Darcy Richie, GC Chief Program & Impact Officer, Speaks with GC Alum Kenneth Lee

 

 

Darcy Richie, GC Chief Program & Impact Officer, Speaks with GC Alum Kenneth Lee

 

 

 

Kenneth Lee, former GC student and current candidate for District Leader in Assembly District 43 in Brooklyn interviewed GC Chief Program & Impact Officer and all-star educator Darcy Richie in the latest installment of our alumni and staff interview series. Kenneth and Darcy discussed their experiences with education, civics, and the politics of our current education landscape.

 

Kenneth 

Hello, my name is Kenneth Lee. I am a former candidate for New York City Council and District 40, and I’m a candidate for the district leader in New York City Assembly District 43. I am a Generation Citizen alum, and I did an internship through Generation Citizen, which gave me the opportunity to work with The New York Public Interest Research Group.

 

 

Darcy

 

That sounds amazing. I’m Darcy Richie, GC’s Chief Program and Impact Officer. I’ve been with GC for almost two years, and I oversee our National Program Team and I support all of our sites around Program. You shared such a beautiful background and context for yourself. I come from the world of education. I was a teacher for a little while, an assistant principal, then a principal. I started my own school and led it for several years. I also managed and trained about 600 teachers a year with Teacher For America. Throughout my career, my purview and focus has been around working with teachers to help young people manifest their own reality and how they want to see themselves show up in the world. And then I focused more on young people as the Deputy Director of an organization called Sadie Nash. And that’s how I learned about Generation Citizen.

 

 

 

Kenneth 

 

Wow, that’s great. Tell us about your role and your vision for your work from a program perspective.

 

 

 

Darcy

 

Big question, Kenneth. My goal is to understand and diagnose what’s going on in our educational landscape, and create a vision of where we’re headed, but with a vision that incorporates our full team. I always see myself and our National Program Team as coordinators of the work and supporters of the work that are happening at regional sites. It’s really important that we understand what’s happening at sites, so we spend a lot of time learning what their focus is, what’s important to them, what their challenges are, and that guides the work. My vision is that our work is in support of and in service of our students. I want to see a program team that is very responsive to the needs of teachers, that is thoughtful and proactive about what teachers need so students feel as supported, motivated, and encouraged as you were. 

 

 

 

Kenneth

 

What engages you about the work that GC has done?

 

 

 

Darcy

 

I work directly with the program team, the staff, and honestly what I find most exciting is the passion that they feel. You know, when one of our program team members sends out a poster from a classroom, I find that exciting. Or when I learn about a coaching session where a teacher felt or was able to tap into something with their students, and their student is like, “This is what I want to keep doing. I want to keep learning about this. I feel passionate about it.” I find that most energizing and exciting. And then my team is very special and unique and wonderful, and they love the work that they do. I always see myself in service of the team that I support.

 

 

 

Kenneth

 

Everyone at Generation Citizen is very passionate about civic action, and even the actual government. When I was doing the GC  internship, I had a problem with registering to be on a community board. When I voiced my opinions to the GC team, I actually got a lot of answers and got in contact with the right people. And then my application went forth. But if it wasn’t for that, my application probably would have stayed where it was. And I think, wow, thanks for Generation Citizen. I was able to do a lot.

 

 

 

Darcy

 

And if your application stayed where it was, you may have been in a totally different place now in terms of applying for community boards?

 

 

 

Kenneth

 

The first thing I wanted to do in my politic endeavor was the apply to be on a community board. But then my application didn’t go anywhere due to the fact that the application was half online, half mail-in. Now the application is 100% online, so you can track the progress, and that’s what I’ve been requesting for forever. Younger adults, starting at age 16, are now able to register to be a member of the community board.

 

What brought you to work at Generation Citizen?

 

Darcy

 

The thing that got me into GC was visiting a classroom as a consultant with the New York team. I was consulting around supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), and I was creating a workshop for democracy coaches to engage with and understand how DEI was showing up in the work that they would be doing with teachers and with students. And so in order to do that, I had to be in the classroom. I had to see teachers teach. I had to see how students are engaging. And it felt like a nexus, a bringing together of all of the parts of my career that I’ve loved the most. I’ve loved coaching teachers. I’m currently an adjunct Professor, and I teach first-year teachers. I’ve done that for about 13 years.

