alike to pursue a higher purpose, achieve sustainable value for long-term success, and cope with adversity in order to create opportunities in their personal, professional and spiritual lives. 

This bilingual author, master teacher, public speaker, social entrepreneur and thought leader is a dynamic presence who has appeared on NPR, ABC, NBC, CNN, and BET and is, according to University of Maryland Baltimore County’s President Dr. Freeman A. Hrabowski, a “courageous, visionary leader with boundless energy and an undeniable message of hope in the midst of adversity.”

His extensive experience as a scholar-practitioner in the field of racial, ethnic, and academic identity among Black and Latino male youth, coupled with his depth of experience with  fostering  inter-connectivity  and  deep  engagement  among  educators,  policy  makers, parents, and other change agents, uniquely positions him as a leader in the field. He brings with him an unparalleled level of enthusiasm and complexity to all the work he does. 

Dr. Shields works on behalf of children and young adults who are at greatest risk for school-based discrimination and/or academic failure due to poverty, disability, race, ethnicity, immigrant or English Language Learner status, sexual orientation, gender identity, homelessness, or involvement in the foster care or juvenile justice systems.

As the Special Advisor to the Blue Ribbon Commission on Educational Equity and a recipient of the 2015 Social Innovator Award,  Dr. Shields has been studying, writing about, and implementing change in schools and non-profit organizations for years. What’s more, he has tracked and measured his methods for change. And they work.