Previous Courageous Conversations

The Courageous Conversations series is hosted by the New York AEYC DEI Committee and will be recorded for future trainings and follow-up conversations surrounding DEI work.

Because of the success of our town hall series and a grant award from NAEYC funded by the Heising-Simons Foundation, we will be holding a series of Courageous Conversations this summer, delving deeper into topics of diversity, equity, and inclusion. All sessions are fully virtual.

Previous Conversations

This conversation will discuss topics of gender diversity in early childhood education settings, including understanding and supporting young children as they explore their gender identities, breaking down gendered stereotypes that may present themselves in the classroom, creating supportive spaces for LGBTQ+ families and staff, and supporting families who may be skeptical or concerned about their children’s participation in activities they perceive to be gendered. 

Registration Closed

Jennifer Longley, Ed.D.

Associate Professor of Early Childhood Education in the Teacher Education Department at the Borough of Manhattan Community College of the City University of New York

Jen Longley is a teacher, researcher, and community activist based in Yonkers, NY. Born and raised outside of Baltimore, MD, she moved to the New York City in 1993. In 2008, she and her wife moved to Yonkers, where they reside with their 3 dogs. Longley worked with infants, toddlers, and families for more than 20 years before receiving her doctorate (2015). Since then, she has had the pleasure of teaching and learning from the students and her colleagues as an Associate Professor of Early Childhood Education in the Teacher Education Department at the Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) – CUNY. Longley researches and publishes on infant-toddler workforce development, early childhood teacher preparation, and the experiences of early childhood teachers. In addition, she has the privilege serving on and collaborating with the diverse members of the Yonkers Basics Advisory Board, Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano’s LGBTQIA+ Advisory Board, the Vestry of St. John’s Episcopal Church Getty Square, Yonkers, and the Yonkers Pride Foundation, which organizes Yonkers annual Pride Fest.

In this conversation, a panel of male professionals who work and volunteer in the field of early childhood education will discuss the reasons they were called to work that impacts the lives of young children, as well as stereotypes and barriers they have encountered in this work. Panelists will discuss the importance of the presence of men in early childhood spaces for the development of young children with emphasis on creating positive environments for the development of young Black boys. The conversation will also touch on the importance of creating welcoming and inclusive early childhood environments for male family members.

Cost: Free

Azeez Alimi
Program Asssitant

Azeez Alimi is a BMCC alum who graduated with a business management degree and then a Social Work, Finance and Marketing degree from Lehman College in the hopes of developing a progressive and holistic not-for-profit early childhood center. The work and study that has brought Azeez to the creation of an Early Childhood Center as a male of color stems from the love he has for children, his hopes for the future of our children and the change in the status quo of who is worthy to care for children. Azeez is a student of life seeking to educate future generations of possibilities.

Barry D. Walston, M.S.W.
Public Health Practitioner
A Social Change Agent

Barry D. Walston is the President of the Albany Black Child Development Institute. He is a lifelong activist who prides himself on being his “brother’s/sister’s keeper.” His institute focuses on delivering culturally relevant resources and programmatic supports that respond to the unique strengths and needs of Black children including early childhood education, health, child welfare, literacy, and family engagement. Mr. Walston’s commitment to social change/advocacy and activism is also demonstrated through community leadership and services as the President of Literacy NY of the Greater Capital Region, Grants Chair of the Albany Fund for Education, Board Member on the Juvenile Community Accountability Board and a member of the Albany Chapter of the NAACP and serves as their Youth Advisor to the NAACP Youth Council.

He is a proud member of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc- Mu Iota Sigma Chapter (SUNY Albany); SPG 2019, where he currently serves as the Secretary for MIS and Co-Coordinator of the Sigma Beta Club.

Dante Springer
Assistant teacher/ Music teacher
Borough of Manhattan Community College Early Childhood Center

Hello, my name is Dante Springer. I am a 22-year-old with Music Education major at Brooklyn College from Brooklyn. I currently work at Borough of Manhattan Community College Early Childhood Center as an Assistant teacher. I play the piano, electric and acoustic guitar, and mostly sing. My goal in life is to teach children music whether it be in a formal classroom or music therapy.

