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 diversity that we boast. 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, there are not groups organize 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!
 Spatig-Amerikaner, Ary. “Federal Loophole Enables Lower Spending on Students of Color.” Center for American Politics. 22 Aug 2012: Web. 1 Sep. 2012.
 Boser, Ulster. Teacher Diversity Matters: A State-by-State Analysis of Teachers of Color. Center for American Politics. Nov 2011. Web. 1Sep 2012.
 Hayes, Edward. “White female teachers and black male students: Kunjufu and me.” Chicago Public Education Examiner. 5 Dec 2009. Web. 1 Sept 2012.
 Katz, Phyllis A. (2003). Racists or tolerant multiculturalists? How do they begin?American Psychologist, 58(11), 897-909.
 Winkler, Erin (2009). Children are not colorblind: how young children learn race. PACE, 3(3).
 Clark, Kenneth B. and Clark, Mamie K. (1939). The development of consciousness of self and the emergence of racial identification in Negro preschool children. Journal of Social Psychology, S.P.S.S.I. Bulletin, 10, 591-599. Study replicated by CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360.
 Bronson, Po and Ashley Merryman. “See Baby Discriminate.” Newsweek Magazine. 4 Sep 2009.
Our name is inspired by the Critical Multiculturalist Henry Giroux, who said,
“Schools (should) become places where students and teachers can become border crossers engaged in critical and ethical reflection about what it means to bring a wider variety of cultures into dialogue with each other.”
Border Crossers’ mission is to equip New York City’s elementary school teachers to be leaders of racial justice in their schools and communities. In order to be effective educators, teachers need tools for understanding the role of race and racism in schools and entering into meaningful conversations about diversity and equity with students from a young age. We believe that training and supporting teachers in racial justice work is a critical step in creating culturally-responsive, equitable learning environments that will better serve NYC’s diverse student population.
Border 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. There were many successes of this student-centered program over its 10 years of operation. However, evaluations and observations indicated that most teachers and other school personnel lacked the tools to make sustainable changes in their school environments around awareness about race and diversity. We found that teachers wanted guidance in articulating and assessing their own attitudes and understandings about race.
In 2010 Border Crossers built on its nine years of experience working with teachers and developed a formal educator initiative, Talking About Race, to equip and empower teachers to engage in meaningful discussions about diversity and multiculturalism with their students. We successfully launched Talking About Race during the 2011-12 school year, training 85 teachers through a series of 4 citywide workshops in New York City. Response to the workshops has been overwhelmingly positive; our spring workshops were filled to capacity and 100% of participants surveyed indicated that the workshops were high-quality and beneficial to their practice in the classroom. Our trainings gained recognition 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).
Since then, Border Crossers has worked with over 1,000 educators, partnered with over 12 schools and had a student impact of over 25,000 children!
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 of Strategy-Budget Operations,
Open Society Foundations
Elizabeth Horton, Finance Committee Chair
National Council for Research on Women
Director of Service Learning
Brooklyn Friends School
Megan McDonell, Communications Committee Chair
Rachelle Oribio, Fundraising Committee Chair
Entrepreneurship Trainer and Executive Relations,
David R. Rosas
The Ethical Community Charter School
Lori Taliaferro, Program Committee Chair
Executive Director of Policy and Practice Services,
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