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Imagining 826’s future with our newest board members

August 21, 2020

Each year, over 5,000 volunteers make it possible for The 826 National Network to equip nearly 80,000 students with writing skills and platforms to share their diverse perspectives. Among those volunteers is 826 National’s Board of Directors, passionate leaders who provide critical oversight and vision to our mission.

In the past year, we’ve welcomed ten new members to the board, all committed to developing the vital role of writing in young people’s lives. Among their ranks are award-winning journalists, experts in policy, public media, and the publishing industry, and the Inaugural Youth Poet Laureate of the United States. They are helping us envision new ways to engage young writers in this new context, both at our chapters and through 826 Digital.

Their generosity and expertise will be a critical part of our next chapter, and we proudly welcome them to our Board of Directors.

Alexandra Suich Bass

Alexandra Suich Bass

A native San Franciscan, Alexandra Suich Bass was already familiar (and a fan) of 826 Valencia’s impactful work before joining our board. As a journalist, enthusiastic reader, and a lover of books, she believes in writing as a driver for positive change. “Writing also helps develop critical thinking skills. I love how 826 chapters help show students that writing is both an art form to be appreciated and a tool to achieve goals, like applying to college,” says Alexandra.

Writing is also a core part of her work as The Economist’s senior correspondent for politics, technology, and society. Through her career and interests, Alexandra became keenly aware of the vital role education plays in shaping society, noting that “Core to the success of every person and society are communication and literacy, which are the focus of The 826 Network’s mission.”  

With this pandemic forcing us into another period of remote learning, she believes that “it is critical to help teachers rethink how they can inspire a love of learning while not sharing the same physical space as their students.” The challenge is real, but the switch to virtual programming also provides “an enormous opportunity to make an impact in students’ and teachers’ lives who might not live close to an 826 chapter,” says Alexandra.

Kristen Conry

Kristen Conry

Kristen’s very first encounter with 826 was in late 2003, during a stint overseas, where she read about 826 in McSweeney’s. Fast forward to 2018 as Gensler’s principal and managing director, she learned about the strong partnership the architecture and design firm has with The 826 Network, including the inspiring spaces created for some local 826 chapters.

But it was her love of writing and a strong belief in education as the great equalizer that led her to join our board. “826 has always been a positive force for racial justice. I believe this is truly an inflection point for us collectively, and we can play an even stronger role in amplifying the voices of young black writers to continue to write a more just future.” 

As an architect designing for different communities, she learned to honor and respect the stories hidden behind the surface. “My work is both honoring it and enriching it to be a contributing part to the next chapter.” A crucial understanding that also applies to the diverse communities we serve. “We share a mission of investing in the next generation,” says Kristen. 

Scott A. Ginsburg

Scott GinsburgWhen Scott Ginsburg first stepped foot inside 826LA’s store, Time Travel Mart, he knew he was somewhere magical. “Without a doubt, I knew that the organization was special,” recalls Scott, a managing partner of Boulevard Partners, a private real estate investment and development firm. “I was inspired by his passion and the legacy of 826.”

Growing up in an environment where giving back to the community was an important value, inspired Scott to follow suit. “My father’s lifelong dedication to helping children inspired me to dedicate my efforts and resources to 826LA.”

A firm believer in education as a fundamental right, Scott found himself drawn to 826 with its mission of promoting creative writing and critical thinking among students. “I am constantly inspired by the organization’s positive impact on our community and hope to share that energy with the other chapters,” says Scott.

Amanda Gorman

Amanda Gorman

Poet, writer, and activist, Inaugural Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman embodies almost everything 826 stands for. A daughter of an English teacher, she knows the importance of literacy and elevating young voices from an early age. “As an activist and writer, I do a lot of work not only around creative writing but creative writing as an instrument of expression and social change when in the hands of young people. That is a value that 826 exemplifies extraordinarily.”

She believes in the power of collaboration and looks forward to the day where every student in every town can have access to writing programs. “Providing a platform to young writers is a job we can only accomplish together. I am gratified that 826 is providing such high-quality (and free!) resources to students, teachers, and their families.” 

Photo by Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer.

Kevin Johnson

Kevin Johnson

Kevin Johnson’s relationship with writing goes back a long way. According to his mom, he began writing poetry and short stories when he was only two years old, finding expression through his love of the arts and music. 

Many years later, as the founder of The Transformance Group, a growth firm focusing on the convergence of technology, neuroscience, and human potential, he coaches leaders across the world on branding and image-building, equipping them with the skills to develop their own authentic expression of leadership. 

According to the folks at 826CHI who get to witness his involvement with the community, “His work puts him in front of global leaders, but his heart is with the young leaders and creative, emerging talent in the neighborhoods of Chicago.”

