NYU Steinhardt News

Steinhardt Student Seeks to Change the Narrative for Young Men of Color

After overcoming countless obstacles in Compton, SSLD Fellow and Educational Leadership graduate student Curtis Nash (Steinhardt MA ’18) is using his experience to encourage young students of color to find their own strengths and persevere.

Can you describe how your work is moving the needle towards racial equity?

I currently work as at the ROADS Public Charter School Bronx Campus as the Dean of Culture, following eight years of experience serving as a social worker and a college counselor. I also taught a college readiness curriculum in some of the country’s most at-risk schools in Chicago and Washington, D.C.

Building on the school reform efforts I have implemented in my career thus far, I now aim to change the narrative for young men of color. As a school leader, I want to grow and educate teachers so that we all may significantly and positively impact the high school graduation rate of African American males.

It is my true belief that the core of what we do is help students develop their “why” and help them become the authors of their own stories. I want to be a conduit for passing on knowledge and an advocate for removing obstacles in students’ journeys in the same ways my mentors did for me. I want to make sure that students are able to trust the process of becoming who they want to be and ensure that they are able to receive the resources they need to be successful along the way.

It takes all the adults within a school building to change how schools operate when it comes to developing African American males as lifelong learners. As a school leader, I will develop teacher practices that will help students identify their own strengths, abilities, and other competencies. This professional development will help educators remediate student deficits, strengthen their unique capabilities, and enable them to fully participate in a global society. I will support educators in rethinking how they relate to children of color, and how to convert their school into a hub for the students, families, and the community in which they serve.

What prompted you to take an active role in fostering racial equality in our communities?

Seeing people who come from Compton – my birthplace – or similar individuals who are not in the best place in life. No matter how crazy it sounds, I sometimes feel guilty for having made it. What did I do differently to deserve this? Why me and not them?

This feeling is called survivor’s guilt. It is the feeling of wrongfulness because I survived what so many black men have not. I survived a low-performing high school, a drug-infested, single parent household, foster care, and a gang-ridden neighborhood. I then had the courage to survive college, enroll in graduate school, and work in one of the most challenging professions – education.

My sense of commitment and obligation to other young men of color is my primary motivator for this work and for applying to New York University’s Educational Leadership program. In order to create opportunities for students grappling with the same struggles that marked my own childhood, I am studying under the guidance of some of the country’s premier scholars, with access to a world-class curriculum and academic resources. My studies at NYU will better prepare me to be a transformational asset to youth of color in schools throughout the United States.

I have high expectations for my students, both personally and academically. Whenever I see young men facing the same types of obstacles that I encountered in my youth, I am reminded of how important it is to be a source of guidance and inspiration, especially in an educational system that appears to be failing many of our children.

My decision to become an educator is deeply rooted in the trials I overcame while pursuing my own academic career. I am confident that my ability to relate to my students provides me with a unique opportunity to impact them beyond the classroom. I firmly believe that every student walking through the school doors each morning is extremely intelligent. As an educator, it is my duty to provide all students with a safe space to flourish academically and become active contributors to society.

How has Steinhardt helped you further your goals to move the needle towards equality so far?

Steinhardt has really driven me to reassess how I look at schooling in this country. It is providing me with a new approach that will allow me to contribute to school reform in ways I never imagined.