Celebrating Black Creativity

Collage of 11 Black Network leaders. They are pictured on a blue background with network nodes. The text in the bottom left corner reads "Celebrating Black Creativity". The PIE Network logo is in the bottom right corner.

Black Leaders Driving Change Share What They’re Reading, Watching, and Listening to

This #BlackHistoryMonth we are celebrating Black Creativity. We asked some of the many Black leaders across the Network driving change through policy and advocacy what they’re reading, watching, and listening to. Their reflections feature authors, musicians, actors, leaders, and more. Please check back as we add more reflections in the coming days.

Interested in nominating a colleague on your team to be featured in this or future campaigns? Please nominate them here.

Adrienne Vitt, Strategic Communications Director, EdAllies

Jubilee & The Cooking Gene

I’m a firm believer in finding leadership in under-explored areas. Currently, I’m exploring my familial culinary traditions—under the philosophy that when you cook for someone it is a way of connecting generations. Jubilee, by Toni Tipton-Martin, and The Cooking Gene, by Micheal Twitty, both complicate and expand African-American culinary traditions, emphasizing the importance of revisiting these histories.

Jay Artis-Wright, Executive Director, Parent Revolution

Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement

This is a biography of the Civil Rights Leader Ella Baker whose leadership spanned over 30 years. She chose to stay out of the spotlight but fought for radical change in laws, structures, and institutions. She also worked with all communities, including white progressive democrats, students, women, and key figures in the Civil Rights movement and the Justice system.

The book was recommended by my mentor and it has given me inspiration and identity. Reading about her goal to challenge systems by infusing a new democracy by people directly impacted by injustice is a poignant reflection. She chose “behind the scenes” leadership, which people often don’t know about; by design. As I seek to challenge the public education system, through parent voices, I see similarities in her leadership style to my own and it inspires me. The most powerful thing I read is that “radical change has no end but a means”. Many of the social justice movements we are fighting today are similar to ones fought during the Civil Rights movement.

If you don’t see progress, it can deflate you or make you feel hopeless, but the way Ella Baker describes it—radical change is an ongoing movement that evolves and never stops.

Once you accept that, it is easier to settle in your place in the timeline and do what needs to be done to keep moving forward.

Jazmyne Owens, Policy Advisor, PreK-12, New America

When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America

I just started, but the opening chapter recounts the lives and early careers of Mary Church Terrell and Ida B. Wells. This book is considered canon for so many Black women scholars, so I was really excited when I found it with the other ones I’ve picked up over the years and keep promising myself I’ll read. Paula Giddings’ writing is incredibly clear and her storytelling is compelling, so I’m really excited to learn more about Black women leaders and their contributions to American history from her perspective.

Jessica Giles, State Director, DFER DC

All About Love

I am reading “All About Love” by bell hooks who, sadly, passed away in December 2021. I join many other Black women in mourning her loss. As a servant leader, my love for students, social justice, and community fuels why I do this work.

Michele Mason, Chief Operating Officer, 50CAN

Wrong Lanes Have Right Turns: A Pardoned Man’s Escape from the School to Prison Pipeline & Will

Books on my radar this month center around celebrating Black Male Excellence. 50CAN Board Chair and Education Advocate, Pastor Michael Philips debuted his book Wrong Lanes Have Right Turns: A Pardoned Man’s Escape from the School to Prison Pipeline. It’s a compelling, authentic story of choices, pardon, opportunity and redemption.

And, Will Smith: Will—because Oprah said it was one of the best autobiographies she’s read and who doesn’t love the Fresh Prince of Bel Air!

Robert Gaines, Director of External Affairs, Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education (GPEE)

Dr. Bryan Loritts & Dr. Tony Evans

For the last few years, I’ve been devouring the preaching and writings of Dr. Bryan Loritts and Dr. Tony Evans, two of the most well-respected and accomplished pastors in the United States. As I’ve studied their teachings, particularly on the intersection of race and faith, one of my greatest takeaways has been the importance of prioritizing my identity as a committed follower of Jesus Christ over all other identities, even my racial identity. As a proud Black man, I’ve struggled for years with this proposition, perhaps never more so than now, as deepening racial tensions in our country have only intensified the pressure to “pick a side.” Nevertheless, what I’ve taken from Dr. Loritts and Dr. Evans is a model for living and leading from a place of authenticity, sincerity, and courage.

It’s a model that does not require the compartmentalization or shedding of any part of who I am, but it does require my keeping everything in its proper place.

So, now, whether I’m at home with my family or at work with my colleagues advocating for improved educational outcomes for all children, I’m able to do so with humility and integrity, fully embracing being Black and being Christian.

Sanford Johnson, Executive Director, Teach Plus Mississippi

Women of the Movement

This show tells the story of Mamie Till-Mobley and Emmett Till and has been a hot topic of discussion among our teachers. While it was disappointing to hear how many students were unfamiliar with the murder of Emmett Till—which happened less than an hour away from my home—it’s been inspiring to hear teachers discuss how they’ll approach this topic with their students and what resources they’ll use. Discussions like these stand in stark contrast to the way history and race are currently being discussed in several state capitols.

Ari Kinney, Director of Community Engagement- North Texas, Texas Public Charter Schools Association

The Vanishing Half &The Personal Librarian

I am currently reading The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett. It follows the story of twin girls who ran away from home at 16 and ended up separating. One twin decides to live her life passing as white while the other keeps her true identity as an African American woman. Before this, I read The Personal Librarian which is based on the true story of JP Morgan’s librarian who also passed as white. This theme is so interesting to me as it shows the great lengths black women decided to go to live a safe and prosperous life. Passing as white allows you “freedom” but how free are you really if you aren’t able to be your true authentic self?

