Ennis Bynum is the Dean of Culture at Johnson College Prep and a member of the inaugural cohort for the Diverse Leaders Fellowship. The Diverse Leaders Fellowship (DLF) is designed to identify our diverse talent and invest in their development, while also strengthening our leadership pipeline at Noble. DLF was started in 2018 and helps provide professional development, networking opportunities and one-on-one mentoring to the participants. 

As an important part of its mission, the Diverse Leaders Fellowship is long overdue and of critical importance as we evolve as an organization that acknowledges the importance of developing and elevating underrepresented groups of people , in an organization that predominantly serves students of color. Historically, staff of color have been mostly in discipline and student support roles, and have not had enough access to or representation in instructional and leadership roles.  As an important part of its mission, this fellowship seeks to create direct pipelines for people who look like our students to be able to serve our students and be a model of excellence, at every level in our network.

I joined the Diverse Leaders Fellowship to get development as a leader and have the opportunity to network with other talented diverse leaders throughout Noble. Being able to build great connections and relationships across the network has helped me navigate challenging decisions, encouraged me to have tough conversations, while also partnering me with a mentor to coach me through my my time in the fellowship. I was lucky enough to be partnered with CJ as my mentor, so that was a win-win for me.

I LOVE the new policy! It’s very important as an organization that we allow our students and staff to express themselves. We cannot continue to oppress the minds of young people by shaming self expression and labeling it as “unprofessional.” The change in this policy allows students to fully express themselves, be comfortable in their own skin while focusing strictly on academics. As a man with a tattoo sleeve, this policy has impacted me directly as an individual who no longer has to conceal his tattoos; also, as a Dean of Discipline, I am able to shift my focus and attention to our key priorities.

Over the years, I’ve had countless conversations with parents about why their student was being kept from learning due to hair color or a piercing. I’ve also witnessed a number of families decide to leave Noble, or not consider Noble at all, due to these policies, which is always disheartening. When CJ announced the change, I was certainly excited about being able to wear short sleeve shirts in the summer, but it doesn’t compare to the joy I felt knowing that our students would have a new platform to express themselves. Letting our students and staff feel comfortable as their full authentic selves allows us to focus on improving our performance as both educators and students.

CJ’s philosophy of bringing your whole incredible self to work reaffirms the idea that diversity matters at Noble. Remaining true to our core values means accepting our talent for who they are, and developing both them as well as the young minds we have the privilege to shape every day. It was powerful to see CJ reinforce her belief in the importance of bringing your authentic self to work when she visited campuses with her very own purple hair.

At Noble, we are college bound. As the largest charter public school network in Chicago, Noble’s high school program exposes our students to higher education options and guides them through the collegiate application process. Through college trips, college fairs, summer college immersion programs and required academic courses, Noble demystifies the college experience and shapes students’ beliefs and confidence about higher education.
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