Welcome the 2021 Surge Oakland Cohort!

“Every human is an artist. The dream of your life is to make beautiful art.”

Don Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements

It is incredible to think that over two years ago, the Surge Institute became a national movement with the expansion of the Surge Fellowship to Oakland, California. Over the course, we’ve had the honor of being in community with countless Black, Latinx, and Asian/Pacific-Islander trailblazers in the Bay Area, and now we are excited to announce that 16 leaders of color from across the Oakland and Bay Area education and youth-serving landscape have been selected for the 2021 Oakland Surge Fellowship cohort! To date, Surge Oakland has had the opportunity of working with 37 Surge Fellows, all of whom have since joined Surge’s nationwide alumni network of mission-driven leaders, and we are excited to begin the next transformative chapter of this movement with the 2021 Oakland Surge Fellows:

Elaina Amos; Instructional Teacher Leader, Oakland Unified School District

Xavier Buster; Director, Alumni Engagement, Teach for America

Dana Cilono; Director, CARES for Learning

Omar Currie; Principal, Education for Change Public Schools

Denmark Diaz; Men’s Health & Sexual Violence Prevention Educator, San Francisco State University – Health Promotion and Wellness

Erin Hartfield; Academic Interventionist, Gateway Public Schools

Lauren Horton; Dean of Culture, Lighthouse Community Public Schools

Amaya Noguera; Lead of Afro-Latinx Programming, Latino Equity Project

Adam Quintero; Assistant Principal, Achieve Academy: Education for Change Public Schools

Mirella Ramirez; Teacher on Special Assignment, Instructional Coach, Oakland Unified School District

Leslye Salinas; Business Manager, Roses in Concrete Community School

John Tamrat; College Financial Coach & Partnership Coordinator, Moneythink

Mary Thomas; Program Manager, School Enrollment, SMART

Alicia Torres; Education Director, Felton Institute

Christopher Williams; Assistant Director of Admissions and Outreach Coordinator, Urban School

Brianna Winn; Director of Alder Bay Teacher Residency at Alder Graduate School of Education, Envision Education

Traditionally, the Surge Fellowship has transpired through monthly in-person sessions held at Bay Area-based organization venues focused on generating social impact for the surrounding communities, such as Girls Inc. of Alameda County and the Charles Porter Golden Gate Recreation Center. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all Surge sessions will be held virtually to ensure the safety of our community, but our gatherings will remain sacred community spaces for building critical leadership skills, collective and personal healing and galvanizing the transformative changes in education that Oakland and Bay Area youth and families of color deserve. Program Director for the Surge Fellowship in Oakland, Yvonne Rodriguez, shares:

“I’m so proud of our 2021 cohort and of all of our applicants this year. Stepping forward during these unsettled times shows their courage and commitment to making sure that they are ready for what comes next. This is a unique moment in history to be starting a fellowship like this one. The 16 Fellows will do the work of understanding the new landscape and the new possibilities that have emerged. They will strengthen their capacity for leadership by engaging and empowering the community to define what’s needed and to drive real change. This is an exciting time for Surge Oakland!”

Surge has always believed that the justice-based shifts this community seeks to generate cannot come to fruition through silos; it takes a village. And over the course of the 2021 Oakland Surge Fellowship, the cohort will center each other’s lived experiences and personal talents to realize the multi-generational impact that each fellow envisions. It is through investing in the genius that already exists in our communities and sharing that with the world that Surge Fellows accelerate forward as authentic, heartfelt champions of their work.

The Surge Fellowship began in Chicago in 2015, with the goal of expanding diversity in the education leadership pipeline, and over the past 5 years, this movement has extended its reach far and wide, activating, elevating, and connecting mission-driven education and youth-serving leaders of color across the nation. 2021 Surge Oakland Fellow Adam Quintero explains what this experience will mean for him:

“The Surge Fellowship is not a typical educational leadership program for many reasons that I admire it for. It is a movement because it empowers leaders of color to rethink and redesign education. Surge does not focus solely on the technical pieces of being a school leader; it puts a tremendous emphasis on mindset and equity. Its mission is to change the face of leadership in urban education, and I am eager to learn how to do that. It excites me that 87% of Surge Alumni report changing policies/ practices and/or creating system-level change, as I do not just want to live in theory. Especially now in a time where we can disconnect from brick and mortar and take a step back to truly reflect on systems that exist and maintain the status quo at schools, I want to be a part of a collective that fosters action. I want to be prepared to dismantle systems of oppression that exist in education,” shared Adam Quintero, Assistant Principal, Achieve Academy: Education for Change Public Schools.

