Kaya Henderson on Black Excellence

Interview by Billy Shore

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

As the daughter of a teacher, a teacher herself, and the former Chancellor of DC Public Schools, Kaya Henderson believes in the power of education. In this conversation, part of Add Passion and Stir’s ongoing Rebuilding series, Henderson recounts how she grew up in a household with an ethic of “to whom much is given much is required” and how that instilled a desire to give back.

An opportunity to teach in the South Bronx as a member of Teach for America sparked Henderson’s love of education: “I taught middle school Spanish in the South Bronx for two years. It completely changed my life, changed my outlook, changed my trajectory.”

Her experience in education led her to realize that formal education systems don’t offer enough opportunities to develop children’s cultural identity and specifically offer space to discuss Black contributions in an accurate, identity-affirming way. This led her to found Reconstruction, an online education platform that “teaches Black Glory, Black Love, Black Genius, Black Kindness, and Black Excellence.”

Henderson describes the mission of Reconstruction as “a reckoning around how we tell the full truth about history and our historical context is complicated…When kids know themselves they act differently in the world. When kids have been fed a steady diet of negative things about themselves then they don’t believe that they can succeed.”

Resources and Mentions:

Kaya Henderson

Kaya Henderson

Founder and CEO
Kaya Henderson is perhaps best known for serving as Chancellor of DC Public Schools from 2010-2016. Her tenure was marked by consecutive years of enrollment growth, an increase in graduation rates, improvements in student satisfaction and teacher retention, increases in AP participation and pass rates, and the greatest growth of any urban district on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) over multiple years. In 2020, she co-founded Reconstruction, an online education platform designed to help Black students see history and education in a broader context that resonates with their culture and identity. Kaya has also served as a Fellow with the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, a Distinguished Scholar in Residence at Georgetown University, DC Executive Director for Teach for America, and Vice President of Strategic Partnerships at The New Teacher Project. Her board memberships include The Aspen Institute, The College Board, Robin Hood NYC, and Teach For America. She chairs the board of Education Leaders of Color (EdLoC), an organization that she co-founded.

Reconstruction

Reconstruction offers a broad selection of live, online courses and engages students from age 5 up to adults in exciting educational subjects that center Black contributions to the U.S. and the world.

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