2017 Surge Cocktail Party

The Surge Alumni Social Committee once again knocked it out of the park, this time bringing together Surge staff, alumni, fellows and supporters for the first annual cocktail party! The party represented a hopeful look to the future, celebrating our largest cohort of fellows, the growing families of our alumni and the exciting upcoming advancements at Surge.

The Power of your Story

In my work for the Surge Institute, I find myself reflecting personally on our fellowship program objectives. Recently, none have resonated with me more than the power of one’s personal story.

My story matters and makes me a better leader.

That’s the crux of the objective. For me, this means a journey into my childhood. In the past two months, I have chosen to intentionally proclaim my story as the son of an immigrant.

I am proud to be the son of an immigrant whose parents overstayed their visitor visa. I am proud to be from a family that survived deportation. The 2:00 a.m. immigration knock on my parent’s apartment in Little Italy ended with my mother Josefina and my father Rito in handcuffs, being processed for deportation. My mother, who was seven-months pregnant, found the mercy of the courts and was allowed to stay because of the baby in her belly. My father did not find that same clemency, was deported, and as a result did not witness my birth.

Soon after my birth, we joined my father in Mexico. I treasure the few memories I have of growing up there and am grateful that my first language is Spanish. I am proud that English is my second language. I am proud that my citizenship helped my parents to eventually become residents of this country.

This is my immigrant story.

My identity, strength, and purpose as a leader is intertwined in this story. This story led me to become a teacher and a principal in the very community in which I grew up. When asked why I lead, I am reminded of Cesar Chavez’s words: “We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community… Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.”

Every single time I drive through the streets of Chicago and I see my people, in either frigid cold temperatures or suffocating heat, selling tamales, paletas (ice cream), fruit, and cotton candy.  I quietly thank them because their sacrifice reminds me that we both share a similar story and I am grateful. I choose to see their dignity and I acknowledge the strength in our collective narratives.

More recently, familiar elements of my story have taken center stage. The vitriol that currently exist in our country is taking a toll. My heart breaks as a result of the hatred, xenophobia, and racism unleashed toward so many of our immigrant neighbors. This anti-immigrant narrative, full of micro-aggressions, hate, and misinformation has place families, friends and children under the siege of fear and stress. Silence, anonymity, and obscurity is now palpable in many of our communities in Chicago.

And so I proclaim my story.

“The anti-immigrant logic has basically saturated our world. I’m staying, and I’m fighting,” said Junot Diaz. I am fighting by being intentional to share my story as an immigrant in every possible circle, space, and encounter where I can. I have chosen to share, to bring light and to compel others through my story. This is the least I can do. We must create a counter-narrative to the vitriol. We must challenge the current dominate narrative and we must be intentional in our approach.

Let’s continue to tell our stories in power!

Rito Martinez

Vice President of National Programs


The strategy of counter narrative and counter story telling can be one small but intentional strategy of resisting and fighting back. Below is a quote and a resource:

“Counter story-telling stems from critical race theory, which began around the mid-1970s.  Solorzano & Yosso (2002) define counter-storytelling as “a method of telling the stories of those people whose experiences are not often told” (p. 26).  So, counter-stories can be used to expose, analyze, as well as challenge deeply-entrenched narratives and characterizations of racial privilege, sex, etc.  In this sense, counter-stories can help promote social justice by putting a human face to the experiences of often-marginalized groups.”

Click here to learn more about counter storytelling.

Schools Don’t Look Like Me

The bell rings.

The doors open.

Little faces exhibiting curiosity, anguish, joy and uncertainly enter the school building. Colorful clothing, rumbling footsteps, uncontrollable laugher, and at times inaudible conversations about life permeate the stairway as children disappear into classrooms. These students whether in black leather “church” shoes or Jordan Retro 12’s venture into these spaces to acquire knowledge in hopes of reaching heights only imagined.

Once students have entered the classrooms they place their belongings in coatrooms or hooks and prepare for the day. The teacher whom most often greets them with “good morning” seldom looks like them. Today children represent many ethnicities, cultures, and religions. In fact, the American school system is the most diverse its ever been. However, the faculty in many American schools are white and the majority of these teachers are women. Where are the Black male teachers?

During my sophomore year at the University of Minnesota I knew that my calling was to become a teacher. Out of the hundreds of students in Minnesota’s school of education less than 10 percent were African-American and, even more striking, just 1 percent of those that would commit their lives to this work were black males. Being closely tied to that 1 percent, I would often self-reflect on my own personal experiences. What made this picture even more vivid was cycling though memories, looking back at the countless teachers who taught me while a student in Milwaukee Public Schools and realizing that in my 13 years of elementary, middle and high school education only one of my teachers, Mr. Harris, was a black man.

I realized, as a black male educator, that my 11 years in an elementary classroom were atypical. Because as I reflected on my professional network it was comprised of well-connected, highly educated and impassioned teachers, none of whom looked like me. There is a lot that comes with being the only in a school. Being treated as the “black savior” of the toughest kids of color, confronting daily micro-aggressions with colleagues, becoming a wordsmith in an effort to articulately check misinformed teachers, and feeling as though you are under a microscope is a hefty burden to bear.

We are in a national crisis and we need more black men in not only our schools but in our classrooms as well. “America’s teachers are disproportionally female (75 percent) and white (83 percent), according to recent federal data. Black men make up less than 2 percent of teachers, though minorities now make up a majority of students in public schools”. Our black children do not see reflections of themselves in teaching or in administrative positions. In addition, our boys lack the male role models whose presence alone can instill values of worth and purpose.

There are programs that understand the urgency of supporting black male educators and there are national initiatives encouraging black males to consider being teachers. Bottom line, our boys of color, especially our black boys need black men to mentor them, coach them, guide them, teach them, and love them!

In sixth grade Mr. Harris told me I would be great. He said I could attend an Ivy League university if I put my mind to it. In his presence I felt that I had the power to change the world. He wasn’t the first teacher to believe in me, but he was the one that mattered the most. Mr. Harris, wherever you are, thank you for believing in me, and know that ya boy attended an Ivy League, Columbia University, and I am changing the world.