Gerald B. Sweeney, Esq.
Advocate for Early Childhood Education and for Non-Discrimination and Inclusion
Attorney at Law

Gerald B. Sweeney, Esq., is the managing member of Sweeney Lev, LLC, practicing law in New York, New Jersey, Illinois, and California. He is an educator, philanthropist, and an experienced legal counsel, having served as general counsel for both business and nonprofit organizations and as a board member and officer of community development, governance, library, educational, and other nonprofit or charitable organizations. He is an advocate for early childhood education and for non-discrimination and inclusion in education, employment, and public accommodations. He devotes substantial time representing those who have been treated unfairly or giving a voice to people whose voices are not heard. He believes that diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) must be cultural norms applied in everyday life and that developing DEI values, attitudes, and actions should be an essential objective of early education. He published and presented topics on education, anti-bias, DEI, as well as mindful living having been trained in mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR).

Juneau Wang
Early Ed Communication Specialist, Published Author, Singer, Composer
Cognitive and Medical Lab Assistant

Juneau Wang is a NAEYC member affiliated with both NY and MA. He is a communications specialist for Pleasant International Early Childhood Education Centers, a research assistant for Denison Lab of Perceptual Psychology at Boston University and the Ikezu Lab of Molecular Neurotherapeutics at the Boston University School of Medicine. He interned at The Nobel Laureate Dr. Barry Marshall’s Marshall Centre at the University of Western Australia and the Hue University of Medicine and Pharmacy in Vietnam and is currently pursuing degrees in Health Care and Music at Boston University. He designed curriculum for Art, Music and Essential Life Lessons for Preschool and Kindergarten. He published and served as editor for books and articles on education, healthcare, diversity, and inclusion. He also composed original music and has arranged music pieces, some of which reached over 3 million views. He is also a certified yoga and mindfulness teacher.

Reuben Quansah
Program Manager
CUNY NYC Men Teach

Reuben Quansah is a first generation Ghanaian-American residing in New York City. He has served in the capacity as student support in higher education, helping students through the college process for over 12 years. Currently, Mr. Quansah is the Program Manager for NYC Men Teach at the Borough of Manhattan Community College. His prior experience includes advising students through to college completion with ASAP (Accelerated Studies in Associate Programs) and guiding out of school students back into school with the College Success Office at the Harlem Children’s Zone. Interestingly, helping students explore, discover, and embark on their academic/professional/entrepreneurial career paths has had a profound impact on Mr. Quansah’s own journey. Thus, his work in student support has inspired him to engage in passion projects involving tech, finance, and entrepreneurship with his sights set on supporting people in his local community here and abroad.

Christian Ramirez

I have been working in the early childhood education field for 8 years. I currently study physical education at Queen’s college pursuing a bachelor’s degree. Once completed I will be pursuing additional degrees in the same field.

I am a fan of all sports; however my true passion is basketball. I love working with children and seeing them learn new things. To this day a part of me feels like I’m a big child myself so I strongly feel like this field is tailor made for me.

Over time, access to early childhood education, stigmas attached to needing child care, and the definition of Developmentally Appropriate Practice have changed, evolved, and brought us to where we are today. These issues have always been shaped by structural racism, sexism, and classism, and continue to be impacted by these forces today. In this conversation, we will discuss the history of early childhood education in the United States and the ways both historical remnants and new forces of racism persist in our field today. We will also situate Developmentally Appropriate Practice in its cultural moment, understanding that it is not fixed but evolves as our understanding of child development deepens.

Cost: FREE

Cecilia Scott Croff, EdD
Early Childhood Educator, special educator and administrator.
Adjunct Faculty and Executive Director of a campus based early childhood center.

Dr. Cecilia Scott-Croff is the Executive Director of the Early Childhood Center at Borough of Manhattan Community College, a published author, and an adjunct professor.  She is certified in early childhood, special education, and administration. Her doctorate in education focuses on Executive Leadership. 

