How do we help young leaders emerge in the face of the deep, historical inequities that persist today in our economic and social fabric?
Head of School Vinny Dotoli joined a panel considering this question at the French Consulate in New York on February 15. As part of the Consulate’s celebration of Black History Month, the event explored the empowerment of young leaders who can help advocate for changes in their own communities.
The panel was moderated by Arun Venugopal, a WNYC reporter whose work focuses on race relations. Dotoli was joined by Janai Nelson of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and Muriel Quancard, an arts education entrepreneur.
While some of the exchange focused on young adults, Dotoli discussed the impact of reaching potential leaders even earlier, giving them confidence to assume challenges when they reach young adulthood. He emphasized the importance of developing not just core academic skills in reading, writing, and math, but also character traits that position students to make strong contributions once they graduate. This is about helping students build strong habits and confidence in themselves—and that work is most effective when we start at a young age.
Nelson noted that African Americans are underrepresented in the highest academic realms. Dotoli agreed, highlighting that this problem begins far earlier. In nine out of the ten districts Harlem Academy serves, zero kindergarteners gained access to city-wide gifted and talented programs this year. Dotoli sees this as a waste of potential. Harlem Academy can help change this by challenging promising, low-income students in a rigorous setting from a young age. He says, “You can always set the bar a little bit higher. We don’t just stamp excellence and accept the status quo. We actively encourage students to push themselves every day.”
Thank you to the Consul General Anne-Claire Legendre for hosting this event.