Kala Stepter

Kala Stepter is an 8th Grade Math Teacher at East Bay Innovation Academy.

“As leaders of color in the education field, we have faith in our students and our communities. We see the beauty and strength that already exists within them and have hope that we – educators, students, families, our communities – can build toward a more equitable nation that not just recognizes but appreciates all that we are. The Surge Fellowship allows us the space to celebrate, connect, and build with a heart toward social justice. As a classroom teacher, I am excited to collaborate and be inspired by my cohort; I am prepared to learn and be equipped with tools that I can pass on to my students. We are most powerful all together, and I’m honored to be a part of a movement working for systemic change in our schools.”


Naomi Wilfred

Naomi Wilfred is a Teacher at Chicago Public Schools – National Teachers Academy.

“Surge is an opportunity to make real change. I am excited to work with like-minded educators and creating a network to bring empowerment to Black and Brown students. Though I have been dedicated to this work for some time, now more than ever we need to elevate the voices of students and people whose voices have been silenced.”


Ángel L. Vélez

Ángel L. Vélez is a Research Associate at the Office of Community College Research and Leadership – University of Illinois.

“The Surge Fellowship creates the space to interrogate and investigate ways to disrupt the education of racially minoritized communities. It is the commitment to raise new questions and actionable steps that makes the Surge Fellowship critical to our collective success. During this pandemic, systemic racial inequalities have been magnified, particularly for our Youth of Color. I hope to engage in questioning and reconsidering my assumptions and genuinely engage in creating community-based solutions to the structural inequalities we continue to face while developing liberatory education for our students of color.”


Jessica Sullivan-Wilson

Jessica Sullivan-Wilson is the Director, Community Affairs at Teach for America, Greater Chicago-Northwest Indiana.

“I want to be in a space where I am allowed the opportunity to learn, create, collaborate, innovate, and join a beautiful wave of Black and Latinx Education professionals who see the potential in my beautiful former students without even knowing their names because they, too, have names and stories etched on each one of their hearts reminding them why they are invested in the ultimate success of moving the mountains of systemic racism and inequity to give birth to opportunity in education. The Surge experience will allow me the opportunity to skill build among individuals who are a rich network of complex skills and talent, who are trying to answer the same big questions that I have, and who realized that, instead of trying to move fast and alone in the vast education landscape, they wanted to find their village to move forward together.”


Miguel Rodriguez

Miguel Rodriguez is the Assistant Principal at KIPP Chicago – Bloom College Prep.

“Now, more than ever, being part of a movement like Surge is critical to realizing a more equitable society. In my thirteen years of education, I’ve come to realize that for Black, Indigenous, and Latinx people to address systemic oppression is not enough to be seen as qualified. We are often given the titles but never the authority to make decisions. I’ve also realized that there are some people who will only invite us to sit at the decision-making table when we have our masks on – a complacent version of ourselves that checks the box for them. The Surge Fellowship is an opportunity to build coalitions that empowers us to live and operate in our authentic voices, to operate with our values when given the authority to lead and to be unapologetic in taking up space when using our social capital to impact systemic change.”


Marshana Pace

Marshana Pace is the Director of Investments at A Better Chicago.

“My personal mission is to ensure children of color can lead lives of their choosing instead of lives predetermined by their race, socio-economic status, or zip code. To achieve this, systems that create barriers to opportunity must be radically transformed but the change I seek cannot be achieved by me or my organization alone. It requires a movement. The intentional collaboration that Surge facilitates among leaders of color is a catalyst for impact. I see Surge as a powerful community of knowledge and support to lock arms within the challenging work of navigating and transforming broken systems.”


Jessica Ramos

Jessica Ramos is the Director of Community Engagement at Advance Illinois.

“There is true power in being in community with people that understand the importance of fighting for systemic transformation. We are experiencing unprecedented times and our Black, Brown, and Indigenous community is demanding justice that is long overdue. The urgency to lock arms with other equity-minded leaders is needed now more than ever. We need leaders that are committed to disrupting the racist systems that have impacted our communities for generations. The Surge movement prepares people with the skills and the network to not only navigate spaces that were not created for us but to fight for what our community deserves.”


Rigo Padilla Pérez

Rigo Padilla Pérez is a College and Career Coach at Chicago Public Schools – Solorio Academy High School.

“I feel that I am at a point in my life where I am the most capable to fully invest my time into continuing my professional development. At the same time, we are living in unprecedented times that have surfaced too many of the injustices that people of color face in this country. I am looking forward to connecting with others to not only analyze, but also continue creating positive change in our communities through multiple strategies – whether that be through education, continued dialogue, or direct action. My biggest hope is that I can gain experience and relationships to ultimately empower young people to continue making our communities are healthier, safer, and more united.”


Danielle McConnell

Danielle McConnell is the Director of Program at One Million Degrees.

“The Surge Fellowship will impact my development as I identify sustainable ways to address system change that makes a valuable impact in my community. We are again at a pivotal point in history where Black and Brown people are fighting to position themselves in many spheres of influence; tackling racial violence, economic disinvestment, and racial health disparities. The effects of a global pandemic will be lasting on communities of color. How do we work together to take care of Black and Brown education and non-profit leaders who are experiencing personal and vicarious trauma and burnout during this time? How do we capitalize on this moment to advance and highlight the needs of our communities? I believe that Surge and the amazing leaders that make up the organization are in a good place to tackle some of these questions and bring a unique perspective that will be invaluable to the communities we serve.”


DeMarco Hughes

DeMarco Hughes is the Director of Culture and Climate at Chicago Tech Academy.

“When I left my school on March 13th to begin our state-mandated stay at home order, I thought I was preparing for COVID-19, not COVID-1619 – this deadly, racist virus has raised a myriad of emotions and feelings in me in the recent weeks. Feelings that often get suppressed by the busyness of life. My life’s purpose is to serve youth and work against systems of oppression that put Black and Brown children further behind, silence their voices and work directly against their advancement. Beyond that, our time is NOW! Our world’s current racial tensions show that there is a need, now, for Black and Brown leaders to create and transform spaces for our people, that benefit our youth and communities that advance us. Most recently my Pastor shared this quote and I immediately thought of Surge: “Purpose is not independent. There is purpose found in your partnership” – this is why Surge, and this is why now.”