The Surge Institute: Empowering Leaders of Color to Impact Communities

Suppose you’re like me and constantly pursuing professional and workforce development opportunities that provide access, community and champion leaders of color to serve as disruptors and shake up the norm for educational equity. In that case, you’ve heard of The Surge Institute.

For those unfamiliar, The Surge Institute is a national nonprofit organization with a mission to educate and develop leaders of color who create transformative change for young people, their families and our broader communities. The Surge Institute supports people who profoundly and directly affect positive change in the world by elevating leaders of color in educational spaces. Their ideas, gifts, access, resources and encouragement transform the people around them. When students, families and whole communities realize their potential, there’s no limit to the possibilities.

I sat down with two impactful leaders and 2020 Chicago alums from this organization, Tiara Wheatley (Vice President, Alumni Impact) and TaraShaun R. Cain (Executive Director of Black Principals Network), to discuss the highly selective fellowship program, the workplace and the expansion.

Surge The Fellowship

Tiara Wheatley, vice president of Alumni Impact at The Surge Institute, and TaraShaun R. Cain, executive director of Black Principals Network (Photo Provided).

For many leaders of color, it is hard to establish community over competition. Like in every industry, the struggle to show up authentically, ask challenging questions, and (still) navigate from an empowered space as a change agent can seem impossible. The Surge Institute serves as the answer to a leader of color. 

TaraShaun R. Cain: In my former role, I served as Principal of a Leap Innovation School. As a person big on community, I was looking for ways to develop myself outside of the workplace that would change how I approach the work and the world as a leader of color. Before I decided to apply, I witnessed the transformation of colleagues who had gone through this fellowship program and how their personhood and language shifted in advocating for our Black and Brown children, equity and development. Above all, I chose this fellowship because I knew I needed to do something for myself where I could be fully submerged in my blackness. Surge provided me the space to find my people.

Tiara Wheatley: Leading in any space can be lonely. So, to be afforded the freedom to create a community that feeds who you are, your mission in life and what you may have been missing in the workplace is needed. Surge provides people with an opportunity to push the needle as an educator in your respective communities and to provide students with more than they deserve.

Surge The Workplace

As Surge employees, they take care of us by prioritizing wellness. We continue on the healing journey we underwent during the fellowship and still do the work by pushing out content and programming. Here, we know if you are not right within yourself, the work will not match. Because of Surge, we can’t lead a conversation without discussing anti-racism, Blackness, Equity and what is right (necessary) for our people. Surge grounds us in this daily work to champion.

Working in an environment that allows us to be seen, valued, and heard is vital. This work enables its employees to receive the poor and be vulnerable. Here, we can be authentic.

Surge Forward

The Surge Institute has currently impacted 333 leaders of color and holds offices in the following cities: Chicago, Oakland, Kansas City, Indianapolis, Washington, DC, Philadelphia, and Las Vegas.

Cain adds that Surge teaches you the kind of leader you want to be for others. The beauty of Surge allows you to build the capacity to create boundaries in the workplace and recognize when it’s time to pivot, which is powerful. 

In addition to empowering leaders of color, The Surge Institute is also home to The Black Principals Network led by Cain, with a mission dedicated to the community, restoration, professional development and liberation of Black principals across the country. The overarching goal of BPN is to co-create a community of Black principals in pursuit of the career-bolstering and self-sustaining practices often not prioritized in this impactful yet demanding role.

A community rooted in collective care, the Surge Institute (Chicago) enters its tenth year in 2024. Wheatley adds that her hope for Surge is that its impact goes beyond Chicago. 

Wheatley: We are a nationwide organization that operates coast to coast. As it relates to my role with Alumni Impact, we’ve all been doing the work, whether it be in our schools, nonprofit organizations or entrepreneurial journeys. Our aim is that you will see an influx of coalition building from our alumni, not only locally but across the nation. Our goal is to impact policy, education laws and everything related to the work we are all doing at a micro level.

To learn more about The Surge Institute and its programs, click here.


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