Stay up-to-date with any news and developments of the Surge movement by following us on social media @Surge_Institute and @Surge_Oakland!


Surge Academy and The Mind Trust announce Indianapolis launch of an executive program for leaders of color in education





Two virtual gatherings for interested applicants will be offered in April, hosted by Surge Institute Founder and President Carmita Semaan

(Indianapolis, IN – April 1, 2020) The Surge Academy, a program that spends six months developing, elevating and uniting emerging education leaders of color, will be expanding to the city of Indianapolis, IN.

Designed by the Surge Institute, the Surge Academy provides an intensive fellowship experience, packed with powerful content that explores executive skills such as finance, strategic planning and change management. The experience also includes a deep and unflinching dialogue about personal growth, trauma and the true state of diversity, equity and inclusion in America. Beginning in 2019, the program brought together a cohort of 11 African-American and Latinx emerging leaders to explore how to transform education in Kansas City to best serve all youth and communities. In addition, the program is currently working with the second Kansas City cohort composed of 17 education leaders of color.

Jennifer Collier, a 2019 Surge Academy Alumna and Chief Human Resources Officer at Kansas City Public Schools explains what the Surge journey has meant for her: “My Surge experience has reignited my passion and will to be a champion for equity, justice and liberation for myself, my community and other disenfranchised groups.”

The expansion of the Surge Academy to Indianapolis is made possible with the partnership of The Mind Trust, an education focused non-profit organization whose mission is to provide every student in Indianapolis, no exceptions, with access to a high-quality education. The Mind Trust has supported the launch of 29 schools in Indianapolis that currently serve 10,018 students and will collectively serve over 13,500 at scale. Through the Innovation School Fellowship, The Mind Trust provides expert support and planning time to talented school leaders. Eighty percent of current School Fellows identify as leaders of color.

The Mind Trust is committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion in all aspects of its work to ensure present and future educational success for all students in Indianapolis. Supporting the launch of Surge Academy in Indianapolis is part of the organization’s commitment to empowering and elevating leaders of color.

“Indianapolis education leaders of color want and deserve access to excellent executive leadership development and a strong, authentic community where they can find support from others who share their same lived experience. Surge Academy offers a space for leaders of color to fully acknowledge their cultural identity, build each other up professionally, and join a national network of change-makers,” said Patrick Jones, Senior Director of School Incubation at The Mind Trust.

Upon graduating from the Surge Academy, fellows join a national network of Surge alumni bolstering a sprawling movement of rising education leaders of color, from Oakland to Chicago to Washington D.C. and beyond, united in the purpose of a greater future.

Carmita Semaan, Founder and President of the Surge Institute, says this expansion is the next step in further serving youth and communities of color who deserve authentic and dynamic education leaders.

“I couldn’t be more thrilled to have been invited to expand our rich and impactful work to Indianapolis. The interest and love we’ve received thus far have been tremendously affirming. It also validates what we’ve come to learn – our people are SO hungry for investment in and elevation of their collective genius to change the game for young people who deserve every opportunity to shine and thrive,” said Semaan.

The Surge Institute will also host two Virtual #SurgeCircle Chats with Carmita Semaan on April 14 and April 24. These e-gatherings are an opportunity to be in community and learn more about the Surge Academy as well as the recruitment process. You can register by clicking the corresponding dates above. Applications for the Surge Academy will open on April 17.

Visit the Surge Academy website to learn more about the program and to apply. Sign up for the Surge Institute email list to stay informed about upcoming events and developments. You can follow the Surge Institute and The Mind Trust on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube.

About The Surge Institute

The Surge Institute is a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that was established with a simple but important mission to develop and elevate leaders of color who create transformative change for children, families, and communities. Founded by Carmita Semaan in 2014, the organization was designed to empower emerging diverse leaders to change the landscape of education by providing them with a unique, authentic leadership development experience. To learn more about The Surge Institute, please visit: www.surgeinstitute.org

About The Mind Trust

The Mind Trust is an Indianapolis-based education nonprofit organization that works to build a system of schools that gives every student in Indianapolis, no exceptions, access to a high-quality education. The Mind Trust does this by building a supportive environment for schools through policy and community engagement, empowering talented educators to launch new schools, and providing existing schools with the support they need to hire world-class talent and achieve excellence. Since 2006, The Mind Trust has supported the launch of 29 schools and helped place more than 1,500 teachers and school leaders in Indianapolis classrooms. More information can be found at themindtrust.org.


Recruitment for the 2021 Surge Oakland Fellowship begins

“And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

As the Surge movement enters its fifth year and we continue to elevate and connect with our 2020 Surge Oakland Fellows, we are excited to announce the beginning of recruitment for our 2021 Surge Oakland Fellowship cohort! 

