Raised in a deeply spiritual tradition in St. Louis, MO, and attending religious-affiliated schools through his young life, Robert S. Harvey ’10, M.T.S., D.Min. was determined to attend Morehouse College, the respected Atlanta institution known for graduating Black male leaders. But a chance acquaintance with a former Bryant Trustee swayed his thinking when he told Harvey about the then-new College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) at Bryant.
Today, he sees the CAS as the moral compass of the University, and credits faculty and staff mentors like Judith McDonnell, Ph.D., Gregg Carter, Ph.D., Toby Simon, Jeffrey Cabusao, Ph.D., Shontay Delalue, Ph.D., and others with keeping him engaged (and enrolled) in an environment where he didn’t always feel welcome among his peers.
It’s the CAS that brings the worlds of humanity and capitalism together, Harvey says, and he describes Bryant’s pioneering combination degree – requiring business majors to also earn an arts and sciences minor, and vice-versa – as a “brilliant” innovation to bring balance to the educational experience.
“We determined that we will make decisions in this season that one, are radically human, and two, that serve kids well,”
His Bryant mentors helped him find his path, which would combine theological and sociological studies with a passion for the power of early education. Today, as Superintendent of the East Harlem Scholars Academies (EHSA), a community-based network of five New York public charter schools, and a leader in several other educational organizations, the highly published educator and administrator has also been working feverishly on a new book. Leading Schools in Times of Crisis: An Abolitionist Approach to Communally Conscious Education is expected to be released late in the year.
Harvey and his leadership team decided in the earliest days of the pandemic that they would take a bold approach to managing through it, led by the abolitionist idea that “hope is invented every day,” in the words of James Baldwin.
“We determined that we will make decisions in this season that one, are radically human, and two, that serve kids well,” Harvey says. “We asked, ‘if we threw out everything we knew about education – with all our degrees and our preconceived ideas about how to do things – what would it look like? And why haven’t we done it?’”
“The problems of families become the problems of schools,” he explains. “If our families have problems, it is our responsibility to be honest about the direct impact those have in our classrooms.”
In a vulnerable community where the overwhelming majority of families work in the deeply affected service industry, they deconstructed old ways of doing things and reimagined them for a new age, from uniforms to curricula, classrooms to grading. They made the whole school community part of the decision-making process, and have even been able to use operational savings to bolster families in need with micro grants.
As they prepare to welcome the youngest children back into a modified in-person classroom setting, Harvey admits that the operational challenges have been very difficult, But when he needs a boost, he listens to some of the stories recorded by families in honor of EHSA’s year-long theme of storytelling and its role in teaching, in justice, in democracy, and in all of life.
“When I’m worrying about exact specifications of elevator air filters, I can get a lift by listening to the story of a grandmother raising children in East Harlem,” he says, and it reminds him of the larger commitment at stake.