About IDEA

MISSION

Mobilizing action to advance meaningful learning and build a more just and sustainable democracy.

VISION

Our vision is an engaged, informed, and energized majority clear about the role of education in a just society, where communities in the U.S. and Puerto Rico have the tools, visions, stories, and strategies to create educational experiences and systems that lead towards equity, justice, and sovereignty.

We work towards this vision by making critical connections alongside and with communities engaged in the struggle for education equity and racial justice, and building ongoing learning opportunities to ensure that communities can achieve their goals. 

Core Values and Principles

Leading with racial justice and equity

Leading with racial justice and equity at center by recognizing the entrenched systemic racism and vast inequity that has long permeated every aspect of society and engaging in efforts to dismantle that system and work towards an anti-racist and equitable vision of education and society.

Responsible collaboration and leadership

Responsible collaboration and leadership guided by a dedication to centering authentic community voice at the core of our work, remaining accountable to the communities with whom we collaborate, and maintaining a learner’s mindset in all of our collaboration.

Embodying love and spirit

Embodying Love and Spirit. We are human beings first, and more deeply connected to one another than our modern world will readily admit. While capitalism and colonialism work tirelessly to influence the ways we engage with one another, let alone ourselves, IDEA maintains a discipline in holding space for love, spirit, and humanity to guide our work in the various shapes it takes.

Intentional power building in communities

Intentional power building in communities by supporting local youth, educators, and parents to be the leaders and drivers of change in their communities.

HUMILITY IN OUR WORK AND RELATIONSHIPS

Centering humility as foundational to our work and relationships by acknowledging the limits of any one person or organization’s knowledge, listening intently to our partners, and remaining open to continual learning, reflection, and growth.

Honoring humanity over agenda

Honoring humanity over agenda. We place the physical, emotional, and social needs of people and communities over any pre-set agenda or schedule. While there is an urgent need for equity, justice, and sovereignty, we must first ensure that we respect the human needs of ourselves, and the people and communities we work with.

Who We Are

IDEA is a non profit organization based in Jackson, Mississippi. We collaborate with students, educators, families, and communities to advocate and build capacity for education equity and racial justice. While Jackson is our home base, we also work with partners and communities around the United States and in Puerto Rico.

IDEA was founded in 2010 by educators, parents, and organizers who saw the need to change the narrative and practice of education towards learning that is relevant to young people and communities. A core belief was that the best way to effect widespread change is to collaborate with and raise up the voices of youth, educators, parents, and community leaders.

Since 2015 IDEA has been rooted in Jackson, Mississippi, where we collaborate with partner organizations and the community to support and strengthen public education in the city. Meanwhile we have continued to engage across the United States and in Puerto Rico to change the narrative, practice, and policy around public education, realizing the power of local­-national-international connections to support local efforts and contribute to the broad movement for education justice, racial equity, and sovereignty.

Our work takes many forms, often emerging out of community needs that surface in the path forward for equitable and high-quality education for all. If you are interested in how our work might look, we encourage you to navigate around our website.

You can also reach out directly at info@democraticeducation.org

What We Do

IDEA’s work aims to bridge conversations and promote action around racial justice and equity, youth voice, place-based education, sovereignty, and systems change.

We know that powerful change is possible when we not only have good ideas but also move those ideas into effective action. Driven by this insight, we focus our attention on Capacity Building and Community Collaboration.

Capacity Building

IDEA contributes to the growing capacity of this social movement united within the framework of racial equity, social justice, and sovereignty. We believe that capacity building is essentially about people, and that the future of equity-based public education must be informed by the needs, vision, heart, and soul of the communities whom it serves.

Community Collaboration
We partner with people and organizations committed to equity and racial justice, place-based and community-based education, culturally-affirming social and emotional learning, youth engagement, systems change, and sovereignty.

  • Within these frameworks, our Core Activities are: Partnering with community-based organizations on place-based organizing
  • Coordinating learning experiences that support work toward equity & sovereignty
  • Engaging in narrative change efforts that support transformative change in education practice and policy

For clear examples of how our work takes shape, use any of the links below or access our “Where We Work” section in the main navigation.

Jackson

Across The US

Puerto Rico

Staff

Albert Sykes

Executive Director

Albert has a powerful personal story, one that is rooted in the struggles and search for quality education through community organizing and youth advocacy. The proud father of four sons, Albert grew up in the Shady Oaks community around the corner from where NAACP member and civil rights activist Medgar Evers lived and died.