In the current education climate, there still exists a need for equitable shifts in order to mold a better future for our communities of color. The Surge Institute addresses this need by uniting, elevating, and empowering leaders of color in the education and youth-serving space through the transformational experience that is the Surge Fellowship. It is an experience that brings together emerging African-American, Latinx, and AAPI leaders so that they can realize systemic change that leads to equitable educational outcomes for today’s young people.

Surge Alumni also continue to take on positions of greater leadership and have a multigenerational impact across the education landscape, and they each passionately share how their Surge Fellowship experience has helped them tap into their full potential. Our 2020 Oakland Fellow Gabriel Sanchez said it well:

“I see the Surge Fellowship as a mechanism for change that has no definite limits in terms of its sphere of influence, but as a manifestation of the legacies of our ancestors – a movement that combines force and cariño (care) to not only develop the academic but cultivate the human from within. I envision the Surge Fellowship as a sanctuary for people of color to reclaim their identity, heal, indigenize schools, challenge white supremacy, decolonize systems, and empower disenfranchised communities.” 

The Surge Fellowship is unlike any other leadership program experience. We focus on the head, heart, and soul of our leaders and emphasize the importance of collective impact, all while dreaming big for racial justice and equity for youth, families, and communities of color.

We encourage all educational leaders in the Bay Area who are interested in joining this movement to attend any of our recruitment events listed below.

This movement is real, it is transformative, and now is the time to join.


Check back HERE to see updates and logistics for all Oakland recruitment events


“Healing & Power in the Matrix” Leaders of Color in Education

Thursday, March 26th

We invite you to join the Surge Community for an evening dedicated to the practice of self-care. We will engage in fellowship, guided meditation, personal reflection and candid conversations for healing and recovering our power as leaders of color in education.


Latinx Leaders in Education Mixer

Tuesday, April 14th

Come connect with Bay Area Latinx leaders in education and learn more about the Surge Fellowship and our growing movement in education.

“Is the Surge Fellowship right for you?” Live Informational Webinar

Monday, May 4th

Interested in becoming a Surge Fellow? Register for a live webinar to learn more about the application process for our 2021 Surge Oakland Fellowship.

Surge Community Happy Hour

Monday, May 11th

Save the date for an opportunity to be learn more about the Surge Fellowship from the perspective of Surge Oakland Alumni as well as current Fellows.

Introducing the Surge Academy | Indianapolis

It has been a blessing to watch the Surge movement grow and evolve since our humble beginning back in 2015, and we are honored to continue to serve and collaborate with the communities and leaders of Chicago, Oakland, and Kansas City. Of course, as a National movement, we are committed to continued growth and impact in our mission to elevate and empower leaders of color across the country. 

In a sentiment left to us by the brilliant Maya Angelou, like air, our people and this movement will continue to rise

Without further ado, Surge is excited to officially announce the Surge Institute is expanding the Surge Academy to Indianapolis, Indiana! The Surge Academy develops, elevates, and unites emerging leaders of color as they further transform the education landscape in their communities. Since its beginning in 2019, the Surge Academy has worked with 28 African-American and Latinx leaders within Kansas City, and we are excited to continue the growth of this work into Indianapolis in partnership with The Mind Trust, an education-focused nonprofit organization. You can visit our Surge Academy webpage to learn more.

In addition, if you know of a leader who you think would benefit from learning more or applying to the Surge Academy in Indianapolis, please refer that leader through this form.

For updates and new developments on the Surge Academy, follow our newly launched Twitter and Instagram profiles, as well as the Surge Institute on Facebook and LinkedIn. It truly is an exciting time to be a part of this growing movement. Thank you for your continued love and support!

The Surge Institute welcomes new Vice President of National Programs

(Chicago, IL) – The national movement to elevate transformative leaders in education just entered a new chapter as education innovator Rodney Thomas begins a new journey leading program strategy as Vice President of National Programs at the Surge Institute. The role is critical in continuing to ensure sustainability for the Surge Institute’s current Surge Fellowship and Surge Academy sites as well as laying the programmatic groundwork for future expansion. The organization is thrilled to be adding to the phenomenal energy and heart of the Surge team to continue to drive impact and elevate leaders of color who are dedicated to serving the nation’s youth.

Rodney joins the Surge Institute with vast experience in the education, private and nonprofit sectors, most recently serving as a Senior Associate at the National Equity Project where he was responsible for designing and providing unique leadership and organizational development solutions that focused on technical, relational, social, and cultural aspects of complex change efforts focused on educational equity.

