Deena Pierott is an Idea Generator and Social Impact Entrepreneur – Founder of the award-winning and nationally recognized STEM+Arts program for youth of color called iUrban Teen and most recently co-founded and launched Black Women in STEM 2.0. Sought-after diversity strategist and international keynote speaker. I’ve served on several boards and commissions including a Gubernatorial appointment to the Commission on African American Affairs in the State of Washington.
Honored to be acknowledged by President Barack Obama as a White House Champion of Change for Technology Inclusion and by Ebony Magazine on their Power 100 List.
Experience in designing diversity and equity programs including Employee Resource Groups for various organizations
Daniel: I have a super cool job. I'm privileged in the sense that I get to serve school leaders full-time within the Mastermind, one-on-one coaching, the Principal's Success Path. Another part of how I show up and live out my just cause, "to connect, grow and mentor every school leader who wants to level up," ss creating shows for you and this podcast as a labor of love. Today's conversation. Normally I tell a story here, but instead of the story, I'm going to do more of a context to frame the episode. I'm joined by Deena Pierott, who is just a gem of a human being. For listeners who are listeners of color she shares an experience where oftentimes she finds herself to be the only black female within a high level group. What's that like?
Daniel: How does she assert herself and that kind of thing. If you could use some encouragement and some tips on how to use your voice, this show's for you. For somebody like me, with tons of privilege and unconscious biases, I'll never experienced what Deena experiences in a given day, I learned a lot. For listeners who look like me or have a similar worldview experience and background, you're going to get a lot from the episode. Finally she founded a really cool program. I want you to check out called iUrban teen, and you'll hear plenty about that in the episode as well. Hey, it's Daniel and welcome to the Better Leaders, Better Schools Podcast, a show for Ruckus Makers, those out of the box leaders making change happen in education. We'll be back after these messages from our show sponsors. Establish your legacy with Harvard certificate in school management and leadership. Learn from Harvard business and education school faculty. As you develop the frameworks skills and knowledge, you need to drive change improvement in your learning community. Apply now for our June and July cohorts at betterleadersbetterschools.com/Harvard. That's betterleadersbetterschools.com/Harvard.
Daniel: Better Leaders, Better Schools is brought to you by school leaders like principal Katerra's using Teach FX. Special populations benefit the most from verbally engaging in class, but get far fewer opportunities to do so than their peers, especially in virtual classes. TeachFX, measures verbal engagement automatically in virtual or in-person classes to help schools and teachers address these issues of equity during COVID. Learn more and get a special offer from Better Leaders, Better Schools, listeners at teachfx.com/BLBS. That's TeachFX.com/BLBS. All students have an opportunity to succeed with Organized Binder who equips educators with a resource to provide stable and consistent learning. Whether that's in a distance hybrid or traditional educational setting, learn firstname.lastname@example.org.
Daniel: Hey there Ruckus Makers today, I am joined by Deena Pierott, a sought after diversity strategist, international speaker, social entrepreneur, and founder of iurban team, an award-winning and nationally recognized stem in arts program for youth of color. Most recently, Deena co-founded and launched Black Women In Stem 2.0.Ms. Pierott was honored as a White House Champion of Change for Technology Inclusion by President Obama in 2013. Deena, welcome to the show.
Deena: Daniel, thank you for having me. I have to say, I love that title, Ruckus Makers. Those are my favorite peps. They really are because I consider myself a positive deviant. Meaning I look at something that everyone thinks is normal and I'll deviate from it to make it something more positive and impactful. Thank you for having me on the show.
Daniel: It is absolutely my honor. I could connect to what you're saying in so many ways, but I can't wait to tell your story. Deena, you've held some prestigious positions and worked on some high level teams, including commissioner of African-American Affairs in Washington State. I'd like to start by asking, what's it like being a champion for equity while being the only black woman in the room?