Read Albert's Full Bio

Albert has a powerful personal story, one that is rooted in the struggles and search for quality education through community organizing and youth advocacy. The proud father of four sons, Albert grew up in the Shady Oaks community around the corner from where NAACP member and civil rights activist Medgar Evers lived and died. Evers has been one of Albert’s guiding lights in doing the work needed to move Mississippi and our nation forward. Becoming a student of the Algebra Project and a mentee of Bob Moses brought Evers into Albert’s life, and made his sacrifices tangible to the then teenager. Through this experience, Albert gained much firsthand knowledge and understanding of Black Mississippi’s struggle for justice, equity, and full citizenship. Albert was formerly the policy and advocacy director of the Young People’s Project, which trains, employs and supports high school students in becoming math literacy workers to elementary students. Albert is also an organizer at heart. He has advocated with the NAACP for a quality education as a constitutional right and served as a national trainer for the Children’s Defense Fund’s Youth Advocate Leadership Training.

Dana Bennis

Director of Programs & Research

Dana has been deeply involved in democratic education since 2001, and dedicates his time to researching and advocating for a world grounded in social and racial justice, community and youth engagement, and connection to nature and place. 

Read Dana's Full Bio

Dana has been deeply involved in democratic education since 2001, and dedicates his time to researching and advocating for a world grounded in social and racial justice, community and youth engagement, and connection to nature and place. He has taught in democratic, progressive, and conventional school settings, earned a Masters Degree in Education from Vermont College of Union Institute and University, and published essays in various education journals. Dana collaborates with others locally, nationally, and internationally to end white supremacy and colonization and to raise up and support education that is anti-racist, that meaningfully involves young people and communities, and that is directed towards freedom and liberation. Dana lives in Minneapolis with his partner and fellow educator, Julie Hill, and their son.

Maisie Brown

Youth Program Director & Communications Associate

Maisie Brown is an 19 year old Mississippi native, activist, and organizer. Throughout the years, she’s published several pieces about the need for the change of the state flag, state universities, the need for a call for change to Mississippi, and has been heavily involved in advocacy.

Read Maisie's Full Bio

Maisie Brown is an 19 year old Mississippi native, activist, and organizer. Throughout the years, she’s published several pieces about the need for the change of the state flag, state universities, and the need for a call for change to Mississippi. She’s been heavily involved in advocacy throughout the years which even took her to the nation’s capitol to advocate for the need to change the state flag while also presenting a TEDxJackson talk on the importance of the social media generation in the fight for equality. She’s volunteered on numerous campaigns including the Mike Espy for US Senate campaign. She is currently the Youth Program Director at the Institute for Democratic Education in America where she works to create and facilitate programs with students around Jackson on the concept of democratic education and learning to advocate for themselves and their communities. Upon graduation from Murrah High School, she co-organized Jackson’s Black Lives Matter protest in the summer of 2020 that was the largest protest since the 1960’s civil rights era in the state of Mississippi. Concurrently, she is the Jackson branch leader of 601 for Period Equity, a Mississippi based group that provides supplies and resources for black menstruators across the state. She currently studies History and Political Science at North Carolina A&T State University. 

Olivia Coté

Mississippi Program Director

Olivia Coté is an educator born and raised in Jackson, MS. She attended Jackson Public Schools K-12 and was inspired to become a teacher by her mother who taught in the district for 33 years. After receiving an undergraduate degree in Secondary English Education from Mississippi College, she returned to her former school, Murrah High School, to teach English for four years.

Read Olivia's Full Bio

Olivia Coté is an educator born and raised in Jackson, MS. She attended Jackson Public Schools K-12 and was inspired to become a teacher by her mother who taught in the district for 33 years. After receiving an undergraduate degree in Secondary English Education from Mississippi College, she returned to her former school, Murrah High School, to teach English for four years. She worked for one year at the Michelle Obama Early College High School at Tougaloo College as the founding English teacher. Olivia spent her five years of teaching also working as a facilitator of professional development and curriculum writer for Jackson Public Schools. She served on Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba’s Education Transition Committee upon his election in Jackson. Along with her Bachelor’s degree, Olivia has a Master’s in Curriculum and Instruction from Belhaven University and has recently received a Master’s in Education Policy and Management from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She is passionate about improving education in Mississippi through culturally sustaining and anti-racist education practices grounded in the historical and present context of the deep south.

