Summit 2015: Ben Jealous Challenges us to Build ‘Uncomfortable’ Coalitions and Dream Big

May 8, 2015

Ben Jealous, partner at Kapor Capital and former President & CEO of the NAACP, closed the NewSchools 2015 summit with a powerful call to action: to build ‘uncomfortable’ coalitions and dream big.

IMG_0653Ben joined us after spending the last week in Baltimore—a city where his family has roots for over 80 years—where he was conducting non-violent, civil disobedience training with students. Descending from a long line of activists, Ben has built on the lessons he learned from his family to fight for social justice. Whether it was outlawing racial profiling, protecting voting rights, or securing marriage equality, Ben has learned to create a shared vision for change with broad-based coalitions that work in partnership to achieve audacious victories.

He shared that in education reform, we have created ‘sides’ and ‘factions’ that have prevented progress. “Our failure to see ourselves as the broader movement that we are, is the failure of grown ups, not acting like grown ups… We can’t break up into gangs if we are trying to get kids out of gangs.” How will we move beyond the view that some groups are either with us or against us to forge meaningful alliances that drive lasting change?

He challenged those of us working towards educational equity to recognize the strength in the differing perspectives that exist across the field, while also recognizing that there is a lot that we do agree on. Summoning the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., he shared, “if you are comfortable in your coalition, your coalition is too small.” The only way for our coalitions to grow is to dream bigger dreams. Dreams that help us find common ground, dreams that build from the 80% of topics we agree on, rather than focusing on the 20% where we disagree.

I found the conversation to be incredibly thought provoking and I left the session wondering, where do we go from here? What ‘uncomfortable’ coalitions should we be building? And what does it actually mean to dream big? In many ways, I think we are already dreaming big dreams in education that we haven’t yet achieved. What bigger dreams are needed, especially when we haven’t reached the ones we are already working towards? I guess this is the work that lies ahead for all of us, working within uncomfortable coalitions to figure this out. And I know that we at NewSchools, along with all of our current and future partners, strive to take on these questions together.

Thanks to all who attended Summit 2015.