The 1954 Project Network - our Luminaries and Beacons - brilliantly shine a light on a future that affirms our culture and our students.
These established Black leaders embody excellence in the areas of Diversity in Education, Innovation in Teaching and Learning, and Pathways to Economic Mobility.
Selected from a highly competitive annual pool, Luminaries lead organizations across the United States that have an incalculable impact on our communities.
Each Luminary receives $1 million in unrestricted funding along with a suite of professional supports.
Alexandra Bernadotte is the founder and CEO of Beyond 12, a high-tech, high-touch nonprofit that integrates personalized coaching with mobile technology to increase the number of traditionally underserved students who graduate from college and translate their degrees into meaningful employment and choice-filled lives. She has more than 18 years of executive management and strategic development experience in the nonprofit and private sectors. Immediately before launching Beyond 12, Alex was an entrepreneur in residence at NewSchools Venture Fund where she developed the business plan for Beyond 12.
Alex's previous professional experience includes serving as executive director of The Princeton Review's Silicon Valley office; executive director of Foundation for a College Education; co-founder and vice president of marketing at educational travel company Explorica; director of operations at EF Education; and operations manager at the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland, where she coordinated the efforts of an international youth substance abuse prevention foundation. Alex currently serves on the board of directors of Cengage Group, the board of advisors of the Magnuson Center for Entrepreneurship, and the Presidential Commission for Financial Aid at Dartmouth College.
Alex received her undergraduate degree from Dartmouth and earned a master's degree with a concentration in policy and organizational leadership from Stanford. She is an Ashoka Fellow, a recipient of the 2011 NewSchools Venture Fund Entrepreneur of the Year award, a Jefferson Award for Public Service winner, a Dartmouth College Social Justice Award and Stanford University Alumni Excellence in Education Award honoree, and a Fellow of the 22nd class of the Pahara - Aspen Education Fellowship. Beyond 12 was named one of the world's ten most innovative education companies by Fast Company, and the organization’s MyCoach mobile app won the 2016 Xammy Award for best social impact app from Xamarin, a Microsoft- owned mobile development platform.
Christopher "Chris" Chatmon is CEO of Kingmakers of Oakland (KOO). Chatmon founded KOO and served as the first Executive Director of the African American Male Achievement (“AAMA”) for the Oakland Unified School District (“OUSD”) Chatmon has also served as the Deputy Chief of Equity and Sr Advisor on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for the Office of the Superintendent. Chatmon was named as a “Leader to Learn From” by Education Week magazine. Chatmon was selected as a Campaign for Black Male Achievement “Social Innovation Accelerator” because he is committed to improving life outcomes for all youth and especially African American males. Chatmon is passionate about uplifting the African American community and has dedicated his career and life work to creating pathways of success within Oakland and beyond. Prior to working with OUSD, Chatmon was the Principal of an alternative high school in San Francisco, and Executive Director of Urban Services at the YMCA in Oakland for over 10 years. Chatmon started his career in education teaching history and physical education in the San Francisco Unified School District. Chatmon earned an M.A. in Education and a secondary teaching credential in Social Science from Brown University. He also holds a B.S. in Psychology with a minor in Physical Education from San Francisco State University.
Reuben Ogbonna II is the son of Reginald Chinedu and Sandra Yvette Ogbonna. He is a graduate of Southeast Raleigh High School and Duke University. Currently, he is the co-founder and Executive Director of the Marcy Lab School. Marcy Lab is an innovative alternative to college designed for students who face financial barriers or for those that are seeking a unique experience better suited to their career interests. In their first two years, they have raised nearly $10MM in philanthropic capital from funders such as JP Morgan, Microsoft, and Cognizant. They have placed nearly 50 recent high school graduates into software engineering careers at companies such as Spotify, Squarespace, and the New York Times. Their graduates earn an average salary of over $100,000 per year.
Reuben was born and raised in Raleigh, North Carolina. His family is split between Imo State, Nigeria and Shreveport, Louisiana. Prior to founding the Marcy Lab School, Reuben coached teachers across New York City as a Director at Teach For America. He recently had his first child but one could argue that he has been a dad on the inside for several years already. When he is not trying to disrupt the higher education system, he is smoking briskets on his Big Green Egg while playing afrobeats and Black cookout music. He is currently listening to African Giant by Burna Boy.