Denisha Jones
Director, Art of Teaching Sarah Lawrence College;
Co-Director, Defending the Early Years;
Co-Editor Black Lives Matter at School: An Uprising for Educational Justice

Denisha Jones is the Director of the Art of Teaching Program at Sarah Lawrence College. She is a former kindergarten teacher and preschool director who spent the past 17 years in teacher education.  Denisha is an education justice advocate and activist. She serves as the Co-Director for Defending the Early Years, Inc, the Assistant Executive Director for the Badass Teachers Association, and an administrator for United Opt Out National. Since 2017, she served on the steering committee for the national Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action. In 2020 she joined the organizing committee for Unite to Save Our Schools. Her first co-edited book, Black Lives Matter at School: An Uprising for Educational Justice, was published in December 2020 by Haymarket Books.  

Iheoma U. Iruka, Ph.D.
Research Professor in Public Policy and Fellow at Frank Porter Grahama Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Founding Director of the Equity Research Action Coalition at FPG.

Dr. Iruka is an applied development Psychologist. Through the Coalition, Dr. Iruka is leading projects and initiatives focused on how evidence-informed policies, systems, and practices in the early years can support the optimal development and experiences of minoritized children and children from low-income households and communities by working at the intersection of research, program, policy, and community-building. Her work focuses on ensuring that children start of well such as through family engagement and support, quality rating and improvement systems, and early care and education system and programs. Dr. Iruka focuses on ensuring excellence for young diverse learners, especially Black children and their families, through the intersection of anti-bias, anti-racist, culturally grounded research, program, and policy. Dr. Iruka serves and has served on numerous national and local boards and committees, including the Brady Education Foundation, Trust for Learning, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine committees, the American Psychological Association’s Board of Educational Affairs, and the Nation Advisory Committee for the U.S. Census Bureau.

Supporting the development of the whole child is an essential part of early childhood education. In this conversation, a panel of experts will discuss the intersecting systems that touch a child’s life and the role of early childhood educators in partnering with families by connecting them with existing resources, recognizing and mitigating trauma, and seeing and supporting the whole child. Participants will learn how factors such as hunger, language barriers, trauma, low wage work, unpredictable schedules, housing discrimination, access to healthcare, and environmental racism impact the family and child.

Cecilia Scott Croff, EdD
Early Childhood Educator, special educator and administrator.
Adjunct Faculty and Executive Director of a campus based early childhood center.

Dr. Cecilia Scott-Croff is the Executive Director of the Early Childhood Center at Borough of Manhattan Community College, a published author, and an adjunct professor.  She is certified in early childhood, special education, and administration. Her doctorate in education focuses on Executive Leadership. 

Equity Specialist — Center on Culture, Race, & Equity Bankstreet College of Education
Equity Associate — NYSED Office of Special Education Technical Assistance Partnership (TAP) for Equity

Maimuna has a master’s degree in Early Childhood Leadership from Bank Street Graduate College of Education’s Principal Institute. She has been working as an early childhood educator in community based programs, in New York City for more than 35 years, and has gained a wider experience in teaching a variety of students. In that time she has specialized in working with all types of abilities, families and cultural ways of learning and doing. Reveling in the mysteries of creative equitable classroom management skills, team work, and enjoying working in play centered style. Ms. Mohammed uses multiple approaches to encourage cooperation between organizations and individuals to help all team members to gather around a common value, goals, and culture that will improve the communities. Her partnership support for families and community includes getting other individuals, organizations, alliances, and coalitions involved in accomplishing community goals. She supports Elevating Parent Voices and has a sense of loyalty and devotion to supporting and improving community growth and development.

Advocate for quality education and disabilities services for very young children.
Thought leader

Kristie L. Norwood, M. Ed. is a mom and wife. She has worked in Early Childhood Education for over 25 years. She has been in Head Start for over 20 years. She currently holds the position of Grantee Education Manager for Start Early in Chicago, IL. In her role, she oversees the implementation of quality education and disabilities services. She is a thought leader that focuses on supporting and developing passionate and intentional educators that create positive experiences for children and their families. She currently serves on the Steering Committee for the Advancing Racial Equity Committee in her workplace. She is also one of the convenors of the Reimagining Our Work Initiative (ROW) through Child Care Exchange-Dimensions Education.

