Carmita Semaan transcends the range of possibilities expected of a little girl who grew up below the poverty line in Birmingham, Alabama. While her childhood was steeped in adversity, Carmita was held to expectations that knew no bounds by a no-nonsense mother and other aspirational models in her life. After completing her college degree in chemical engineering and working in the professional world, she left corporate America to work for Chicago Public Schools and other education nonprofits—where she found that few decision-makers or policy-setters shared experiences with the students they served.
With that inequity in mind, Carmita founded The Surge Institute in 2014 with the simple but important mission of amplifying leaders of color who create transformative change for young people, their families, and their broader communities. Her ultimate goal is for the senior and executive leaders of all organizations that serve Black and Brown youth to be individuals who do have shared experiences with the youth and communities they serve.
In 2021, The Surge Institute laid out a new strategic plan, The Surge Ahead, with the vision of expanding the organization’s work to serve and support 5,000 leaders by 2030. The journey has brought Surge to grow its Black Principals Network and broaden efforts to support educators of color beyond Chicago into key cities such as Oakland, Kansas City, Indianapolis, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, and Washington, D.C. Most recently, Carmita’s work with senior leadership across the educational ecosystem is powering transformation in systems that improve student outcomes, address critical issues in youth-serving systems, and drive innovation.
Now, because of her organization’s inspiring and fruitful work, Carmita is one of five people recognized as a 2023 Luminary by The Cleveland Avenue Foundation for Education’s 1954 Project initiative. Each receiving a grant of $1 million, the 1954 Project’s signature grantees are called Luminaries because of their brilliance and how their work shines a light on a future that affirms our culture and benefits all students. What an honor for Carmita and Surge!
“For this year’s Luminary grants, we received over 400 applications from Black leaders in education,” Liz Thompson, The CAFE Group president, said in a release. “We were particularly impressed by Carmita’s understanding of how critical it is to have diverse leadership when it comes to educating our children.”
Carmita, along with the four other award winners, will be recognized and honored during the Third Annual 1954 Project Luminary Awards via livestream on May 17, 2023. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones will kick off the event, which will also feature presenters such as New York Times best-selling author Trabian Shorters and Spelman College President Dr. Helene Gayle, along with several surprise guests.
“Being recognized as a Luminary by the 1954 Project is extremely humbling and beautiful,” Carmita said. “To have amazing philanthropists like Liz and Don Thompson invest in our work is so affirming and validating, and having their support for our efforts to invest in Black, Brown, and AAPI folks who are doing the work and who are there for our young people gives us a tremendous boost.”
Visit https://hopin.com/events/2023-luminary-awards/registration to register for the livestream Luminary Awards presentation on May 17 (12-1pm CT).