Carmita Semaan is Founder and CEO of The Surge Institute. Her superpower is supporting and elevating the genius of emerging and seasoned leaders - particularly women and people of color - and shining a light on the brilliance and ingenuity that is too often overlooked and untapped in solving systemic issues. Carmita hails from Birmingham, AL and proudly professes that her hometown made her who she has become. Birmingham’s history has greatly shaped what she feels called to do and the hustle, horsepower and heart she exhibits. Her guiding principle is the connection of head, heart, and soul in leadership to drive sustainable impact and lasting partnerships.Carmita holds an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, and a BS in Chemical Engineering from the University of Michigan. She received the 2020 Advancing Equity Award from Innovation for Equity, the 2016 Chicago Business Journal’s Women of Influence Award, was recognized as a “40 Under 40” Procter & Gamble alumnus and was selected as a 2013 Marshall Memorial Fellow by the German Marshall Fund. Carmita is a member of the Aspen Global Leadership Network, a 2009 Leadership Greater Chicago Fellow, and is a graduate of the Broad Residency in Urban Education. She honors her love for education equity, creative arts, and the amplification of and investment in womxn community leaders via numerous boards and volunteer engagements.Carmita lives in Los Angeles with her husband, daughter, and their beloved goldendoodle, Jefferson.
Brittany is a retired engineer, educator, professor and Baltimore native; she has programmed nuclear plants, developed medical devices, planned satellite explorations, but finds the most satisfaction in her roles in education, problem solving & service to her community. After the incarceration of her minor brother as an adult she became empowered to create solutions to funnell talent which resulted in B-360.
B-360 , is an organization that utilizes dirt bike culture to end the cycle of poverty, disrupt the prison pipeline, and build bridges in communities. Through STEM education, community engagement, workforce pipe-lining and events the organization is changing the perception of engineers and dirt bike riders.
Brittany was the first Black woman Baltimore native to have a TED Talk, the First Black person ever to receive the prestigious Bessie Stringfield Award and is currently creating the first ever campus for dirt bikes and education in the country. If you visit Union Station Market in DC, she is currently on a mural 3 blocks from the White House focusing on successful Black women entrepreneurs. Outside of being a history maker she has some of the following accolades and accomplishments: Yale School of Management Lecturer, Baltimore 40 under 40, Echoing Green Fellow, Baltimore’s Woman to Watch and transition team member to Mayor Brandon Scott and 2022 Ashoka fellow. Her work has been featured in Johns Hopkins, CBS, Forbes, Teen Vogue, AfroPunk, Broccoli City Fest, Toyota, Nike NBC Sports and more!
Brittany is a champion for Black joy, Black women and true systemic change and providing digit and skills access to people just like her. Brittany’s life goals are to show people how smart they truly are and to unlock innate genius. When she is not advocating for change through B-360, you can also find her advocating for caregivers and supporting her brother who lives with down syndrome.
Jerelyn Rodriguez, co-founded The Knowledge House (TKH), a Bronx-based tech-education nonprofit, in 2014. TKH closes the gaps in the education-to-employment pipeline by leading digital skills training in coding and design for underserved young people in New York, Los Angeles, Newark, and Atlanta. TKH combines technology training, career support, and a comprehensive network of partners to help disconnected job seekers secure rewarding careers and become financially independent.
Jerelyn’s leadership has been recognized widely including in 2016 as a Forbes’ 30 Under 30 in Education. Previously, she coordinated STEM after-school programs at Braven and was the Bronx Field Director for Reshma Saujani's 2013 campaign for New York City Public Advocate. In 2011, Jerelyn joined Students for Education Reform (SFER) as the National Program Director, organizing and coaching college students in 35 states to advocate for education reform. She is currently on the boards of the New York City Employment and Training Coalition and Creo College Prep. Jerelyn has a bachelor’s degree from Columbia University.
