Black History Month 2024: Celebrating our SEL Leaders

February 6, 2024
Black History Month 2024: Celebrating our SEL Leaders

As we begin our celebration of CASEL’s 30th anniversary, we’re looking forward to reflecting on our past as an organization and the evolution of the SEL field as a whole. For the past three decades, many SEL leaders have led the charge in research, in the classroom, in the school, and in the halls of legislation. In honor of Black History Month, we’d like to lift up the wisdom of some of the pioneering Black researchers, practitioners, and policymakers who have played a key role in advancing SEL and built a field that strives to support all children, young people, and adults.

“Great school culture is not an accident. Strong communities are not an accident. They happen when adults have meaningful opportunities to practice SEL, and when adults have systems that support them. They work when we all come together to create those supportive conditions for everyone.”
Dr. Aaliyah A. Samuel, CEO, CASEL
“Learning is inherently social and emotional, and social and emotional skills can help students solve all kinds of problems, whether they involve equal signs or those where everyday life is measurably unequal.”
David Adams, CEO of the Urban Assembly, CASEL Board of Directors
“What children need more than anything is the chance to attach with and bond to adults who are meaningful and important to them.”
Dr. James Comer, Maurice Falk Professor of Child Psychiatry and Associate Dean, Yale School of Medicine
“A healing centered approach to addressing trauma requires a different question that moves beyond ‘what happened to you’ to ‘what’s right with you’ and views those exposed to trauma as agents in the creation of their own well-being rather than victims of traumatic events.”
Dr. Shawn Ginwright, Associate Professor of Education and African American Studies, San Francisco State University, and CEO of Flourish Agenda, Inc
“Youth development first and foremost is a stage in the ongoing process of social, emotional, physical, cognitive, civic and moral development that begins at birth and continues, in many ways, throughout life.”
Karen Pittman, Co-founder, Forum for Youth Investment, and partner at KP Catalysts
“One key feature of SEL in service of equity is power sharing – meaning really positioning young people as experts of their own lived experience and as co-constructors and co-creators of and critical consumers of information and knowledge.” 
Dr. Robert Jagers, Vice President of Research, CASEL
“Students respond powerfully to being cared about, well known, appreciated and seen for their assets rather than their deficits. When students are motivated and feel a sense of belonging, their learning improves.”
Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond, CASEL Board Member Emeritus; President/CEO of The Learning Policy Institute
“I think about this moment and what social emotional learning requires to do it well. One has to integrate and center issues of racial equity and talk about how these issues affect life in the community, life in the school.”
John B. King, Jr., Chancellor of the State University of New York
“We must teach and create social-emotional learning content within an equity literacy lens. This means educators should be able to identify inequity and make an effort to create just learning for all students and their families.”
Dr. Dena Simmons, founder, LiberatED
“We can seize this moment to take a hard, honest look at our policies and practices and our rate of speed in dismantling long-standing systemic inequities—and use it as a catalyst for change… I have seen, in my own district, what is possible when school leaders choose to seize the moment.”
Dr. Sonja Brookins Santelises, CEO, Baltimore City Public Schools
“Closing the opportunity gap means that in addition to high-quality education programs that unlock creativity, we also must provide our children with social and emotional learning skills that will prepare them for careers that are yet to be created.”
Byron Sanders, President/CEO of Big Thought
“Adults have to understand what their values are … and how that affects how they are engaging with their students.”
Dr. Angela Ward, Chief Program Officer, Transforming Education 
“‘Belonging’ isn’t just something students perceive. There are structural barriers [to fostering a sense of belonging] within schools, but there are also opportunities. We want to shine a light on them because these opportunities position teachers and administrators to take action.”
Dr. DeLeon Gray, Associate Professor, Educational Psychology and Equity, North Carolina State University
“We know that SEL happens before school, during school, and after school, that it happens throughout the day, and that adults and students alike cannot enter into learning without the SEL skills that help build that safe, supportive, and equitable learning environment that we need in order to be our best selves.”
Dr. Rose Prejean-Harris, Director of SEL, Atlanta Public Schools
“What is important in fighting implicit bias is having a growth mindset about how students are able to grow and learn. It means seeing that misbehavior isn’t a character flaw… it means having an empathetic mindset.” 
Dr. Jason Okonofua, Professor of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley

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Tyrone Martinez-Black

Lasting and living legacy in the words of these legendary leaders.

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