RHONDA BROUSSARD ON ADVANCING MULTIPLE SOLUTIONS

ABOUT THE COMPASS LEADERS

EdLoC’s Third Way Values drive all we do- they ground us in our work and help us chart a path forward. Within our membership there are leaders whose example serves as a compass, a North Star, guiding us in our own work. Our Compass Leaders series is a chance to see what our values look like in action and to lift up members who are truly exemplifying one of our values in all they do.

With our June Value focus on Advancing Multiple Solutions, we were honored to highlight the important work that Beloved’s Rhonda Broussard is doing with her organization. Beloved takes a holistic approach to addressing the big issues we face as communities, creating cross-sector partners to tackle community problems. In the spirit of Pride, we also wanted to celebrate Rhonda for the important work she has done to elevate the voices of LGBTQ people of color in the education sector.

ABOUT RHONDA

Tell us about yourself. Where did you grow up? What was your educational experience like?

I was raised by my grandparents in Lafayette, Louisiana. In school, we were taught French language and the history of the white Cajun founders, but very little about our Black and indigenous Creole community. My grandparents were all native Creole speakers (Kouri Vini) who learned to speak English in school. Being raised by my grandparents in the ’70s and ’80s meant that I was able to witness the joy that my grandmother had in her language. She went to Southern University, she worked for our local school district—her English was fine. But Friday night card games, Sunday morning coffee, gossiping on the phone—all of the joy and passion in her life was reserved for Creole. I wanted to share in that joyful expression with her. As a 12-year-old, I decided that I would speak French, raise my children in French, and try to piece together my identity in the global francophone community. I never thought it would influence my career path.

My grandmother was a secretary for our school district, so she knew to get me tested for the gifted and talented program when I was young. I went from HeadStart and our Black-led neighborhood elementary school to being bussed across town and attending gifted programs at three different elementary schools. As a result, I learned really early what inequity in education looked like. By age 16, I had left home for our state boarding school while my uncle, who was just a few months older than me, was leaving home for prison. School had treated us very differently and, at 17, I knew that education was my social justice issue.

What does Beloved do and why were you inspired to found it?

Before Michael Brown, Jr. was killed in 2014, I was an education zealot. I really believed that if we got it right in K-12, we could change our society and change trajectories for our young people. I had founded and was leading a CMO of language immersion and IB schools in St. Louis. I knew the impact of language loss in my home community and wanted to build a space where Black and Brown youth could be proud to have two languages.

We ground ourselves in the Martin Luther King, Jr. quote that “Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.” Our work is built on the belief that we have to advance multiple intersectional solutions in order to get to sustainable change.

Until Michael Brown, Jr. was killed, I thought that education was enough. His diploma didn’t keep him from getting profiled by the police and definitely didn’t stop the bullet. As an educator, as a Black mama with a young son, I was undone. One of our school buildings, where my children attended school and my offices were located, was directly across the street from the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. I was overwhelmed that year with the feeling that I couldn’t keep our children safe. I started designing Beloved from this heart space.

We ground ourselves in the Martin Luther King, Jr. quote that “Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.” Our work is built on the belief that we have to advance multiple intersectional solutions in order to get to sustainable change. Even if schools could get it right for all of our young people, education systems alone wouldn’t be enough to protect or prepare them for living their fullest lives.

Tell us more about Beloved.

At Beloved, we work at the nexus of Equity in Schools, Equity at Work, and Equity at Home—three strands that touch everyone’s life—to drive regional change in outcomes for our communities. That includes: 

  • Our consulting practice, where we work with leadership teams to audit their practices, develop equitable and inclusive practices, and train their staff in implementation; 
  • Our community cohort series, where we bring together leadership teams from different organizations or schools in a region to participate in an eight-month study on equity in their operations;
  • Our research practices—we’ve just launched a three-year study on Equity in Schools; and
  • Policy advocacy recommendations.

Following the police killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Tony McDade, I’m even clearer now that working directly to dismantle systemic racism is the work of the Beloved community.