Dr. William P. Jackson is the Founder of Village of Wisdom (VOW), a non-profit organization that uses Black parent power to ensure that education decisions about Black learners support their consistent exposure to culturally affirming learning environments (CALEs) inside and outside of school. Under William’s leadership VOW has rapidly positioned Black parents as power brokers and thought leaders in education, specifically, as the prevailing voices in evidence-based culturally affirming learning. VOW launched with the support of fellowships with Echoing Green and Camelback Ventures.
William’s work is regularly recognized, including in 2019 as an Ashoka Fellow. Prior to founding VOW, he worked as a high school science teacher in Atlanta Public Schools and then at Frontline Solutions, a social change consulting firm, helping support organizations codify and clarify their strategies for equitable impact. William has a bachelor’s degree from Norfolk State University, a master’s degree from Georgia State University, and a PhD from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
Nikole Collins-Puri is the CEO of Techbridge Girls (TBG) a nonprofit organization that equips and galvanizes gatekeepers – out-of-school time (OST) educators and STEM professionals – with gender responsive, culturally relevant curriculum and equity training that empowers them to act as an advocate for BIPOC girls* pursuing their STEM aspirations. TBG plans to reach 1M girls by 2030. Prior to TBG, Nikole worked at AT&T where she spearheaded their diversity and inclusion efforts, at the College Board where she advised states on their college completion strategy for Black and Latinx students, and at the Women’s Foundation of California where she advanced women’s economic security by supporting and awarding grants to visionary grassroots organizations.
Nikole’s leadership has been recognized throughout her career by Nonprofit Pro as 2020 Nonprofit Professional of the Year. Nikole has a bachelor’s degree from the University of South Florida and a master’s in public administration from City University of New York.
Jamyle Cannon is the Founder and Executive Director of The Bloc—a sports-based education nonprofit using the sport of boxing to provide academic and social resources to Chicago’s youth. As a child, Cannon fought frequently, got suspended from school, arrested, and given a court order for anger management. He credits his coaches and trainers for helping him stay on track to reach his education and personal goals.
Cannon began his career with Teach for America in Phoenix, Arizona and later moved to Chicago to help start a charter school. It was while teaching, Cannon noticed that the students who were most in need of support were often rejected from the outlets meant to support them. Based on this observation, he started a boxing club that became immensely popular and produced extraordinary academic gains. Soon after, The Bloc was founded. Jamyle has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Kentucky and a master’s degree from Arizona State University.
Adrinda Kelly is the Founding CEO of BE NOLA (Black Education for New Orleans) whose mission is to support Black educators and Black-led schools to provide a quality education to New Orleans children. Under her leadership, BE NOLA has delivered high-impact programs to more than 1,000 Black educators, quadrupled its base of supporters, and grown its budget and impact. Adrinda’s past work included several years at Teach For America where she launched the organization’s first National Advisory Board of Alumni of Color and grew its annual School Leaders of Color Conference and Staff Diversity Practitioners Conference into flagship events.
Adrinda’s leadership has been recognized locally and nationally including as a 2019 Pahara NextGen, a 2021 Loyola Institute of Politics fellow, and as a Top Woman Nonprofit Leader by New Orleans City Business. Adrinda holds a diploma from McDonogh #35, a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University and a master's degree from New York University.
Hiewet Senghor is the Founder and CEO of the Black Teacher Collaborative (BTC), a nonprofit organization that believes in the genius and beauty of Black children and the unique role of Black teachers in cultivating those gifts. BTC seeks to redefine the training and development of Black educators to fully maximize the unique benefits that emerge from Black SRILE classrooms. SRILE stands for Shared Racial Identity Learning Environment and is the term BTC uses to describe educational environments in which the majority of teachers (＞65%) share the racial identity of 85% or more of the setting’s student population.
Hiewet previously helped advance the political and social conditions of Black people through her work in civil rights and education reform organizations including the NAACP, the Children’s Defense Fund, and Teach for America. Hiewet received a bachelor’s degree from Hampton University and she completed graduate level work in public administration at the University of Georgia. Hiewet grew up in Atlanta, Georgia where she continues to reside.
Dr. Adrian B. Mims Sr. is the Founder and CEO of The Calculus Project (TCP), a nonprofit that partners with families, community-based organizations, school districts, and higher education institutions to ensure Black, Latinx, and economically disadvantaged students have the support they need to succeed in honors and advanced mathematics.