Cappy Collins, MD, MPH
Executive Director of Nullary Care, Inc.

Cappy Collins is an environmental pediatrician and director of the Long Island Centers of the NYS Children’s Environmental Health Centers (  His professional interest in community health led to the development of the non-profit Nullary Care, Inc. Core programming comprises Cyclopedia (, a positive youth development bicycle program to empower youth and reduce chronic stress; and Cada Paso (, a family-based walking program to build social capital and increase resource utilization.  He is a co-founder of the New York State Pediatric Advocacy Coalition ( dedicated to promoting child health advocacy training, supporting successful child advocacy programs, and providing a statewide legislative voice.  He teaches in the Graduate Program in Public Health at Mount Sinai.

Reeshemah Brightley

Reeshemah Brightley is a Consultant, Diversity Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Strategist and Educator. She serves as the chair for the NY Association for the Education of Young Children Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee. In this role she will help the organization become an anti-racist organization; review the organization’s strategic plan, work with the various committees to view their work from a DEI lens; help educators across NYS be more impactful within their work with BIPOC children and families with a focus on DEI.

She is the Founder of a parent group at her son’s school, The Parents of Children of Color (POCC), providing support to the families, children, Administration, and the entire school community around celebrating and honoring the diversity and infusing the DEI lens.

She is currently an early childhood consultant, in 2018 she spearheaded the development of the first hybrid playspace with Storefront Academy Harlem in Harlem for parents/caregivers with children newborn to age 3 to help develop school readiness skills with a focus on brain development.

Discussing the Experiences of Early Childhood Students (Students Only)
Tuesday, October 12; 6:30-8:30pm
Presented by: Jennifer Gilken and Leslie Craigo, PhD

In this conversation, early childhood education students from all levels (from CDA through graduate school) will come together discuss their experiences. Students will be encouraged to share methods their programs or individual teacher educators have used to support their success. We will reflect on the ways in which higher education still needs to evolve to enable incoming early childhood educators to embrace and uplift increasingly diverse young children.
Together, we will unpack the barriers to achieving success in higher education for parent, first generation, nontraditional, working, and immigrant students in higher education settings. We will also discuss the process of transitioning from one level of education to the next, and how this process can be improved for students. This information will be anonymously shared with faculty in a follow-up session to encourage them to reflect on their teaching practice and the practices of their departments as a whole.

Jennifer Gilken has worked in the field of early childhood for over 20 years. She has been a teacher in Early Head Start, Head Start and kindergarten, a director of a campus-based infant/toddler program, and an assistant professor. Currently, she has the privilege of working with pre-service early childhood education students at the Borough of Manhattan Community College in New York City as an Associate Professor and the Early Childhood Education program coordinator. Jennifer received her Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from the CUNY Graduate Center. Her research interests include examining ways to support the infant toddler workforce, STEM in early childhood education, and investigating methods that support students’ feelings of belonging in higher education classrooms.

Dr. Leslie Craigo, Assistant Professor Borough of Manhattan Community College, Teacher Education Department

Leslie Craigo is an educational psychologist focusing on Learning, Development and Instruction. Her research interests include supports for community college students, studies in exceptionality, infant toddler development, and literacy. She is an assistant professor in the Teacher Education Department at Borough of Manhattan Community College. In addition to courses in child development and curriculum, Professor Craigo is also mentors first generation college students at BMCC. She serves on the Race, Equity, and Inclusion Steering Committee, and is co-chair of the Supplemental Advisory Board at BMCC.  Professor Craigo serves on several community advisory boards and enjoys sharing her work with colleagues and the public. I have published numerous articles and a chapter in a book

Craigo, L, (2019). Activity Plan Simulations: Preservice Teachers Developing Skills to Interact with Early Childhood Children with Disabilities and Exceptionalities in Inclusive settings. In Meidl C & L Ammentorp, (eds.) Impactful Practices for Teacher Educators (pp. 3-16). Rowman & Littlefield.

