In this month’s Staff Spotlight, we are highlighting 5 of KIPP Indy’s Black female leaders: LaToya Black, Brittney Almond, Shaina Neal, ShaDe’ Watson, and Brittany Crawford.  In the article below, each leader shares what they love about themselves, how their identity as a Black woman impacts their work at KIPP Indy, and how we can celebrate and amplify the voices of Black women.

Shaina Neal, Director of Student Services at KIPP Indy Legacy High

What role does your identity as a Black woman play in your work at KIPP Indy?

There isn’t a single thing I do that isn’t rooted in who I am as a Black woman or the struggles I’ve faced as a factor of being one. When I think about these struggles it makes it easy to relate to my students. Aside from my ethnicity, I’m a Black woman from the Bronx, and my neighborhood and upbringing mirrors where I choose to work. My experiences influence every interaction I have. Education has always been a window for me. I spent my childhood reading books and planning my success. The quote “Be the kind of teacher you wish you had in school” leads me in everything I do. I joined every club and organization, I took every AP class I could and I worked 3x as hard without any mentors or real help in school. When I think about what I could have accomplished under the leadership of even one Black woman in high school, I am saddened. Not that I am not proud of where I am, but how much more could I have done with the guidance of someone who understood my struggles? My family? My culture? When I created our merit and demerit system, these were the things I held in mind.

Why does representation matter in school leadership?

All over the world, students I have taught and or led will never be able to say they didn’t have an example of what a successful Black woman looks like. I have taught in Arizona, Georgia, Indianapolis, Korea, England, and Spain and that was not something I saw Black women (or Black people in general) doing. I didn’t know it was possible for someone who looked like me, spoke like me, and from where I was from, to do these things. In everything I do, I try to bring my authentic, south Bronx, “Soundview projects” self in tandem with my self proclaimed educational “Dopeness” and expertise. I want my students to learn before they graduate what took me years to figure out and navigate: you can be both. That’s what representation does. It shows that success does not only look like a tall white man in a business suit. It can be a short black woman with hoop earrings yelling “Yasssssssss, sis!”

What do you love about being a Black woman?

Chileeeee. So many things. The fact that I know every black woman reading this read it in the exact voice I intended, is just one aspect that demonstrates how strong our culture is. I love our voices when they are amplified and strong. I love our “I see you in that skirt” and “you killing it, sis” compliments. I hate those narratives that women don’t like each other because that is absolutely not true. I love our hair and the hues of our skin. I love our comedy and cultural inside jokes. Most importantly, I love that I am a Black woman in a position to the change the lives of other Black women.

LaToya Black, Director of Student Services at KIPP Indy Unite Elementary

What role does your identity as a Black woman play in your work at KIPP Indy?

Being a woman who is Black is central to my overall identity and the way in which I process things around me. Given that I share the same racial identity with majority of our students, my identity also helps me relate to students and parents in a more familiar way – but my emotional intelligence and commitment to uplifting Black and Brown families allows for great rapport and relationships. Finally, it’s imperative in my work that positive school discipline and restorative justice practices are practiced so that stereotypes and miseducation about the behaviors of ‘Black children’ in particular are dismantled and eradicated.

Why does representation matter in school leadership?  

Representation matters immensely. You can’t aspire to be what you don’t see. Black school leadership is extremely important in our schools since majority of our students share our racial identity. It’s important to have Black women at the decision-making table. We provide meaningful insight and rich perspectives that truly help to positively impact our Black and Brown students and their families.

What do you love about being a Black woman?  

There are far too many reasons to name. It’s truly a blessing! But what immediately comes to mind is my versatility, brilliance, and determination. I have heard my elders say, “Our ancestors haunt our dreams to see themselves forward.” Black women before me endured so that I can. And I will. 

What are ways we can celebrate and amplify the voices of Black women in our city and country today?

Give us a seat at the table. Celebrate us when we build our own table. Recognize our talent and voice as an asset and not a threat. See us as your equal because we are. We are phenomenal, multi-faceted beings who our city, country, and the world need to move forward toward a better tomorrow. Our struggle is our strength.

ShaDe’ Watson, Assistant School Leader at KIPP Indy College Prep Middle  

What role does your identity as a Black woman play in your work at KIPP Indy?  

My identity as a Black woman plays a major role in the work that I do. I am unapologetically Black, and I teach my students to be the same every day. When walking through the building and interacting with staff and students, it’s important that I show confidence. This allows my students to see how a confident and successful Black woman carries herself. Overall, my identity allows me to be a role model; it shows students that regardless of your race or situation, you can achieve if you work hard. 

What do you love about being a Black woman?