Deena: I'm gonna say it hasn't been easy and it's not for the faint of heart. It's looking at this whole space around diversity, equity, inclusion and all that. I didn't even consider it until I moved up to the Pacific Northwest from Southern, California, back in the early nineties. I saw this huge disparity around cultures. Portland is very liberal, but then there's a part of it that is not so liberal as you may think, or they have a different lens on what liberalism is. I saw a lot of inequities for people of color, especially African Americans in Portland. Being the Ruckus Maker that I am, I wasn't having it. One of the things that I always have done, even at fear of being excluded, marginalized all of those things, I always had strong sense of self. I learned early how to advocate for myself.I can't fathomn not having my voice heard, even though I maybe the only one that looks like me in a room. And so, that struck a lot of people differently because they weren't used to that type of positive, assertive behavior from a woman of color. I was always going against the grain. In fact, I remember in the nineties when I was creating a lot of different equity, diversity, initiatives there at the city, I had some of my own folks say, Deena "You're too opinionated. You rock the boat too much. You have to make them comfortable." Meaning I had to make the dominant culture folks comfortable around me. Think about how that fits and how that sits in on someone. I have to change who I am and become a second self to make you comfortable.
Deena: I never went that direction. What is it? 2021. Especially after 2020 with George Floyd's murder and those types of things that happened, we had a whole new view on culture, civil rights, and on Black Lives Matter. I had everyone coming to me requesting assistance, help and all that. I thought to myself, "Wow, before I was too much of a Ruckus Maker for everyone, and now I'm a hot commodity." I say that to say, "I am so glad that I have always had my voice heard, but I never went into second self. I've never tried to fit into someone else's box. I work with a lot of women and people of color on how do you do that. How do you best advocate for yourself and have your voice heard without fear of repercussion? Long story short, I'm very comfortable in rooms where I'm the only one and I make sure that I'm representing women and women of color positively in those spaces.
Daniel: Is there something you could offer to our listeners of color that may be are less comfortable than you are being that only person in the room or positively asserting your voice, making sure your voice may be heard? What might you say to them?
Deena: I will say practice, practice, practice. It's going to be scary and uncomfortable when you do advocate for yourself, but you have to learn how to do it. This is why so many of us in the African-American community and in the Latin X communities, what we do is what I call suffer in silence. Something may be happening, but you're afraid to voice your concern or stand up for yourself because you feel there's going to be something that's going to happen. I need this job. They're going to fire me. If I advocate for myself now it is more detrimental. If you don't healthcare, high blood pressure, heart disease, all those things, the stressors that that brings because we're suffering in silence. I would say practice safe. For instance, Daniel, you and I were in the office space. You as a white male, you say something that is actually a micro or a macro aggression to me. Instead of me smiling and laughing it off and then going to my friends who look like me and say, "I think Daniel's racist because he said this to me." Instead of that, Daniel, you may have been totally innocent in what you said, just didn't know. Instead of walking away, either that instant or later that day or tomorrow, come back to Daniel and say, "Daniel, I really want to share the impact of what you said to me because I knew it wasn't your intent, but it really felt like a microaggression." How do we work around that? "Can I give you some different language to use?" That's how you're not saying it in an angry tone, you're talking to a friend, but you are still sharing your concern and you're advocating for yourself. It could be something that minor and always give them the benefit of the doubt. "You may not be aware of this and how it may have impacted me, but let me share this with you?" You're giving them grace without saying, "this is what you said to me. I am like, You know what? I'm pissed." It's how you approach the situation. I will tell people, "never hold onto that." Never hold on to it because it festers and becomes something that can be detrimental to your health and you as a person.
Daniel: I really appreciate what you said too, not letting too much time pass, approach it like a friend. There is a difference between intent and impact. We have to learn to put our growth mindset on. When something, we do lands in a way that we didn't expect and causes harm, let's learn from that moment and become a little bit better, a little less biased, because that intent impact thing. To be honest, my wife is Zimbabwaean and we have discussions because there's times, even as her husband, I love her more than anything in the world. I do stupid stuff. We'll have a discussion because intent and impact. There was a harm caused there and it sucks. It hurts, but I've learned to listen. There's something there that probably because of my worldview experience, growing up, perspective and privilege I don't see some things. When I learned that makes me a little bit better.
Deena: Makes you a little bit better. It makes you a whole person. You become a true ally but then there's the other side. What we just talked about was more of the implicit bias. Then there's the explicit where they are truly saying it and they know what they're saying. They want to hit you at a certain level. That's when you do come back a little more stern and it could be in the moment or it could be shortly after the moment when you have time to digest it and be calm and then you approach it differently, "I think you know the impact of what you just said. I think we need to have a mediator. We need to have a third person here so that we can talk about this." You always want that documented. If it's someone at work, you probably would be best to send that in an email so that you'll have written documentation, you will know what's implicit and what is explicit. Explicit is what we have to stop.
