Recruit. Elect.
Elevate.

Our History + Look Ahead

Every child deserves a quality education and to live in healthy communities, but our systems too often fail those who need them the most. We need leaders who are committed to a different future. Our goal is to create an ecosystem of Black and Latino leaders who may not typically have the opportunities and institutional support to run for public office, develop the skills and leadership needed to win and deliver on education, health, and community equity.

The Leaders of Color program is part of Education Reform Now, a national think tank and advocacy organization that develops and drives forward bold, new ideas that can transform the American public education system from pre-school to and through higher education to better serve all students, especially low-income students and students of color. 

In 2018, we launched Leaders of Color in Memphis, TN with a cohort of 15 Black community leaders. Since our start, the program has graduated 116 leaders in Memphis, New York, and New Orleans.

The rapid growth of Leaders of Color continues.  In 2022, we will expand our work from New Orleans across the state of Louisiana. Our goal is to train 400 Fellows by 2023 across the U.S. 

Our Impact By the Numbers

116
graduates
72%
serve in community leadership positions like working on nonprofit boards
30%
campaign for political office

Meet Our Leadership Team

Each member of the Leaders of Color team leverages a passion and commitment for educational and economic change for communities of color in their work. Together, they bring over 110 years of collective experience in political campaigns, community organizing, and civic engagement experience. They lead this work with deep experience in systems change, coupled with lived and learned knowledge about national inequities. 

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Michael Bland
National Director

Michael Bland hails from Long Branch, New Jersey and has committed his entire career to public service. Before joining the DFER team, Michael served as the campaign manager for Jahana Hayes in her 2018 Connecticut 5th Congressional district, making her the first African American woman elected in all of New England to Congress. Prior to his time with Rep. Hayes, Michael worked as a deputy chief of staff for the Majority Conference leader in the New Jersey Legislative Assembly (Shavonda Sumter D-35) and the deputy district director for Congresswoman Elizabeth Etsy of New Britain, Connecticut. Most notably, Michael contributed to the incredible success of the Obama for America Campaign where he served as the Northeast Regional Field Director in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, and conducted region wide plans for voter registration and event organizing for volunteers.

He currently serves on the boards for Monmouth County - Mental Health Association, Two River Theater and The Welcome Party.

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Dr. Damary M. Bonilla-Rodriguez
Director, Leaders of Color New York

Dr. Damary Bonilla-Rodriguez joined Education Reform Now as the first Director of Leaders of Color New York. She previously served as the National Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Manager for Girls Inc. To change the political and leadership landscape for Latinos, Dr. Bonilla-Rodriguez ran for State Representative in the 189th District of Pennsylvania in the 2016 election cycle where she became the 1st Hispanic to make a State ballot in Pike and Monroe Counties. In November 2019, she became the 1st Hispanic elected as School Board Director in the East Stroudsburg Area School District where she Chairs the Education and Negotiation committees. Dr. Bonilla-Rodriguez serves as Vice President for Colonial Intermediate Unit 20 which oversees Special Education services for 13 School Districts; she was the first person of color and Hispanic to join this Board and to hold a leadership role. Passionate about Board service, she sits on several throughout the country including: Monroe County Children and Youth, LatinaVIDA, Latinas on the Plaza, the Brodhead Watershed Association, and Prospanica New York where she is the Vice President of Professional Development. In addition, she was appointed by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf to represent the Poconos Region on statewide commissions on Redistricting Reform and Latino affairs (GACLA); she Chairs the GACLA Education committee.

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Dr. Lacretia Carroll
Director, Leaders of Color Memphis

Dr. Lacretia Carroll a talented and accomplished nursing professional and currently an Assistant Professor at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, College of Nursing. Dr. Carroll has a passion for improving health outcomes, decreasing health disparities, and improving health equity in marginalized communities. Dr. Carroll ties her passion for eliminating disparities with a passion for political progress. She has worked on several political campaigns, and previously served as the Regional Director of the Black Caucus of Young Democrats of America, and currently serves as the Treasurer of the Shelby County Democratic Party. She is a recent alumnus and now the Training Director of Leaders of Color Memphis, an initiative designed to elevate progressive Black and Latino leaders to public office.

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Amber Davis-Prince
Deputy Director, Operations

Mrs. Amber Davis-Prince was born and raised in Birmingham, AL and moved to New Orleans in 2012. She holds a BA in Speech Communication from Berea College, a Master of Arts in Higher Education Administration from Eastern Kentucky University and is currently completing a Doctorate in Educational Leadership at Xavier University of Louisiana. Amber has worked in higher education for over 15 years, creating programs and services to support students in achieving their post secondary education goals and advocating for student needs - with an emphasis on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. 

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Katherine Otilia Zapata
Program Manager, Leaders of Color New York

Katherine Otilia Zapata serves as the Program Manager, Leaders of Color NY. She has been a part of DFER since early 2020, and has previously served as National Research Manager, and was the Social Media Operations Coordinator for our Colorado team! She holds a Bachelor of Arts in International Studies from the University of Denver and is currently pursuing her Master's degree in Global Affairs at DU as well. During her time at the University of Denver, she worked closely with the surrounding migrant and refugee community through several internships and initiatives, such as being on the board of the LatinX Student Alliance and serving as the President of the Multicultural Greek Council. Moreover, she worked to dismantle systematic barriers to ensure that more individuals like herself receive the education they deserve.
As an inner-city student, Katherine has allowed for her own personal experiences as a Latina to navigate her civic engagement passions across policy and community organizing. Katherine was born and raised in Queens, New York City, and is a first-generation Latina.

National Advisory Board

Our National Advisory Board is composed of leaders who represent a variety of sectors including education reform, social justice, environmental justice, political sourcing and entertainment. Their guidance is hugely important for our program, our fellows, and our alumni. 
Meet our board members:

Learn More

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