Everything! What is there not to love? My skin color is envied by the same people that want to imitate it. My hair represents the highest level of versatility. Just being me makes people look and pay attention. There’s so much rich culture in not only being Black, but being a woman. We not only have race against us, but we also have gender against us. Even with that, we’re able to progress and take a stand for what is due to us. Even with the idea of privilege looming, I would never want to be anything other than a black woman. My ancestors were strong and resilient, and their spirits live on with each and every one of us. That alone is what I love about being a Black woman.

What are ways we can celebrate and amplify the voices of Black women in our city and country today?

I think the first step would be to listen to them. We still live in an age where Black women aren’t valued and listened to. The second would be to elevate them to places of leadership so that they have an easier avenue to share their experiences and to create change in our society. When I say this, I mean to equal places of leadership, not just leadership. When we look at Kamala Harris, we see that she didn’t have the same level of support when running for President versus when running for Vice President. Why do we think that is? Even when we look at Black women in leadership, we still see that there is a glass ceiling that is set. We shouldn’t live in a society where “having a first Black” anything should be a thing. You want to celebrate and amplify the voices of Black women, dismantle the system that created a society that tells people they’re less than.

Brittney Almond, Director of Instruction at KIPP Indy Unite Elementary

What role does your identity as a Black woman play in your work at KIPP Indy?

My identity as a Black woman is foundational to my work at KIPP Indy. As the Director of Instruction for grades 3-5, I am the only Black person in a non-disciplinary leadership position. So often Black employees are given a role that requires them to be the disciplinarian in the building because we “know how to handle the kids.” Representation is real and kids will be what they see. Having leaders representative of their community to interact with outside of disciplinarians is critical. I’ll admit, we are typically, naturally more culturally responsive; however, our brilliance extends far beyond chastising kids. Coaching teachers allows me to ensure our students are being challenged versus given easier work when something is falsely deemed “too hard” for them. It enables me to help teachers adjust their lessons to make them more culturally relevant. It provides me the opportunity to model strong relationships with students and families for our teachers, and to create positive learning environments that elevate/empower the voices of our kids.

Why does representation matter in school leadership?  

How the world sees Black people has everything to do with how we are portrayed in society. The education system is not exempt. Of course, studies have shown that representation improves students’ outcomes and strengthens communities. However, to me, the main reason representation matters in school leadership is because it shapes how our kids view themselves. There’s power in seeing someone in a position of authority and leadership that looks like you.

How did representation of people of color in leadership impact your own professional experience?

I have had the pleasure of being surrounded by leaders of color throughout my professional career. Everyone always brings a unique perspective which guides personal reflection around my own beliefs and convictions. In particular, being surround by Black women professionals has taught me how to navigate professional spaces and advocate for myself, while maintaining authenticity.  

What do you love about being a Black woman?

I love everything about being a Black woman! We are beautiful, strong, and resilient. Our skin absorbs sun rays, and our hair defies gravity.

What are ways we can celebrate and amplify the voices of Black women in our city and country today?

Ways that we can celebrate and amplify the voices of Black women in our city and country are the following: First, celebrate Black women year-round, not only when it seems popular; Second, include our stories as a part of standard history lessons, not just during Black History Month (I should’ve learned about Katherine Johnson before Hidden Figures, especially when I was forced to remember who Robert E. Lee was long before seeing Gettysburg.); and finally listen, respect, and pay Black women.

Brittany Crawford, Director of Special Education at KIPP Indy College Prep Middle  

What role does your identity as a Black woman play in your work at KIPP Indy? 

As a Black Woman, I’m often honored to be an honorary member of student’s family when they call me mom and auntie. As an educator, I know it’s important to build healthy relationships with students. They care more when they know their cared for. I believe students have gained a trust in me because we have similarities in identity as well as background stories in some situations. 

Why does representation matter in school leadership?  

As a Black woman, we had a history of being the minority in leadership roles and in countless situations that can lead to true impact. With the world changing daily and knowing that all people should be treated equally, black women have made strides to take our place in order to make a difference. When we see other black women in roles of power, it removes the old fact that women can’t and empowers other black women to continue to work hard towards goals.

We have a KIPP Alum who has always stated she will be the first black female president. Hearing her make this claim at such a young age inspired me to work harder to grow into a leader that could support more dreams, goals, and visions of our young black girls. Now with Madam Vice President, Kamala Harris standing in a position, she is a reminder that we can do anything we put our minds to.

How did representation of people of color in leadership impact your own professional experience?

As a young girl the only person of color in leadership I witnessed was my elementary school principal. I did not recognize the power of this until I was older. Once I attended an HBCU I saw more black women in higher positions but soon identified the need to see more. As there still was not enough hard working women being recognized for their impactful work. When I started my teaching career, I was elated to work under Aleesia Johnson. She is an immense role model, which inspired me to teach purposefully and lead others with love and ambition.

What do you love about being a Black woman?  

I love my culture. We are a people full of love, life, and traditions. We have a rich history.