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.