Border Crossers

Border Crossers equips educators to be leaders of racial justice in their schools and communities. We are a national education equity nonprofit dedicated to closing the achievement gap by training educators in how to explore race and racism with elementary school students. We believe that if educators are prepared to have meaningful conversations about diversity, students will be better equipped to interrupt patterns of inequality and injustice in their own lives and thrive in a multicultural society. Through our interactive and creative method grounded in data and research, we provide professional development workshops, community organizing and educator resources.

What makes this project a “Point of Proof?”

Border Crossers’ work demonstrates that when educators engage in racial justice initiatives, Black children thrive and succeed at higher levels in schools. Through a specific racial equity analysis and framework, our programs engage educators in dismantling their own internalized biases and challenge the deficit model approach to working with students of color that prevails in the culture of schools. We believe our country has inherited a fundamentally unjust education system that fails to provide for students of color, particularly Black boys. Our programs push against dominant “colorblind” pedagogies by training educators how to recognize and interrupt systems of racial inequity.

Who participates in this project?

Because Border Crossers’ programs were created specifically for educators, the vast majority of participants in this project are teachers. Administrators, parents, staff and teaching artists make up a small but significant portion of our audience. Participants work in public, charter and independent schools throughout New York City, as well as community organizations and other nonprofits. The teachers we train work with a variety of student populations. 

How does this project define success?

All of Border Crossers’ work is focused on encouraging educators to have open conversations about race with their students, empowering those students to interrupt cycles of racism that they see in their own lives, and engaging whole school communities to make long term institutional changes within the New York City education system. However, when focusing on the needs of Black children, it isn’t sufficient to only work inside of the school. While our citywide trainings and in-school workshops help to create an atmosphere of understanding within an educational setting, it is also imperative to work with outside organizations that also have a stake in the success of Black children’s lives. For Border Crossers, long-term success includes establishing and maintaining a presence within schools (public, charter and independent), as well as community organizations that work within and around all of those institutions. Through our current programs, Border Crossers has worked with 700 teachers from 95 schools, with a student reach of over 21,000 students. Our short-term goals consist of maintaining these relationships and capitalizing on them to continue developing robust programs, as well as building our support team both within and outside of the organization. 

How do you know when this project is successful?

Based on a four-pronged evaluation protocol, Border Crossers is able to track the impact of our programs on teacher effectiveness. Our method takes both qualitative and quantitative data and measures the impact on teacher preparedness and action in the classroom. Pre-workshop questionnaires aregiven as well as a series of evaluations weeks and months after participating.Educators have revealed a level of clarity around their personal biases andhow it is reflected in their teaching, how the systems in which they teach andwork affects their Black students, and how their own pedagogy changes aftergaining new knowledge, skills and tools from our workshops.

What makes it successful?

Border Crossers’ programs are designed to encourage all educators inthoughtful reflection and dialogue about the needs o f Black children.By examining the nature of systems of oppression, educators gain a deeperunderstanding of the historical and institutional framework of racism.However, our success comes from a unique and creative method thatprovides multiple entry points into the conversation and guides educatorsbeyond theory to application in everyday settings and practice.All of our programs have the same structure, whether it is a two-hour workshopor a full, six-hour training. Each section is structured in a way that offersinformation, encourages dialogue and stresses the importance of self-reflection:

  • Foundations: What is race? What is racism? This section deals with thetheories behind race, racism, and how children come to learn about race.
  • Application: What does the theory look like in reality? In this section,participants take a stand on when to talk about race with students,recognize the systems of power at play in their professional lives, andexplore and dissect “teachable race moments,” or moments having todo with race that give an educator pause.
  • Practice: How can we intervene? After dissecting teachable momentsin small groups, what do we say when we’re confronted with raciallycharged comments from our students? Here, participants practicewhat they might say when a child asks a question about race through astructured activity called the One Voice Roleplay.

All of Border Crossers’ workshops offer participants an opportunity to learnhow race has shaped our country, how it has manifested itself with youngpeople, and how to find creative ways to address it. One participant said, “Thesensitivity to our community of teachers, their historical perspective on raceand structural racism, and their three-pronged approach through foundation,application and practice, all combined to create workshops that were morethan the usual uncomfortable, uneasy presentations.”

What challenges has it faced?

Considering the enormous success of reaching 700 educators in the 2012-2013school year, it is always a challenge when we are met with those who believe this work is not necessary, or that their school does not have a “race” problem.This is often a sign that some institutions do not see the larger picture of structural racism and its effects on our everyday lives. At Border Crossers, we see this as an opportunity to critically engage with schools and educators and share the importance of our work. We often utilize a community organizing strategy that classifies people into three groups—those who agree that this work is necessary, those who are neutral and can be swayed to recognize the importance of our work, and those who push back against everything we do and have no interest in discussions about race, even with the current national climate on the issue. By working strategically to build a strong base, we leverage their power to build a critical mass in a school community that is committed to making institutional changes that benefit Black students.


How is this project sustainable?

Border Crossers is sustained through foundation grants, individual contributions, a fee-for-service structure and government funding. We seek to operate within the realities of current funding models while keeping the interests and influence of the communities we serve at the heart of our mission and work. 

What is the single most important thing people should know about this project?

The most important takeaway of Border Crossers, particularly in relation toBlack children, families and communities, is that we recognize the inequalitythat is at play within the institution of education. In New York City alone, 85%of teachers are White, and while only 30% of students are Black, this createsa unique challenge that contributes to the “achievement gap.” It is vital thatwe address these inconsistencies and help educators respond to the waysin which race and racism has affected and continues to affect the lives andeducation of Black children.