The Calculus Project has impacted over 10,000 students in over 100 middle and high schools in Massachusetts and Florida and in 2011, the initiative was inducted into the Minority Student Achievement Network’s Promising Practices Clearinghouse. Since its inception, thousands of Black and Latinx students who were once missing from AP Calculus and high school calculus courses now pursue post-secondary opportunities in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and thrive in a technologically advanced workforce.
Dr. Mims’ work has been recognized nationally including as a Bright Spot in Middle Years Math by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Adrian has a bachelor’s degree from the University of South Carolina, two master’s degrees from Simmons College, and his doctorate in Educational Leadership from Boston College.
Nicole Lynn Lewis serves as the CEO of Generation Hope, an organization she founded to build what she did not have as a young parent in college.
To ensure all student parents have the opportunities to succeed and experience economic mobility, Generation Hope engages education and policy partners to drive systemic change and provides direct support to teen parents in college as well as their children through holistic, two-generation programming. Generation Hope has gained national attention for its whole-family approach to dismantling poverty, and its expansion beyond its current Washington, DC-area footprint.
Nicole’s honors and recognitions include the inaugural Black Voices for Black Justice Award, which “recognizes incredible leaders who have been on the frontlines working to dismantle the deep-rooted, racist systems that have plagued our country for centuries.” Last year her highly-anticipated memoir, Pregnant Girl, was released by Beacon Press and was named one of the best books of 2021 by NPR. Nicole has a bachelor’s degree from the College of William & Mary and a master’s degree from George Mason University.
Nicole and her husband, Donté Lewis, live in Maryland with their five children.
Sharif El-Mekki is the CEO of the Center for Black Educator Development, which he founded to create a national pipeline to attract, develop, support and empower Black teachers to help Black children liberate themselves, their families, and ultimately, society. As the son of two Black Panther Party members and the cousin of two more, Sharif had a strong desire to address issues relating to social and racial justice, equity, and educational opportunities. After almost a decade as a teacher, Sharif became a middle school principal, where his teams significantly raised student achievement and created nurturing student-centered learning environments.
Sharif is also the founder of The Fellowship: Black Male Educators for Social Justice, served as one of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s inaugural group of Principal Ambassadors, is a contributor to the Philly's 7th award blog, and is a co-host of the 8 Black Hands education podcast. Sharif received a bachelor’s degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP), and a master’s degree and principal certification from Cheyney University of Pennsylvania.
Aimée Eubanks Davis is the Chief Executive Officer of Braven, a national nonprofit that she founded in 2013 to help underrepresented college students develop the skills, confidence, experiences and networks to secure strong first jobs after graduation. Braven provides first-generation college students and students from humble beginnings with the tools to land a quality first job and have a shot at economic mobility and closing the racial wealth gap. Forbes named Braven one of America's Best Startup Employers in 2022. Aimée’s professional experience also includes executive roles at Teach for America as Executive Vice President of Public Affairs and Engagement, Executive Vice President, People, Community, & Diversity and Chief People Officer where she effectively led large teams and their vital functions.
Aimée and her leadership at Braven have been recognized nationally including as an Obama Foundation Fellow. Aimée also serves on numerous leading education non-profit boards. Aimée has a bachelor’s degree from Mount Holyoke College.
The 1954 Project Luminary Finalists are xxxxx
Named after the first general counsel of the NAACP,
the Charles H. Houston Beacon Award is a recognition from
The CAFE Group’s 1954 Project and honors the impact of
Black leaders across the education ecosystem.
Houston is most known for his legal brilliance leading to the end of legalized racial segregation in the United States. He is also recognized for his training and mentorship of a generation of Black attorneys including Thurgood Marshall and Spottswood William Robinson, III. The Beacon award recognizes his dedication to equity and his investment in a future generation of leaders.
Children's Place Association
Tennessee Educators of Color Alliance
School Board Partners
Special Education Leader Fellowship
Give Merit, Inc.
Academy of Hope Adult Public Charter School
Kingmakers of Oakland
Coded by Kids