Grants & Scholarships

Equity Institute: ‘promoting culturally responsive, antiracist, and equitable education for all Rhode Islanders’

Equity Institute: ‘promoting culturally responsive, antiracist, and equitable education for all Rhode Islanders’

In just four years, the Equity Institute (EI) has evolved from a grassroots initiative, EduLeaders of Color, co-founded by Karla Vigil and Carlon Howard, to a highly-regarded nonprofit organization that is dedicated to promoting culturally responsive, antiracist, and equitable education for all Rhode Islanders.

“We have lived through marginalization and racial discrimination in our lives. In our work, we want to address inequities in a space where we feel celebrated and can elevate leaders in the community.”

- Carlon Howard
Karla Vigil
Karla Vigil

Noting they both are former teachers, Karla continues, “We saw, not only for ourselves but also on a larger scale that, although recruitment of educators of color teachers was increasing, retention of educators of color teachers was decreasing. In the beginning, we said, ‘Let’s get some folks together and talk about what’s going on.’”

Their first “meetup” was held in November of 2016. Word soon spread with attendees talking about the experience and sharing through social media. Today, the monthly meetups are held through EI’s EduLeaders of Color program and focus on growing attendees’ professional networks, developing their capacity to advocate for educational equity, and helping them understand their leadership potential. Pre-COVID, the meetups were held at locations throughout the state; today, they are held virtually.

In addition to educators, the meetups are attended by people in diverse professions, from health care to engineering and from real estate to law.

"They (professions) all intersect and play a role. We want people to come, learn about what’s happening in education, and have a say."

- Karla Vigil

“It’s about having a diverse lens of experience. That’s where new ideas come from and new perspectives are honored,” Carlon notes, with Karla adding, “Our hope is to create an environment where institutions value our identity.”

Attended by more than 500 individuals last year, their work has expanded, in partnership with College Unbound and the Rhode Island School for Progressive Education, through the newly-created EduLead Fellows program. In October 2020, it named the inaugural class of 15 Fellows. With the tagline, “From TA to BA,” the program helps K-12 teacher assistants (TAs) and support professionals attain their college degree and teaching certification.

“Typically, a large portion of support professionals tend to be people of color. They’re already in education and committed to working with kids. Until this program, there was no clear way for them to move up within the schools. Through this apprenticeship model, we’re trying to shift how teacher education is facilitated,” Karla states.

Student-teacher demographic comparison PPSD

Citing research by the Learning Policy Institute, Carlon says, “This research suggests that when taught by a teacher of color, students of color experience higher reading and math test scores, higher graduation rates, decreased dropout and discipline rates, and increased enrollment in advanced classes. The EduLead Fellowship is a direct response to these issues.”

The Equity Institute also partners with schools and districts throughout Rhode Island to provide organizational and professional development workshops that introduce culturally responsive and antiracist teaching and leadership practices to current educators and administrators.

Carlon Howard
Carlon Howard

“Due to systemic prejudice and discrimination, minoritized communities have historically been denied access to opportunities. We want to open the door for others. It’s our responsibility and purpose to do this,” Carlon believes.

“We’re happy to see a real investment in the work we’re doing,” Karla concludes of grants from the Rhode Island Foundation and other funders.

To learn more about the Equity Institute and its programs, visit