Connecting with three New Orleans educators about their out-of-school pursuits
New Orleans’ educators are innovative in their classrooms and fiercely dedicated to their students and their schools. We know many of them innovate outside the classroom, too. A number of our educators manage exciting projects, businesses, and organizations that they run after work hours. Since summer break often opens up more time to work on those projects, we recently took the opportunity to connect with a few educators about their out-of-school initiatives.
We’re featuring Amani Khabeer, Frederick J. Johnson IV, and Ricky Williams. Their initiatives are very different, but each of their businesses serve children and families. As both educators and entrepreneurs, these leaders are supporting our community and changing lives in and outside of the classroom.
Amani Khabeer: 3rd Grade English Language Arts (ELA) Teacher at KIPP Central City Primary and Founder and CEO of Brown Girls Swim
Amani Khabeer teaches 3rd grade ELA at KIPP Central City Primary (part of the KIPP New Orleans Schools network) and is the Founder and CEO of Brown Girls Swim (BGS), which offers swim classes for children ages 3-17 and adults. BGS teaches the basics of swimming and water safety, and they also offer programs to prepare young people for competitive and collegiate-level swimming.
Khabeer uses some of the very same tactics and technology she does in the classroom at KIPP Central City Primary when she runs lessons at BGS. Last year, she communicated with parents of her students at KCCP using an online progress monitoring program that she then adopted at BGS, and now BGS parents get updates about how their children are developing specific swimming skills.
“At KIPP Central City Primary School we talk a lot about our students’ ability to transform the world, and I apply the same mindset and belief to BGS. We believe our swimmers are transforming the aquatics world and beginning a new narrative surrounding minorities and aquatics,” she explains.
Khabeer leverages not only her skills as an educator, but also her personal experience to run BGS. Khabeer loved swimming growing up but was the only swimmer of color in her 12-college conference for her entire college career.
“No matter how good I was, and how much I loved swimming during that time, I did kind of feel like imposter syndrome, where I just felt like I didn’t belong,” she explains.
When she graduated and moved to New Orleans, she began volunteering as a coach at the New Orleans Recreation Department (NORD) in addition to her work at KIPP New Orleans Schools. Families started asking her to coach their children one on one. Khabeer decided to expand her work.
“I was like, ‘there is a need for this.’ What I want to do at Brown Girls Swim is just to create an environment in aquatics where Black women, and just minorities in general, can feel like they belong.”
Today, BGS is a USA Swimming-approved lesson provider. The demographics of the sport haven’t changed much since Khabeer was competing in college. Last year, fewer than 1% of USA Swimming’s “premium and outreach” swimmers (USA swimming membership categories) were Black girls. When children or adults come to BGS for classes, they get a glimpse at a different reality.
“When you come to Brown Girls Swim, like you’re gonna see that representation, you’re gonna see Black women that are in love with the water,” Khabeer says. “We’re so excited to just share our love of the water with our families and with the swimmers and the students.”
Frederick J. Johnson IV, Senior Director of CA Next and Founder and CEO, Fourth Education Firm, LLC
Frederick J. Johnson IV is a Senior Director of CA Next, the college persistence program at Collegiate Academies, and he is also the Founder and CEO of Fourth Education Firm.
In his role at CA Next, Johnson helps alumni from Collegiate Academies navigate their path through college to graduation.
“I love the work that I do,” he explains. “I love helping students. I love giving families advice about where to go to college, how to navigate financial aid, and I said, ‘You know what, I want to find a way to get this information to more families.’ And so, I started that business with the idea of helping to counsel families and working with schools.”
The mission of Fourth Education, according to Johnson, is “to empower youth and young adults to achieve their personal and educational goals by transforming mindsets and developing skills that lead to success. Our youth are ambitious and want to positively impact their communities. We are here to help them along that journey.”
Through Fourth Education, Johnson supports students in their journey to and through college. He works one on one with students as a coach, he consults with schools and nonprofits, and he’s also written a book, Grind to Grad. He’s motivated by his own journey–Johnson says that it was important for him to hold fast to a deep sense of belief that he would graduate and that he belonged on his college campus.
“Most people usually think of time management or study skills as the reason why students aren’t successful in college. But I will push them to say it’s actually a lot of either navigating the landscape, or just the mindset, the identity-building pieces, social belonging–those are the things,” he explains.
To help students build and keep that mindset, he developed a line of clothing that says “I’m gon’ graduate” on it.
“You have to commit to the mindset that you are going to graduate. There’s no plan B. That’s what I had to keep telling myself when I ran into wall after wall after wall.”
He imagines schools in which students and educators alike all wear his “I’m Gon’ Graduate” shirts–and he envisions how powerful that would be for students’ sense of identity. He wants the phrase “I’m gon’ graduate” to become a given for his students–because it’s what he told himself, over and over, as a student.
“This is what I had to keep telling myself, and this is something I want every staff member on a college campus, and on a high school campus, to wear—so that students see it’s a foregone conclusion that you are going to graduate from college,” he says. “Now we’ve just got to figure out how you get there.”
Ricky Williams, 7th Grade Math Teacher at Bricolage Academy, Founder/CEO of Images are Made
Ricky Williams is a math teacher at Bricolage Academy and the founder and CEO of Images are Made, a motivational clothing brand and inspirational speaking platform. Williams creates clothing and accessories with inspirational phrases designed to motivate and inspire the person wearing them. He also uses social media to create content driving more motivational messages.
The idea for the brand came from a former student of Williams when he was a coach and math teacher at G.W. Carver High School.
“One of my students, a basketball player, he’d always say ‘oh Coach, you’re about to preach to us,’” Williams says. “And the same student was like, ‘Coach, you need to turn what you do into a brand.’”
It connected with something Williams’ own mother had told him for years.
“My mom always told me that I was a preacher, and I was like, ‘no, no, I’m not a preacher,’’ Williams explains. “But she said, ‘No, your pulpit is totally different. Your pulpit is going to be in the community. It’s going to be amongst the younger generation, because you just have the niche of being able to connect with them.’”
Williams’ college degree was in computer graphics, and he worked as an art director for years before becoming a teacher. He started using his computer, art, and design skills alongside his faith and his deep belief in young people to run Images are Made. He told us how he wanted to inspire his students.
“I need to motivate these guys, to get them to understand that they do have the talent, that they do have the capabilities,” he explains. “My whole thing behind Images are Made is to inspire and empower everybody to become their best expression of self–and what better way to do that, than, through finding your actual purpose?”
From here, Williams hopes to expand Images are Made into a nonprofit that runs a community think tank, coffee shop, and co-working space with weekly “shark tank” style competitions that inspire entrepreneurship. He hopes that, between his teaching and Images Are Made, he can reach not just his own students in the classroom, but also those all over the city and world.
“Because we all get stuck,” he explains “We all need resources. We all need somebody else. We all need somebody else to bounce ideas off of. And we also need to understand that if you allow yourself to be vulnerable, you will find out there’s somebody else that’s going through the same issue that you’re going through. And you’re not in it alone.”
We’re inspired by these educators who have found creative ways to continue supporting students and our community even outside the classroom. At NSNO, we’re devoted to making sure New Orleans is the best place in the nation to teach–and that means working to ensure that teachers have the resources and support they need as they pursue their dreams. Through our work with the Allstate Sugar Bowl New Orleans Teacher Community, the Instructional Quality Initiative, our Talent Initiatives, and more, we’ll keep striving to provide that.