Daniel: One last question on this, I'd like to dive a little bit deeper. For somebody like me, I have lots of privilege, white male, cisgender, straight. Lots of privilege there. What would you tell me and listeners that look like me? What's something we can do to create a little more belonging, a little more psychological safety for folks that don't look like us on our teams?
Deena: On your teams and that's so good. I'm so proud of a lot of the work that I've been doing and talking to organizations. Most of the people there who volunteer to be in those sessions are white males, white CIS males. That's telling me that they want to be a part of this. In fact, really quickly, I had a keynote up in Bellingham, Washington at the university there. I thought it was going to be me, basically faculty and maybe some community members, but 90% of the audience were students. Out of that, 90%, 85% were white male students. When I started talking, I said, "I gotta address something here in the room." I said, "There's a lot of students here. A lot of white male students, you guys aren't getting any extra credits or anything to be here to listen to me, talk about this equity and diversity and inclusion stuff?"
Deena: I sat down next to one of them and I had the mic because I'm so engaged in with the audience. I'm like, "Hey, Let's talk about this." I sat down next to one and I said, "So tell me, why are you here today?" He said, "I'm here because I want to be a part of the solution, not part of the problem. I want to learn how do I share this privilege in an authentic way." All the other young men are shaking their heads, Yes. I went into another one, I said, "Okay, so what's your story? He said He grew up in an environment where he kept hearing these negative things about others and it just didn't sit well with him.
Deena: He's always been on this quest to be more aware and knowledgeable on how do I become a good ally? Daniel, when I left that session that day, I just had such a sense of positive energy and positive force that this generation is going to be some true game changers. They're going to be the Ruckus Makers. They intrinsically want to make a difference. With your privilege, how do I share that privilege? How do I help advocate and show good allyship to others who don't look like me in those spaces? You might be in a meeting it's simple explanation or are clueless. You may be in a meeting with all white men males, and you might have me in the room. I say something and no one acknowledges it or says anything. You can come back and say "Deena, I really love that idea or suggestion that you just made, I think that's something. I think that we all can agree to look further in this and take a deeper dive. What do you think about this?" Engage me, let me help help share my voice. Don't say to the others. "What I think she's trying to say is",you've just diminished me. Bring me into the conversation. Always look at ways of how do I bring this person? How do I help amplify their voice?
Daniel: Awesome. Thank you for that, that's helpful to me. I know for a lot of Ruckus Makers listening, I want to shift gears to family engagement. That's the superpower of yours. You're a genius at it and I'd love to hear what has been the key to success when it comes to family engagement, how do you invite those families in?
Deena: I created this vehicle. iUrban teen that is so innovative. And it's so interesting that when parents see our marketing materials, they want to get involved or what happens a lot of times they will show up and drop off their kids. This is what happened when we first launched in 2011, they'll show up and drop off their kids. I instantly see them and I come up and I acknowledge them. I think you can tell from my personality that I'm very engaging a provide asense of comfort.
Deena: I'm hands on. I will tell them at the first event we had back in October, 2011, I said, "Oh, come stay, come on. I got coffee over here for you." You honor the families by inviting them in letting them be a part of this machine. At our events, we have our parent round table sessions where we'll sit with the parents and chit-chat, shoot the breeze and talking about their students. "Tell me about your child. What do you think that is so amazing for them? Where do you think that they need more help?" We work with parents too on how do you advocate for your child at school? How do you make a partnership between you, the teacher, and administration at those schools and not be intimidated by them because truth be told, a lot of times they don't want to see our parents come up there.
Deena: Again, that whole advocacy thing, how do you advocate for yourself and your child within that school and have them and turn this into a true partnership. We talk about those kinds of things. I asked them, "What do you guys like to see? What would you like to see at iTeen offer for your students? We have the parents help with lunches. It is a true community. We've created this communal thing in the black and brown communities, which is built on trust and comfort. We've built that. Now these families, because we weren't funded for eight, nine years, we weren't funded at all. It was the families that kept pushing us along. Helping the volunteer at events, helping with marketing outreach, making sure those kids were there. I think that's what created it. They authentically know that we care about them and their children. That's the difference they intrinsically know. They have trust in us?
