Announcing Summit 2015 Closing Speaker: Ben Jealous

May 4, 2015

NewSchools Summit 2015 is just a couple of days away! I’ve been to many Summits over the years, but this is my first since I joined the organization as CEO last summer. I am really looking forward to it.

Over the last few years, the NewSchools team has tried to identify big issues that many people in the field are already talking about quietly with close colleagues, and then design plenary sessions and breakout panels to discuss them on a bigger stage. We decided to continue that tradition this year in a number of sessions, including with our closing keynote speaker, Ben Jealous.

Over the past year, events in a number of communities – Ferguson, Cleveland, New York, Baltimore – have once again highlighted the systemic biases that affect so many young people and their families. I shared some thoughts on the implications for those of us working in education on the NewSchools blog back in December.

Many of us are thinking about how we can build on the gains of the last decade by continuing to hold high expectations for students academically, even as we acknowledge the broader realities that Black, Latino, and low-income kids and families face in communities across the country. This will likely require us to be part of coalitions with new allies and to work with people we’ve disagreed with on some things in the past, so that we can make common cause on shared priorities in the future.

Ben Jealous mOver the past several weeks, I’ve had a chance to spend a few hours talking with Ben Jealous about these topics. Ben is a partner at Kapor Capital, a venture capital firm that specializes in high growth investments that close gaps in access, opportunity and participation for underserved communities. Our offices are a couple blocks away from each other in Oakland. NewSchools occasionally co-invests with Kapor Capital; for instance, we both support Camelback Ventures where Ben is an advisor.

Between 2008 and 2013, Ben served as the president and CEO of the NAACP. As a national civil rights leader, he sometimes stood with education reformers and sometimes did not. He and I discussed these issues head on in our recent conversations. I’ve also been listening and learning about his family history, the historical context in which he views education reform over the last 15 years, and his take on a variety of timely issues, such as the effect that mass incarceration has had on communities and families.

Ben and I don’t agree on everything. But we share a passion for finding ways to ensure that every young person in this country has access to a great education and a job that enables them to take care of themselves and their families. I think he’ll inspire and challenge us on May 6th – you won’t want to miss it.


Ben’s remarks, in addition to a Q&A with Russlynn Ali from the Emerson Collective, will take place during our closing plenary, which starts at 4:20pm on May 6.  See the detailed agenda at