 

When I visited GC classrooms, I also loved the content that was being taught – the idea that we are focused on civics and helping demystify what civics is for young people. Young people were excited, engaged, and passionate about the change that they can make in their community. So all of these different pieces that I’ve done at different points in my career all came together as I sat in that classroom. And this was happening all over the country. It was amazing.  As I learned more about the curriculum, I saw how students were doing the things they were talking about. They’re talking to senators, to school board leaders, to community organizations. And so the action part of GC’s programming was what gripped me and brought me to the work.

 

 

 

Kenneth

 

Of course. I think in your senior year or any part of high school that Generation Citizen should be a required part of the curriculum. Students should go out into the world knowing how bills are created, how things have passed. If they want something changed, they could go to the right people to get changes done.

 

 

 

Darcy

 

Yes, people really don’t know. And that’s the part that I think I was so excited by, how young people will say, I’m interested in mental health, and we haven’t talked about mental health in any of my classes. That interest blossoms to all these different parts, like researching mental health in their communities, and learning about policies that they didn’t know existed. And to your point, once it blossoms, that’s the demystification. With GC, we remove that barrier and young people say I can do this. I can make change.

 

 

 

Kenneth

 

They don’t know this power. They don’t know the power that they have as a human that they could be a part of the change. And if they don’t become a part of the change now, the changes that happen now will affect them 10, 20 years from now. So they need to be a part of the change now.

 

What is your hope for civics education in the future?

 

 

 

Darcy

 

I think we’re in a dark period right now, which is really just testing us. This period is saying the word “action” or the phrase “action civics” is a bad phrase. People will say “It’s politicized. It is a liberal phrase. It’s a way of trying to get white people to feel guilty for history.” And I think that that is a dark period. Years ago, there was a big push against teaching the theory of evolution. And all this legislation started to arise where people were saying, you can’t talk about evolution without talking about creationism and you can’t discuss the process for evolution because it’s turning your back against God. All of this stuff started happening, and it was a terrifying time, but now we’ve moved through it after a lot of people advocated, and young people advocated. Now we’re at a period where we can’t look back and imagine not teaching evolution. And I think action civics is the same way–we need to teach it, it needs to be a priority.

 

 

 

Kenneth

 

If they don’t have these skills, we won’t know how to ask elected officials to work for us–if constituents don’t know how to reach the people who represent them, or how to go about an issue, they won’t believe they can change things.

 

 

 

Darcy

 

I think my vision for the future is that civics education is tied to practice, that we aren’t just teaching civics to say there are three branches of government.  We are tying it to practice, and young people see themselves make a difference.

 

 

 

Kenneth

 

What advice would you give a young civic leader?

 

 

 

Darcy

 

I’m very inspired by you. I’m inspired by your commitment and your passion. And so the biggest advice I would give if I could speak to every Generation Citizen student is identify your issue, know what your issue is, learn about it, and commit to making a difference within that issue to no end. Be persistent. I really believe once a young person goes through the process of thinking about an issue or a topic that they really care about, and then actually seeing and talking to an organization about it, talking to their neighbors about it, and then seeing a policy develop or advocating for a policy, then they see the change happen. They’re hooked. They’re hooked on what’s possible. And so I would say, identify an issue and be persistent, because otherwise I feel as an adult, we feel disillusioned. We feel like no change can happen.  We think about issues in our community, and we think that can never change. This is always going to exist. The violence that I see in my neighborhood is always going to exist. The trash that I see in my neighborhood is always going to exist. But once we can make change, that disillusionment doesn’t happen, and students feel they can keep making a difference.

 

 

 

Darcy

 

I have a question for you. What would be your advice for our organization? For the leaders in our organization, those people who are supporting teachers, to support young leaders.

 

 

 

Kenneth

 

I would say the best thing to do is to stay positive and don’t give up on what you want to do. It’s going to happen. Just like I never gave up on trying to apply to community boards. I never gave up on trying to get civically engaged. And look what happened. Now we have a new borough President, and that new borough President implemented a 100% online application process. I was also able to get streets cleaned up by speaking up and advocating to different city agencies. That’s what they’re there for.

 

 

 

Darcy

 

What do you think sparked your excitement?

 

 

 

Kenneth

 

I’d been in student government for two years, and then in my senior year of high school I got an interest in government and politics and took Generation Citizen. Our class chose the cell phone policy as our issue, and since I was already involved in making change people looked to me to help. And I was quiet the whole time. But people would ask me questions, see if I can make a change. And I’d be like, hey, I can’t change anything by myself.

 

 

 

Darcy

 

Yes, that’s the first civic lesson. Thank you so much for talking with me today!