Daniel: You can't fake that caring either. I appreciate you bringing that up at the end there. Well, Deena, I think this is a good place to pause just for a moment for our message from our sponsors. When we return, I'd love to hear more about the two questions that you ask. iUrban Teen participants and what you've learned? Learn the frameworks skills and knowledge you need to drive change improvement in your learning community. With Harvard's online certificate in school management and leadership, a joint collaboration between the Harvard graduate school of education and Harvard business school connect and collaborate with fellow school leaders. As you address your problems of practice in our online professional development program. Apply today at betterleadersbetterschools.com/Harvard. That's betterleadersbetterschools.com/Harvard.
Daniel: Are you automatically tracking online student participation data during COVID innovative school leaders across the country have started tracking online student participation using TeachFX because it's one of the most powerful ways to improve student outcomes during COVID, especially for English learners and students of color. Learn more about TeachFX and get a special offer teachFX.com/BLBS. That's teachfx.com/BLBS.
Daniel: Today's show is brought to you by Organized Binder, Organized Binder develops the skills and habits all students need for success during these uncertain of distance learning and hybrid education settings, Organized Binder, equips educators with a resource to provide stable and consistent learning routines so that all students have an opportunity to succeed. Whether at home or in the classroom, learn email@example.com. We're back with Deena Pierott, who is the founder of iUrban Teen, among many other wonderful accomplishments. With iUrban Teen, I know you asked the same two questions to your student participants. Where did we do right by you? Where did we miss the mark? What did we learn, Deena? What have you learned asking students of color those questions?
Deena: Love that because and we ask that question as peer-to-peer, not adult speaking to child. It's peer to peer. We bring them in. They know that we value their opinions and we want to do right by them. What did we do right by you today? Where did we miss the mark? We document all of their opinions. We've hardly ever get any negatives at all. The only negatives that we get and it's like clockwork. I tell my folks, watch, they're going to say, we want more prizes. Some of the negatives, because I have prizes, I have raffle prizes at the end of the day. .It's so fun and somebody will go, "We need to add more prizes" and I go, "You guys, we're a nonprofit. Okay, I'm trying to do the best I can." The the other things they'll say is that the negative, it was too short. Can we have a two or three day summit? We have a one day stem, big stem summit. Then we have all of our afterschool activities and stuff. Our big flagship thing is that it's the one day. The positives outweigh so much, oh my God. The positives, "I had fun today. I learned a lot. The instructors were engaging this and the other." I get sentimental when I think about what I hear a lot. They'll say," thank you. I felt valued today." When I hear that Daniel, that's when I know we hit the mark because so often our black and brown students feel marginalized in schools and in society, they have these labels at risk under privilege, all those things.
Deena: I never call our students. I only call them brilliant, that's it? For them to say and feel that they felt valued by us that day is priceless. Yes. I want them to know about STEM careers and all of that, but I also want them to feel that they're part of a community and that we honor them. I'm pretty sure that's why we've had in our 10 years, we're in our 10th year anniversary, we worked with over 10,000 youth and we have about an 82% retention rate. Meaning these families stay with us year after year after year.
Daniel: With this idea of a valuing students, we talked about how you can't fake caring. I hear you being intentional with the language you use, brilliant versus at risk, under resourced, marginalized. Anything else come to mind to you when you think about how do you communicate that belonging that you're valued here?
Deena: It's because we get their input early on we greet them and they can feel that we're so excited that even see them when they show up at our one day workshops, when they show up for our stem summits, when they show up for our afterschool programs. There's this level of energy that we give off early on that we value you. We talk to them peer to peer. We don't talk to them as adult to child teaching you. I'm going to show you what's best for you. Now, we're going to talk about what we think collectively is best for the overall organization and what we're bringing to you.
Daniel: In partnership. That's what I'm hearing.
Deena: It's a different type of partnership that we have. I don't know if it's because I'm an extroverted empath or what. The Same theme that core value of iUrban Teen is spread out throughout our whole organization. I don't even have people who work with us that don't value helping to create the yellow brick road for these kids. It's "heart work" is what I call .