He began his career as an 8th grade teacher in Chicago Public Schools where he was honored as Teacher of the Year. After spending several years in the classroom, Rodney transitioned into the private sector and worked for companies such as Accenture, Motorola, and Unilever, with a focus on organizational development and design, executive coaching, change management and leadership development. Rodney later returned to Chicago Public Schools and was responsible for several large-scale projects from the implementation of Freshman On Track to the co-creation of The Chicago Leadership Collaborative, a principal training and support program.

Rodney Thomas engaging Surge Fellows of the 2020 Chicago cohort.

“I’m most excited about having the opportunity to work with the amazing leaders who make up the Surge Institute,” said Thomas. In his new role, Rodney will set and execute the vision and direction for the content of the Surge Fellowship and Academy programs across all regions; he will design Surge core curriculum and work with regional program staff to ensure high-fidelity implementation. The role will also have a strong focus on introducing new, innovative program opportunities beyond the Surge Fellowship and Surge Academy, driving the Surge Institute into the future of what’s next within the fields of executive leadership and diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

Thomas continued, “In my career, I have never had the experience of working in an organization that’s comprised of all leaders of color, that’s pretty powerful! As VP of National Programs, I’m also excited to play a part in co-designing the fellowship experience for Surge Fellows and see the impact of building leadership capacity for leaders of color across the US. Over the last few years, Surge has created a movement across the educational landscape and I’m super excited to be a member of this very special community.”

“Rodney has been a featured speaker for our Fellowship programming for a number of years and his unique blend of enthusiasm, deep expertise, humility, and unwavering commitment to the elevation and excellence of people of color make him an ideal formal addition to our team.” said Surge Institute Founder & President Carmita Semaan. “Rodney dreams big when he thinks about the future of Surge. And he pairs that passion for innovation and ingenuity with a keen appreciation for the systems, processes, and structures required to help us get there with high fidelity. The future of the Surge Institute has never been brighter and that future will inevitably be illuminated even further with this wonderful addition to our team.”

The Surge Institute is blessed to welcome Rodney Thomas to the team and looks forward to connecting and working to introduce the next facet of transformative executive leadership programming for emerging leaders of color.

Surge Oakland hosts Transformative Fireside Chat with Dr. Bettina Love!

Oakland, CA – On January 31st, the Surge Oakland community held a Fireside Chat with Dr. Bettina Love to discuss her book We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom. The evening also featured a dialogue on topics such as the current state of U.S. education, abolitionist teaching, and mental health prioritization for education leaders. Hosted at The Flight Deck in downtown Oakland, the space was filled with spirited leaders of color from all realms in education who are committed to serving our young people and communities. 

Surge Alumnus and Executive Director of the Urban Ed Academy, Randy Seriguchi, Jr. kicked off the evening by sharing a few words on the importance of being in community with other leaders of color who are in an uphill battle to equitably serve families in the Bay Area and beyond.

“To be in the spaces we work in means we have to be unapologetic. And that’s what Surge is,” Seriguchi stated. He also shared his own vision for change in the Bay Area, connecting back to his 2018 Surge Fellowship capstone project, which centered on providing housing for Black male teachers in the Bay Area to alleviate the unexceptionally high living cost in the area for these leaders that the schools and their students need.

Afterwards, Surge Alumni Nicole Magtoto (2018) and Adanta Ahanonu (2019) led the collective through an exercise using the San Francisco Coalition of Essential Small Schools’ (SF-CESS) “Race Cards,” a medium that allows for authentic dialogue on racial healing and reflective discourse. Dr. Bettina Love reflected on a prompt relating to microaggressions experienced and the weight that is attached. She stated, “I don’t believe in microaggressions. I believe in aggression,” sharing that the “micro” component oftentimes gives leeway for white counterparts to escape seeing their statements or actions as inherently racist and/or ignorant.

Transitioning into the evening’s central topics, Dr. Love then touched on what it means to be an abolitionist and abolitionist teaching. She shared “To be an abolitionist means to put it on the line, to fight for it, to do what’s necessary for our Black children.” The conversation’s subject matter also intersected with that of allyship, specifically white allyship, and Dr. Love shared, “It (allyship) is not a mutual thing between us and white folks. I want them to use their privilege and be co-conspirators in order to truly support our communities.” The stigmatization of mental health within communities of color was also a topic of discussion in addition to its presence in one’s workplace. “We can’t have justice if we’re not well,” Dr. Love stated, and she continued, “I think as educators, we should all be in therapy, especially if you’re a parent. It has been one of the most wonderful journeys for me.” The gathering concluded with an emphasis on the mantra “just be;” as leaders of color in education, but more importantly just people, we need not always focus on the work or what the next venture may be. Dr. Love concluded the evening by sharing, “There is nothing that shines a light on white mediocrity like Black excellence.”

