Border Crossers is meeting a critical need for racial justice work in New York City schools.
New York is ranked the third most segregated school system the country despite the racial diversity of its population. A study from the National Center for Education Statistics reveals that 70.9% of the city’s students would have to relocate to another school in order for the racial composition of their school to match that of the city. De facto school segregation impacts the distribution of funding and resources among schools. Nationwide, schools spent $334 more on every white student than on every nonwhite student in 2011-12.
Since the landmark Brown v. Board decision in 1954, American schools have been plagued with monoculturalism. In New York, students of color make up 49% of the population while teachers of color are only 13% of the teaching force. Dominant educational policies and pedagogies are constructed by a largely white, middle-class, female teaching body and exclude non-dominant perspectives and values, which is harmful to all students in the system, although disproportionately so to black boys in early childhood education. The impact of these policies can be seen in data capturing graduation rates, representation in special education, punitive school policies, and performance on standardized tests.
Children see and experience this racial inequality. As infants, children recognize racial differences among adults. By age four, American children group people by race over gender and other identifiers. By the time they enter kindergarten, children express an explicit white bias. Despite the fact that research consistently shows that taking a “colorblind” or “colormute” approach does not yield race-neutral opinions in children, teachers do not receive adequate training or support in how to address these issues with young children. Moreover, few groups exist to support the organizing of teachers to hold schools, districts and policy-makers accountable for equitable outcomes for all students. Across the board, teachers express experiencing negative consequences when they try to organize and take action against institutional racism in their schools.
Border Crossers is here to help!
Mission and Vision
Border Crossers’ mission is to train and empower educators to dismantle patterns of racism and injustice in our schools and communities. At Border Crossers, we envision a world where all young people learn and thrive in racially equitable, liberating, and empowering educational spaces.
Borders Crossers was founded in 2001 with a program model that brought small groups of students together from racially segregated schools for cross-cultural exchange and discussions about prejudice, discrimination and social justice. Though there were many successes of model over its 10 years of operation, evaluations indicated that most teachers needed more tools to address issues of race and racism in their classrooms and schools, as well as to unpack and articulate their own attitudes and understandings about race.
In 2010, Border Crossers shifted its model to train educators (including teachers, school administrators, parents and others engaged in youth development) to build educational institutions that produce racially equitable outcomes, and ensure that all students have safe, inclusive, and culturally responsive spaces to learn. Since then Border Crossers has trained thousands of educators across the United States to interrupt racism and promote racial justice in educational spaces.
In 2015, Border Crossers expanded its work to Dallas, Texas, and is continuing expand its presence through conferences and trainings around the country. Border Crossers work has been featured in the New York Times article, “Why Don’t We Have Any White Kids?” (May 2012) and the Colorlines Article, “Here are Easy Ways to Have Tough Talks with Kids About Race.” (February 2012)
Border Crossers Staff
Benny Vasquez describes himself as a lifelong learner and a seeker of justice. A native of Brooklyn, he graduated from Wesleyan University with a B.A. in African American Studies and Sociology, then completed his masters in Curriculum and Teaching from Columbia University. He is currently pursuing an MPA at New York University.
Benny’s journey includes working as the Director of Diversity at The Town School, an independent school in New York City. Prior to creating impactful cultural change at Town, Benny was the Director of Education at GLSEN – the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. In this position, Benny worked with educators across the country to create safer schools irrespective of sexual orientation and/or gender identity and expression. He also organized students across the country in celebrating various national days of action that focused on combating the inequalities faced by the LGBTQ community in our schools.
Currently, Benny is also an independent diversity and equity consultant and works with various schools/organizations across the country in fulfilling their mission to create inclusive communities that value race, gender, sexual orientation and all the other identities that make us whole. His work has included co-chairing the Diversity Committee for the New York Association of
Benny is also a published writer – his work has been included in anthologies focusing on race and identity. He has always had a strong passion for social justice, education reform and anti-racism work within educational settings and lives and breathes in the intersectionality of his work.
Laura Shmishkiss, MPA, is a strategic nonprofit and education leader with twenty years experience working for equity, youth empowerment and social justice. She brings expertise in training and pedagogy, curriculum and program design, and organizational development within non-profit organizations and schools.
As School Director at Bronx Community High School, Laura co-led a transfer high school for over-age, under-credited students, infusing structures for youth voice, increasing enrollment and retention, and decreasing suspensions and violent incidents. She also founded Coro New York’s “Exploring Leadership,” a youth activism program resulting in hundreds of NYC teens organizing change in public education. Recently, Laura has led professional development initiatives for schools and districts nationwide in building robust dropout prevention programs. A seasoned educator and trainer who brings an equity lens to all of her work, Laura has facilitated and coached hundreds of nonprofit and education professionals in leadership development, youth development, inquiry-based learning and strategic planning.
Laura is deeply committed to and passionate about racial justice work in her community and is an active member and facilitator of the White Anti-Racist Group of the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond. She currently serves as the Board Vice Chair for Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility, and is an active Board Member of Camp Kinderland, two institutions that promote social justice education.
Laura earned a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology from Colby College, and a teaching certification from San Francisco State University. She is a graduate of several leadership development programs including Rockwood Leadership Institute and Center for Creative Leadership. She is a certified yoga instructor, a New York City Marathon finisher and a 3-time triathlon finisher. Laura has lived and traveled extensively around the world.
Board of Directors
Nadia Gomes, Chair
Associate Director, Strategy Unit
Open Society Foundations
Natania Kremer, Co-Chair
Director of Service Learning and Civic Engagement
Brooklyn Friends Schoolt
Deutsche Bank Americas Foundation
David R. Rosas
Math Instructional Specialist
Heketi Community Charter School
Head of School
The Caedmon School
National Advisory Board
Crown Height Mediation Center
Associate Program Director
New York Facing History and Ourselves
Jane Bolgatz, Ph. D
Author, Talking Race in the Classroom and
Associate Professor of Social Studies Education
Division of Curriculum and Teaching
Fordham University Graduate School of Education
Primary Prevention Specialist, Women’s Protection and Empowerment Technical Team
International Rescue Committee
Sherick Hughes, Ph. D
Author, Black Hands in the Biscuits Not in the Classroom
Editor, The Evolving Significance of Race
Assistant Professor of Minority & Urban Education, University of Maryland
Lisa Kadin, J.D.
Pedro Noguera, Ph. D
Metropolitan Center for Urban Education
New York University
Launch Expeditionary Learning Charter School