Daniel: Absolutely. That was a shift I made in the podcast two years ago trying to level it up. You participate in the intro call and that kind of thing. I wanted not just to bring great ideas and innovative thinking to the Ruckus Maker, listening, but I wanted to tell stories that connected with their heart. I think that's really where change happens. The Heart Work emphasis, I resonate with that. I know Ruckus Makers listening are super pumped about iUrban Teen. How does schools get involved with you?
Deena: Reach out on our website. There's a button there where they can get information to contact me. Definitely contact me or just shoot me an email at Deena, Deena@iurbanteen.org. We are actually working with more schools. We've just got a contract with the Vancouver School district to do a two year program with them.We've had contracts in Los Angeles, as well for some of our programs. I'm definitely looking at doing more after-school programming for schools.
Daniel: Wonderful. Cool. Shift to the last two questions I ask all my guests cannot wait to hear how you'll answer these. If you could put a message on all school marquees around the world for a single day, what would your message read?
Deena: I would say, "we value you again." That's a key word for me, that whole value. We value you. That school. We value all of our students and families.
Daniel: You're building your dream school. Deena. You're not limited by any resources. Your only limitation is your imagination. How would you go about building your dream school and what would be the top three guiding principles?
Deena: My dream school would be such a creative, innovative, funky place where the students enjoy being there. The classes would start later in the day, they would start like nine o'clock or even later. They would end earlier in the day as well, but I would have so much, it would almost be like Disneyland school cause I think that's the child in me, but it would have more creativity. It would have a lot of arts. It would be an arts crafty school that shows you how the arts and stem is interconnected where you're having these hands-on multilayered experiences where you're having those out of school experiences of field trips of going to different companies, doing outdoor activities and education. Again, those top three principles for me would be the creativity building in a creative space, an outlet for these students. Having the administration in having a lot of artists and as some of the administrators as well so they can understand that creative piece. Lastly, having that social, emotional learning piece interwoven in as well. Where you have therapists there that that students can talk to at any given moment on what's troubling them for the day and being able to talk that out in a safe environment and a collective environment as well. So that's what I would would want. In fact, that's what I'm aiming for.
Daniel: Love it. Well, Deena, thank you so much for being a part of the Better Leaders, Better Schools Podcast. Of all the things we talked about today, what's the one thing you want a Ruckus Maker to remember?
Deena: I want the Ruckus Maker to remember keep on being that Ruckus Maker. Change doesn't happen by being complicit. Continue having your voice heard when you see changes needed. How do you build up a team of champions around you to create that change? Don't stay average.
Daniel: Thanks for listening to the Better Leaders, Better Schools Podcast for Ruckus Makers. If you have a question or would like to connect my email, Daniel@betterleadersbetterschools.com or hit me up on Twitter @alienearbud. If the Better Leaders Better Schools Podcast is helping you grow as a school leader, then please help us serve more Ruckus Makers like you. You can subscribe, leave an honest rating and review or share on social media with your biggest takeaway. From the episode, extra credit for tagging me on Twitter @alienearbud and using the #BLBS level up your leadership at better leaders, better schools.com and talk to you next time until then class dismiss.
Featured in the following publications:
Forbes, Inc., Government Technology, Essence Magazine, Working Mother Magazine, Black Enterprise, Ebony Magazine, Deliver magazine, Portland Business Journal, Geekwire, Colors of Influence, Neurology Now, the Chicago Tribune and on NPR.
- Engaging your families with these simple, genius tips.
- ‘Heart work’ that engages peer-to-peer partnerships between teachers and students to increase value.
- Teach students to be better advocates for themselves with two essential questions.
- The impact of implicit bias on kids of color.
- How to get your school signed up for iUrban Teen.
- Ways to advocate for yourself without fear of repercussion or need for a “second self?”
- Stopping explicit bias. Ways to respond to both implicit and explicit bias.
- Can’t miss conversion on how to share your privilege.
“I want the Ruckus Maker to remember to keep on being that Ruckus Maker. Change doesn’t happen by being complicit. Continue having your voice heard when you see change is needed. How do you build up a team of champions around you to create that change? Don’t stay average.”
– Deena Pierott
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