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Kresge announces second cohort of Thrive Leaders, executives of color working in higher education


The Kresge Foundation announced its second cohort of executive leaders joining the Education Program’s Thrive Leaders Network. Kresge is providing $5,000 in unrestricted stipends to support the leadership and well-being of 14 executive directors over one year. They join a network of 32 grantee leaders engaging with this vibrant community of national postsecondary success and access professionals.

Launched in 2022, Thrive Leaders is designed to provide grantee leaders of color in the program portfolio and other partners with flexible leadership enrichment resources to support their sustainability and growth as sector leaders.

Nationally, Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) leaders are charged with navigating the adverse challenges of intersectionality, heightened stress and the persistent demand for resiliency and creativity, often with limited resources leading to burnout and high turnover for organizations.

Reports indicate burnout among nonprofit leaders may be a perpetual concern. The demands of leading identity-based organizations are more intense than those of non-identity-based organizations and often outweigh any racial gaps between EDs/CEOs generally.

“As a collective, these leaders need flexible support, opportunities for renewal and growth, and chances to connect with other executives,” said Caroline Altman Smith, deputy director of Kresge’s Education Program. “We’ve seen these leaders make big personal and professional sacrifices on behalf of their non-profit organizations and the students they serve. Many have dedicated their entire careers to removing barriers to higher education and helping both young people and adults set a path toward a degree or credential. I hope Thrive provides a source of rejuvenation and affirmation that their work is vitally important.”

In 2020, the Education Program partnered with a consultant to survey more than 20 BIPOC postsecondary nonprofit leaders to learn firsthand about their leadership and diversity, equity, and inclusion challenges and opportunities. The goal was to use this information to help inform how the program could best support grantees. In response, the Education Program launched the first cohort of Thrive Leaders Network with a grant in unrestricted funds to support leaders of color and programming to fuel a sense of community.

“Many nonprofit leaders face challenges in the executive director/CEO role. Leaders of color often face even more challenges when it comes to fundraising, social capital, culture building and owning influential relationships,” said Aditi Goel, founder of P16 Partners, who conducted the original survey and serves as the program’s facilitator. “It’s lonely at the top, and leaders of color don’t have safe spaces to share their struggles and ask questions. We’ve seen with Thrive that the grant and monthly sessions foster a sense of needed community, space to ideate and share best practices, and allow leaders to do what is rarely seen in the nonprofit sector —  invest in themselves.”

The following leaders are joining the network in 2024:

  • Angel Perez — NACAC
  • Brandon Nicholson — Hidden Genius Project
  • Braulio Colon — FCAN
  • Clara Baron-Hyppolite — College Beyond
  • Cyekeia Lee — Detroit College Access Network
  • Danielle North — Degree Forward
  • David McGhee — Steve Fund
  • Jorge Elorza — Education Reform Now
  • Kathy Chow — Education Writers Association
  • Mary-Pat Hector — Rise Education
  • Nicole Lynn Lewis — Generation Hope
  • Rashawn Davis — Andrew Goodman Foundation
  • Siva Kumari — College Possible
  • Tani Cantil-Sakauye — PPIC
Check out the Thrive Leaders page to learn more about the 2024 cohort members.

“Through the Kresge Thrive Cohort, I have received invaluable peer connections, skill building opportunities, and a vulnerable space that reassures I am never alone in this work. Through this work, leaders of color gain access to unparalleled resources, networks, and support systems, enabling us to not only thrive personally but also drive transformative change within our respective fields.”

Cyekeia Lee, Detroit College Access Network 
2024 Cohort
Sameer Gadkaree, The Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS)
2023 Cohort

“The Thrive Leaders cohort has been an invaluable space to connect with leaders of color who are helping to advance racial equity in education. It is rare for leaders across policy and practice, state and federal policy work to have the space to collaborate – and I’m thankful to Kresge for creating a supportive space for myself and other leaders in the sector.”

 “Participating in Kresge’s Thrive Leaders program has been an incredible experience. Being an ED of color can be a decidedly lonely affair, but through Thrive I’ve met and deepened relationships with more than a dozen leaders of color. We’ve built trust, we’ve laughed, we’ve become each other’s thought partners, connected at conferences and are actively finding ways to collaborate in ways that will help improve outcomes for young people — and especially for Black and Brown youth.”

John Branam, Get Schooled
2023 Cohort