I think that’s what Black women have been fighting for: to be safely seen as themselves and not as a made-up stereotype and identity society has traditionally placed on us.

Women of the Movement

I just finished watching “Women of the Movement”. It is a docuseries following Mamie Till Mobley, Emmett Till’s mother, who fought endlessly to receive justice for her son. This dedication pioneered the Civil Rights Movement. I find her story inspiring as oftentimes we are all placed in positions that can really create change for all through our personal experiences if we decide to step out and act on it. Something moved her to show the world the horrors those men in Mississippi did to her child by having an open casket and that sparked a world of change. Though our journeys may be scary and fearful because of the newness, it is necessary to push past our comfort zones and live out our full potential as we can create a change for all!

Sarah Carpenter, Executive Director, The Mempis Lift

A Voice That Could Stir an Army

This month I plan on reading A Voice That Could Stir an Army, which is about Fannie Lou Hamer and how she had a voice that could inspire others to action. I’m reading this because I want that voice too—in these times we need a voice that can stir an army because we need parents to join us in this work. When we get parents on board we will have our army to create the change our children in the Black community need.

Steve Smith, Executive Director, Black Education Strategy Roundtable (BESR)

Entering my seventh decade of life an energized and deeper appreciation of the Black leaders of my lifetime is exploding in me. As leaders of my youth and early adulthood are passing away and as I recognize that most of my years are behind me, my casual appreciation of the strength and safety drawn from them is shattered. Fear and insecurity, clothed as uncertainty and caution, try to restore vulnerabilities long vanished from my life. Instead, my growing appreciation of these Black leaders, those now with the ancestors and those still walking the earth, drives me to their wisdom and allows me to accept the blessings they pour out on me. The current darkness and divisions in our country test the limits of my wellbeing.

But I stand. Stand strengthened by the wisdom of these Black leaders.  

Tacoma, Washington – BLK WINS

This short video by BLK WINS showcases three Black leaders and two Black-led organizations in my adopted hometown of Tacoma. These individuals and organizations impact so many residents of Tacoma. The Tacoma/Pierce County Black Collective, highlighted in the video, is more than an organization. It is family. For 52+ years, the Black Collective has met every Saturday morning, 8:30 am – 10:00 am. Social justice, civil rights, economics, education and business issues, local and national, are presented, discussed and action plans established.

My American Journey & It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership

Colin Powell’s death broke me. My intense grief surprised me as I barely followed his work and life. From that grief emerged my new appreciation of the Black leaders of my day. I did not realize the scope of their work with children until after his death. I also appreciate that he was one of the few Republicans to voice opposition against Donald Trump. 

8 Black Hands

Besides being exceptional education leaders committed to the welfare of Black students, their advocacy and leadership styles differ. Black folks are not a monolith. 

Subira Gordon, Executive Director, ConnCAN

The New Jim Crow & Will

I am currently reading The New Jim Crow for the second time. Recently I read Will Smith’s book, Will. I am a huge Will Smith fan; his book discusses his journey as an actor and becoming one of the highest-paid actors in Hollywood. I love a good story about Black excellence.

Queen Sugar & Insecure

My two favorite shows to watch are Queen Sugar, because I want to be Charlie Bordelon West when I grow up, and Insecure because it shows different life stages of being a Black woman and what it means to show up as your authentic self. The story does not shy away from the many challenges we face, including being the only Black person in the room or figuring out what it means to reconnect with your community after spending years in all-white spaces.

Tafshier Cosby, CEO & Executive Director of External Affairs, Parent Impact

Black is King & Afrika Rise

I have Beyonce’s Black is King and Black Coffee’s live concert – Afrika Rise on repeat because the sounds of our African Motherland permeate my soul.

Code Switch

This podcast does not shy away from discussing all of the -isms; classism, racism, sexism among others. I am an up-front person who appreciates other people saying what they need to say but having solutions to go along with the problems, and this podcast provides that for me.

Nicole Walters Podcast

Nicole is a Black female entrepreneur who offers practical advice to women on how to scale up a business using proven techniques. She provides a space for women to come together and share stories of success and failure. I also follow her Instagram and I am learning from Nicole that I should always be myself unapologetically.

Get Good with Money; Ten Simple Steps to Becoming Financially Whole

A phenomenal Black Woman and native Newarker like myself. Tiffany has been helping Newarkers and women across the world for over 10 years, build a better relationship with money, by teaching women how to budget, save, fix their credit, invest and have some FUN WITH MONEY! Reading this book this year has helped me create a stronger budget for my family’s future.


Yaa Gyasi is a Ghanian writer who has written a timeless book about two sisters who went separate ways during the transatlantic slave trade and how their lives continued to intersect. Reading this book reminds me of my ancestors’ past struggles, how far we have come, and how much further we need to go.

For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Politics

I am a Black Woman who is excited by politics and wanted to learn how to navigate in politics from some of the best Black women to ever do it! The knowledge held within the pages of this book does not disappoint!

Black-owned Businesses

Lastly, I am intentional about shopping with Black-owned businesses, and I frequent businesses like DirtySoles Footwear Group and BrownMill. I also shop on sites like HellaBlack, a site filled with black designers and creatives.

Ashley Schmidt

Ashley Schmidt

Managing Director, Communications & Member Engagement