Brooklyn native Erika Hardaway ’15 (MA, International Education) has always had an affinity for languages. She spoke French fluently as a child because her babysitter was from Martinique, and she began taking Spanish classes in elementary school.
However, she first found herself intrigued by education when she participated in an international volunteer program in high school.
“I’d always liked working with kids, so in my junior year I traveled to Uruguay through Amigos de las Américas [AMIGOS],” says Hardaway. “My group ran educational workshops with young children, and I was able to enhance my Spanish skills during that trip.”
Hardaway delved even more deeply into language by attending Hunter College as a Spanish language and culture major and French minor. She continued to travel and volunteer through AMIGOS, and in 2009 she had a transformative experience on a trip to Honduras.
“I was 19 years old and a project supervisor for the trip, and just a few days after we arrived, a coup overthrew the president,” says Hardaway. “It was terrifying, and we were quickly evacuated, but something that stuck with me was that all the schools had to close during this discord. I was able to leave and had other options, but what about all the families and children who were stuck there?”
This experience led to Hardaway attending Steinhardt’s international education program to study conflict and development work with refugees.
“I was really interested in working with Dana Burde; her research in Afghanistan was some of the most innovative work I had ever seen,” says Hardaway. “I also had some of the best internships while I was at Steinhardt, working with Catholic Charities USA in their refugee resettlement department and with Scholars at Risk.”
After graduating from Steinhardt, Hardaway worked as a trainer and educator for the nonprofit educational program Global Kids and a classroom Spanish teacher at a charter school in Brooklyn, among other roles.
Today, Hardaway is a senior manager for TNTP, a nonprofit with the goal of ending educational inequality by providing excellent teachers to students, especially those from vulnerable populations.
My role gives me a seat at the table that I don’t take lightly as a Black woman from a marginalized background myself. We seek to find out whose voices are being left out and how to advocate for them.
“TNTP was started in 1997 by a group of teachers who wanted to make sure that other teachers had access to good training,” says Hardaway. “Now we work with well over 200 school systems nationwide.”
Hardaway works largely in community and family engagement and equity. She has consulted recently with one district to think about how to create and leverage school-based equity teams, and with another about how to effectively engage families who are marginalized, such as multilingual learners.
Hardaway describes her parents as a major source of support.
“My role gives me a seat at the table that I don’t take lightly as a Black woman from a marginalized background myself,” says Hardaway. “We seek to find out whose voices are being left out and how to advocate for them. TNTP is such a powerful organization and I feel lucky to work with people who care so deeply about equity for students.”
Hardaway was recently a guest speaker in “International Human Rights Education and Activism,” a class taught by Heddy Lahmann, clinical assistant professor of international education. Hardaway facilitated a discussion with undergraduate and graduate students about human rights in education, Critical Race Theory, and ways in which her experiences in the international education program connect to the work she does now.
“We started with my favorite prompt, which is asking students to dream about what it would take for the world to be an affirming place for everyone,” says Hardaway. “What would have to change, and what are our roadblocks? When it comes to international programs, I think it’s important to approach situations as learners, especially when you’re in someone else’s environment or community.”
Hardaway and the Black Sister Circle.
In addition to her role at TNTP, Hardaway runs an affinity group for Black and Brown girls aged 13–18 in Crown Heights called Black Sister Circle (BSC).
“BSC runs monthly workshops to help these girls navigate the many ‘-isms’ they experience in their lives,” says Hardaway. “We started out a year ago with two kids, and now we have a dozen.”
BSC is actively fundraising for a trip to take the girls to Ghana so they can experience their ancestry and be part of the majority for perhaps the first time in their lives. Among other activities, the participants will experience a spiritual naming ceremony; take classes on African dance, culture, food, and fabric-making; and learn about the history of West Africa pre-slavery.
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