Shawn Strader

Communications Director

Shawn began collaborating with IDEA over ten years ago at the organization’s founding retreat in Estes Park, Colorado. His earliest role was as an intern, and since he has done research, development work, communications, and more. 

Read Shawn's Full Bio

Shawn began collaborating with IDEA over ten years ago at the organization’s founding retreat in Estes Park, Colorado. His earliest role was as an intern, and since he has done research, development work, communications, and more. Most recently, Shawn returns to work with IDEA after spending years away as a professional touring musician, songwriter, and communications lead for a successful alternative-rock band. He has a Bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Arizona State University, is passionate about human psychology, potential, and well-being, is dedicated to spending his life in commitment to social justice, and lives happily in love with his partner, Natalia Rosado Cofresí, in New York City.

Toya Washington

Mississippi Program Associate

Toya Washington was born in Jacksonville, North Carolina. During her childhood, she moved frequently until she settled in Jackson, MS her 10th grade year. In 2020, She graduated with a Bachelors of Art in Classical Education from Belhaven University, with minors in Psychology and Biblical Studies. Since college, Toya has worked with the OurJPS Coalition as the Community Schools Team Coordinator and serves in the Jackson Cohort for the Ashe Fellowship.

Read Toya's Full Bio

Toya Washington was born in Jacksonville, North Carolina. During her childhood, she moved frequently until she settled in Jackson, MS her 10th grade year. Enrolled at Provine High School, Toya started finding her passions in different extracurricular activities like yearbook, honor society, volleyball, and more. After high school, Toya got accepted into Belhaven University. Because of her introduction to community advocacy in high school, she immediately jumped into multiple Belhaven opportunities. Through her jobs and school involvement, Toya participated in press conferences, community meetings, educational campaigns and more around educational resources and community health. At Belhaven, Toya presided over Belhaven United (mental health group), Intervarsity (ministry organization), and the Black Student Association. In 2020, She graduated with a Bachelors of Art in Classical Education, with minors in Psychology and Biblical Studies. Since college, Toya has worked with the OurJPS Coalition as the Community Schools Team Coordinator and serves in the Jackson Cohort for the Ashe Fellowship.

Board of Directors

Jenerra Williams

CHAIR

Ana Yris Guzmán Torres

BOARD MEMBER

Carlos Moreno

TREASURER 

Maisie Brown

BOARD MEMBER

Anasa Troutman

BOARD MEMBER

Kwesi Rollins

BOARD MEMBER

History

In 2008 a group of educators, parents, and activists from around the United States came together to brainstorm how to catalyze educational change grounded in a commitment to public education, democratic values, and human rights. We recognized the need to bring together advocacy for student voice and student-centered learning with work for social and racial justice. A core belief was that the best way to effect widespread change was to collaborate with young people, educators, and communities on-the-ground in a variety of settings.

When IDEA got officially off the ground in 2010, our initial work focused on connecting individual organizers around the United States and Puerto Rico and raising up powerful schools, stories, and resources. Over time this work crystallized into our three main program areas: 1. Providing opportunities to see and learn about powerful schools and learning spaces; 2. Supporting schools and communities in their on-the-ground efforts for racial justice, equity, and voice in education; 3. Collaborating nationally to shift policy, practice, and narrative towards equity and justice in education.

While IDEA’s early activities were focused broadly across the U.S. and Puerto Rico, our experiences working with communities and folks on the ground led us to deepen our work in a few places including Mississippi, New York and New England, Puerto Rico, and Minnesota. Through this, our work began focusing more on partnerships with specific groups, organizations, schools, and communities, and providing ongoing support. This has taken many forms including our Learning Breakthrough Series of gatherings helping groups around the U.S. and Puerto Rico develop and refine plans of action, learning tours for New England youth organizers to see schools working towards education equity and student-centered learning, and community film screenings that raise up powerful stories and help change the narrative around public education.

Since 2015 IDEA has been rooted in Jackson, Mississippi, the home of Executive Director Albert Sykes, where we are collaborating with partner organizations, young people, parents, teachers, and community members to support Jackson Public Schools and protect and strengthen public education in the city. Meanwhile we have continued to engage at the national and international levels to change the narrative, practice, and policy around public education, realizing the power of local­-national-international connections to support local efforts and contribute to the national and international movement for education justice.

IDEA’s recent efforts include offering antiracism courses for white educators, and working with our partner VAMOS to lead Decolonize Puerto Rico: Learning and Solidarity Experiences for those in the United States to learn about and work to end the centuries-long colonization of Puerto Rico.

Funders

Partners

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