Mike Masserman

Mike Masserman 300px

“I’ve always valued the importance of thinking outside the box,” says Mike Masserman. “Having the opportunity to instill those values in students is something I’m passionate about.” Mike comes from a family of writers and authors, where creativity was always celebrated, so it’s no surprise that writing is in his blood. Still, finding his voice wasn’t always easy. At times, he felt discouraged by teachers, which led to an appreciation for programs like 826 where students’ creative and authentic voices can come through. “826 is absolutely critical for so many students who need their creativity sparked, reinforced, and celebrated.”

Most recently serving as the Head of Global Policy & Social Impact at Lyft, Mike served in a number of senior roles in the Obama Administration and worked in various capacities on Obama’s 2008 Presidential campaign. His commitment to social change and desire to inspire kids brought him to our Board of Directors. “We are living in a unique moment in time where elevating a diverse array of voices, primarily younger voices, to create social impact feels more important than ever,” says Mike.

Even though his career took him in a slightly different direction, his love of writing and creativity remain strong. “I believe that creative expression, whether via poetry, podcast, or an article, can be a catalyst for political, legal, and policy changes. I see 826 as being an important conduit for this.”   

Sandro Olivieri

Sandro Olivieri 300pxAs a young immigrant, Sandro Olivieri gravitated towards the educators that went out of their way to help him find his place and voice in the world. “These first mentors filled the gaps that the education system was not filling for kids like me,” says Sandro. In 2005, during the early days of 826NYC, Sandro signed up as a volunteer. “That first mentoring experience at 826NYC was transformative for me—it was the first time I felt I could pay it forward to the mentors that helped me find my own voice as an immigrant kid.” 

Fifteen years later, Sandro is the newest member of the 826 National Board of Directors. Besides 826, he is also the founder and president of Productive, LLC, where he designs accelerators, investment programs, awards, and other initiatives to help companies, foundations, and governments achieve their goals. 

Knowing firsthand the transformative power of education, he is excited to be part of The 826 Network, with all the innovative projects and opportunities to support students on their learning journeys. “I think this is the most impactful area of work in the education industry right now, and I’m excited to help develop 826’s role in it.”

Erika Pulley-Hayes

Erika Pulley-Hayes 300pxAs the president and chief executive officer at WMFE|WMFV, Orlando, Florida, Erika Pulley-Hayes brings to 826 vast knowledge in public media. Formerly the vice president of Radio at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), she provided strategic leadership to the public radio system, developing sustainable initiatives to progress public media service.

Her work in public media, and more specifically, an initiative called American Graduate, put 826 on Erika’s radar. “We were recognizing American Graduate Champions, the people who work with students by providing support along their path towards high school graduation. I met a strong network of people and organizations in San Francisco, including 826 National’s CEO Laura Brief,” recalls Erika.

Fueled by a desire to help students and a strong belief in writing as a fundamental step of every child’s academic path, she decided to join our Board of Directors to help us reimagine learning in this new era. “I’m a strong believer in education as the great equalizer and supporting a child’s development through writing is empowering and a worthy mission,” says Erika.

Tom Racciatti

Tom Racciati 300pxLong before joining 826 MSP, Tom Racciatti was already a fan of 826 Valencia. A father of three and a former Bay Area resident, it was a matter of time before he learned about The 826 National Network.

But it was parenthood that brought him closer to our mission. “Beginning to learn through the eyes of a parent about the dysfunction and imbalance in our education systems” was a game-changer, recalls Tom.

From a work perspective, he is also familiar with the multiple benefits of writing. Throughout his career as a director in West Monroe’s Operations Excellence practice in Minneapolis, he watched the power of writing be a differentiator in career progression and client impact. “We train our people at length on these skills, but it is a huge benefit for any candidate entering our hiring/employment funnel to bring these to the table as they get started and throughout their careers,” says Tom.

He sees an enormous opportunity in the switch to virtual learning as everyone rethinks their education and work environments. “I’m excited to help position The 826 Network at the forefront of this change.”

Howard Yoon

Howard Yoon 300px

A literary agent, Howard Yoon’s love of books comes from an early age. “I grew up wanting to be a fiction writer.” Many years later, he represents authors and helps turn their book ideas into reality as the Ross Yoon Agency principal.

A booklover with a desire to help kids, Howard saw in 826 an opportunity to make a difference. “I want to help The 826 National Network grow so that programming can reach as many kids in the country as possible.”

He also believes that 826 plays an important role in helping young people share their voices, by offering platforms and welcoming spaces for them to freely express themselves.

“The country is going through a profound change right now with an awakening of the public of diversity issues. We need people to be heard, and in so many ways, 826 can become the catalyst for young people to do just that.”

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