The Surge Oakland community is truly thankful for having a chance to have a transformative dialogue with Dr. Love on our collective work as educators and change-makers. You can follow her on social media @BLoveSoulPower or www.BettinaLove.com where you can also get a copy of We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom.

About the Surge Institute:

The Surge Institute was established in 2014 with a simple but important mission to develop and elevate leaders of color who create transformative change for children, families, and communities. Founded by Carmita Semaan in 2014, the organization’s signature program, the Surge Fellowship, was designed to empower emerging diverse leaders to change the landscape of education by providing them with a unique, authentic leadership development experience.

#SurgeForMore 2019 Sees a Milestone in the Movement!

The 2019 #SurgeForMore giving campaign recently concluded with the usher of a new decade, and we were blown away by the incredible wave of generous donations and support for our work and community. Thanks to all of the amazing donors, we were able to surpass our original goal of $150,000 to support programming that elevates and unites a coalition of emerging education leaders of color who make an impact on our youth and communities of color.

With an amazing grand total of $166,563, we knocked it out of the park and raised over sixty thousand dollars more than our 2018 #SurgeForMore total!

This milestone could not have happened without the support from YOU, our village and family. In addition, we would like to thank our generous match donors: three anonymous match supporters provided $25,000, $20,000, and $10,000 respectively, and the San Francisco Foundation provided $2,500!

We humbly appreciate all who donated to 2019’s #SurgeForMore giving campaign and thank you for your continuous love and support of this work. We could not have done it without you. If you haven’t had a chance to give, it’s never too late! In fact, you can join the Surge Impact Community, a group of investors who have committed to supporting this movement with a monthly recurring donation.

Once again, thank you for being a part of this movement, and be sure to follow us on social media to stay in touch with the latest Surge news and updates!




  1. (of a crowd or a natural force) move suddenly and powerfully forward or upward.
  2. authentically and unapologetically strive for transformative impact.

“the movement makers collectively surge for youth and communities of color across the nation”

Welcome the Kansas City 2020 Surge Academy Fellows!

We are proud to announce that 17 leaders of color who currently serve within the Kansas City education landscape have been selected for the 2020 Surge Academy Fellowship

The Surge Institute initially began by serving Chicago-based communities in 2015, with the total number of our National Surge Alumni reaching over 100 education leaders of color this past August. We warmly welcome our new family members to our community, which values intentionality in elevating our strengths and reclaiming our collective narrative as executive leaders of color in education. Throughout this experience, Surge Academy Fellows will explore innovative and far-reaching approaches to transforming urban education for our youth and communities.

The following is a list of the 2020 Kansas City Surge Academy Fellows:

Over the course of the program, Surge Academy Fellows will receive executive skill training, a space for connection and coalition building, and the tools needed to facilitate transformative change within institutions and organizations serving youth in Kansas City. In addition, the cohort will delve into modules of powerful content that explores topics such as finance and change management, all while having an ongoing dialogue about personal growth, trauma and the true state of diversity, equity and inclusion in the United States. 

After completion of the program, graduating Academy Fellows become part of an elite and growing national network of Surge Alumni who are continuously leading equitable change in education across the nation. The inaugural Surge Academy cohort recently graduated in June 2019, and they continue to be transformative change-makers as well as empowered champions on their communities.

“As a Surge Fellow, I hope to increase my leadership capacity to challenge the status quo while connecting with other leaders to contend with issues on the educational landscape that are rooted in socio-historical oppressive narratives and beliefs to help our students to reach the pinnacle of their academic success. Furthermore, I seek to broaden my knowledge base and skills to create powerful change in the system and I am positive that the networks and coaching in the Surge Academy will help me to not only join the movement but help others to catch fire as well,” said Jermaine Wilson, 2020 Kansas City Surge Academy Fellow and Director of Counseling and Support Services/AVID District Director at Kansas City Public Schools.

“More than ever, we need courageous leaders that will push the conversation and actions further to ensure that African-American and Latinx youth are given a rigorous education that will help them to navigate the waters of life successfully,” continued Wilson.

If you would like to learn more about the Surge Institute and support this movement, visit us at www.surgeinstitute.org and follow us on social media @SurgeFellowship! Once again, congratulations to our 17 new family members!

The Surge Academy is made possible with funding from the following partners: Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, Hall Family Foundation, the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation and the George K. Baum Family Foundation respectively.