Why is it so important for school systems and nonprofits to connect in order to advance multiple solutions simultaneously? How does Beloved help facilitate that?

Nothing about our education system is neutral. If schools are sending young graduates into a workforce where they are systematically unemployed or underemployed, where they can’t earn a living wage or advance, we have to make changes on both ends of the system. Beloved works with individual organizations and businesses across the spectrum to operationalize their equity commitments.

What’s a good example of this in your work?

When I started Beloved in 2017, some education leaders were skeptical of joining an equity community of practice. They saw themselves in competition with other schools and didn’t want to name their vulnerabilities in a room with their competitors. At Beloved, we’re not trying to get equity right for one school, CMO, or district, but for all the schools in the region. That requires some long-term collaboration. I’m proud to say that, this year, we’ve launched two programs that are built on collaboration across charter and district leaders. Our national Equity in Schools research study is specifically bringing together charters, districts, autonomous/innovation schools, and inter-district magnets. Our Equity in Schools cohort in New Orleans is bringing together schools, CMOs, and afterschool programs to deepen inclusion and equity for young people across the city. That’s huge! 

How does your identity as an LGBTQ leader help you in your work?

I realized early in my education career that being an out lesbian provided a safe space and cover for our LGBTQ students. At times, my advocacy meant facing disciplinary action, and I was ok with that. What you’re not going to do is keep erasing our kids and our families from school. When you add sexual orientation and gender identity to any disparity data, our outcomes are worse, especially for our trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming loves.

All of my social identities have impacted our work at Beloved. We live in the space of intersectionality, especially getting leaders of color to identify who they are still pushing to the margins. We’re very clear that, as you’re building your anti-racist practices, you have to take responsibility for who you’re choosing to center in this new paradigm. It hurts my heart to imagine a future of Black and Brown liberation that isn’t built with and for the love of LGBTQIA families like mine.

How are you seeing the COVID crisis impact the organizations you serve? What recommendations would you make to them around their plans moving forward?

In the immediate response to COVID, our partners were prioritizing basic needs for students and families who suddenly lost their safety nets. In the next wave, we saw our partners requesting targeted support on how to develop community engagement in a virtual setting, how to communicate and build belonging in a virtual community, and sometimes just how to technically run an engaging Zoom facilitation. The biggest concerns that we’re hearing now are about scenario planning. We wish we had a crystal ball to help schools and youth-serving organizations know what to plan for the fall. There are lots of lessons in COVID, but as leaders keep planning their contingencies, we would encourage them to center their most vulnerable populations first. How are you serving homeless and highly mobile students? How are you serving students with significant IEP modifications? How are you serving English learners? What culture of belonging and safety you are creating for your school community? This is the time to lean into your public health and social service partnerships for the benefit of all students and families. 

If you could recommend a few key policies or practices that would improve things dramatically for our communities, what would they be?

Update your HR clauses. The Supreme Court ruled last week that employment discrimination against LGBT employees is unconstitutional. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) includes sexual orientation and gender identity in their protected identities. You can too! 

Update your PD content. Include studies of anti-racism, anti-Blackness, xenophobia, homophobia, and transphobia. Especially if you have a majority Black, Latinx, or POC staff. None of our experiences are monolithic and our Black and Brown-led schools need to examine how oppression shows up within our communities.

Know your rights. Prior to the Supreme Court ruling, 30 states still allowed employment discrimination against LGBT people. Find out here if you live or work in one of them. Twenty-eight states still allow housing discrimination against LGBT people. Find out here if you live or work in one of them.

Protect queer students.

GLSEN has tons of K-12 curriculum guides and resources for teachers, counselors, and administrators.

About EdLoC

Education Leaders of Color (EdLoC) is a community of more than 300 leaders of color working to elevate the leadership, voices and influence of people of color in education and to leading more inclusive efforts to improve education. EdLoC aims to advance a third way that breaks through the polarizing divides that have consumed efforts to improve public education and to forge the alliances needed to realize and sustain EdLoC’s vision of providing low-income children of color expansive and substantive opportunities for the highest levels of academic and economic attainment.