Teacher Educators and the Experiences of Early Childhood Students
(Open to higher education faculty and CDA)
Tuesday, October 19; 4:30-6:30pm
Presented by: Earl Greene and Stacey Smith-Clark

In this conversation, we will learn from the experiences shared by early childhood education students in our conversation on October 12. A small panel of students will share their reflections from our initial call. We will delve into the concerns students have shared with us as they strive to successfully complete their programs and feel prepared to educate and nurture the children in challenging and changing circumstances. This will be followed by a guided discussion on the supports that students highlighted to be the most helpful or as a missing but crucial component of their continuing education.

Earl Greene, Director of Racial and Social Justice, Family Engagement & Equity; and Early Childhood Mental Health Consultant, URMC / Children’s Institute;  President of the WARE (Wayne Action for Racial Equality)

Earl Greene’s background includes over 40 years of experience in community engagement through coalition development and mobilization in both Rochester, NY, and Boston, MA; working extensively in mental health, trauma and violence prevention, youth leadership, advocacy, and DEI work. Earl travels throughout the country as a keynote speaker and workshop facilitator; providing training on Cultural Humility; Anti-Racism; Adverse Childhood Event/Experiences (ACEs), Toxic Stress & Trauma, Anger Management, and Conflict Management. He is a Nationally Certified Anger Management Specialist/Fellow, and Professional Mediator & Arbitrator. He co-facilitates an annual weeklong Anti-Racism Summer Workshop/graduate course for teachers in the Wayne County School Districts and is an instructor for “Renewing the Mind” Initiative through the office of Mental Health Promotion at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

Stacey Smith-Clark, Center Manager – Child Development and Lab School, Pacific Coast Campus – Long Beach City College

Stacey Smith-Clark has worked at in the field of Early Childhood Education for 3 decades, spending the past two decades in campus-based program administration. Stacey works full-time as the Child Development Center and Lab School Program Manager at Long Beach City College in Long Beach, CA. She also works part-time as an Instructor, teaching college-level courses through the Child Development and Educational Studies Department at Long Beach City College.
Stacey is a four-time certified Mentor Director through the CA Early Childhood Mentor Program and her specializations include program administration, leadership, family engagement, Anti-Bias Education and special education. Stacey earned her Master’s Degree in Human Development from Pacific Oaks College and currently serves as President-elect of the National Coalition for Campus Children’s Centers organization.

Advancing Equity through Advocacy in Early Childhood Communities

Every member of the early childhood community has a role in advancing equity for children, families, and the early childhood programs that support them. This Courageous Conversation will explore:

·        What does advocating for equity in early childhood education look like? Who should see themselves as an advocate?

·        How can early educators, directors, and those whose work intersects with early childhood education embed principles of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging into their practice? How does that relate to support for the whole child and family in the context of their environment?

·        What role can parents and families play in early childhood advocacy for equity? Why should families participate in advocacy to improve compensation for early childhood educators alongside advocacy for more affordable child care? How can early childhood educators begin to have these conversations with the families they serve?

Jamaica Miles is the new Empire State Campaign Coordinator for Childcare. Jamaica was born and raised in the City of Schenectady, has roots across the Greater Capital Region, and experience working statewide. She is a proud mother of four, elected School Board Member for Schenectady City School District, Co-Founder of All Of Us Community Action Group, and involved in a variety of community-based organizations. Jamaica lives through the principle that all people deserve dignity, respect, and the ability to thrive regardless of their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, abilities, economic status, zip code, country of origin or any other societal constructs.
For over 15 years, Jamaica has worked in the non-profit sector for national, state-wide, and local organizations. Jamaica values, prioritizes, and spends every day working toward a better world and the larger “we” through connecting people, programs, organizations, and businesses. She prioritizes lifting up the voices of impacted people and works in coalition with various community groups and organizations. As a long-time advocate and leader, Jamaica is often invited to speak at college campuses and community panel discussions at both the local and statewide level.
Barnabas Crosby is a Brooklyn-based educator, visual storyteller, and native of Cleveland, OH. In 2021 Barnabas was the urbanism fellow with Design Trust for Public Space. His work has been displayed in Time Square, the Brooklyn Public Library, and can be seen on the Hulu comedy series “Everything is Trash.” Barnabas is an adjunct at Lehman College and photography instructor with the Museum of the City of New York.

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