2024 Fellows

Southern Education Leadership Initiative

Meet Our 2024 SELI Fellows

The Southern Education Leadership Initiative (SELI) provides young leaders with hands-on experience supporting organizations working to create school systems that give Black and Brown children access to the educational opportunity they deserve. In 2024, 14 stellar candidates rose to the top of the competitive applicant pool. The 2024 cohort of exceptional young leaders represents 11 schools across the nation, including four Historically Black Colleges and Universities. During their fellowship, these SELI fellows worked in nonprofits, state agencies, school districts, and universities on issues of education equity. They learned about the South’s most pressing education issues and continue to grow as change agents for social justice.

SELI Placement Site Impact

Charlie Barron

Wellesley CollegeNational Rural Education Association

Charlie Barron (she/her) is spending the summer at the National Rural Education Association, which facilitates resources and research for rural schools and communities. She is an undergraduate at Wellesley College studying Cognitive & Linguistic Sciences and Education as well as researching early childhood and neurodivergent literacy at MIT’s McGovern Brain Institute. Charlie also teaches a wonderful Pre-K class, is involved in The Educational Justice Institute, and is a Lupton Scholar. She is an advocate for developing effective, place-based curricula for all students and plans to work toward increasing the accessibility of quality education for rural and disadvantaged communities throughout her career.  

Joshua Benton

Eastern Kentucky UniversityPrichard Committee for Academic Excellence

Joshua ‘Blake’ Benton (He/Him) is serving at The Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence. This non-profit seeks to uplift Kentuckians by removing academic barriers for students through local and state engagement. He is an undergraduate student at Eastern Kentucky University working on a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Sociology and a minor in data science and statistics. Blake takes pride in his Merit Tier 1 scholarship at EKU, the Lloyd Award, and his acceptance into the SELI 2024 Fellowship. He is committed to the vision of high-quality and equitable education for all students.

Brooke Blacknall

Spelman CollegeGeorgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students

Brooke Blacknall is serving at the Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students ( GEEARS), a nonprofit providing leadership for a statewide movement on quality early learning development for all children ages birth through five. She is pursuing her bachelor’s in Elementary Education at Spelman College. After graduation, she plans to attend graduate school. Brooke is a Bonner Scholar, Girl Scout Gold Award recipient, and a Ralph Lauren Corporate Scholar, titles she holds due to her passion for community service and engagement. She believes that literacy is the foundation for education and that when it is prioritized in early education students will be set up for success.

Kelli Crews

University of GeorgiaVOX ATL

Kelli Crews (she/her) is a second-year master’s student at the University of Georgia studying Educational Administration and Policy. She is placed at VOX ATL this summer and is helping administer the annual survey regarding mental health and the after-school activities of teens. Kelli holds a bachelor’s degree in political science, also from the University of Georgia, and is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. She has interned in two congressional offices, both in the Atlanta area and in Washington D.C., and hopes to continue working at the intersection of education policy and social impact to make education more accessible for all.


Justice Hatcher

Duke UniversityCenter for Racial Equity in Education

Justice Hatcher (she/her) is placed at the Center for Racial Equity in Education (CREED). CREED is a nonprofit working to close opportunity gaps in North Carolina schools through research and technical assistance. She is a rising senior at Duke University studying Public Policy with a minor in Economics. In her senior year, she will also complete the requirements to receive her K-6 Teacher’s License. She has worked as a classroom teacher through the Children’s Defense Fund’s (CDF) Freedom School program. At Duke, she has assisted with economic research through the Duke Economics Analytics Laboratory and DukeEngage Paraguay. She hopes to bridge these experiences by using economic skills to address racial and socioeconomic disparities within the education system. 

Za'Tayvia Hayes

Teachers College, Columbia UniversityEquity Assistance Center-South at Southern Education Foundation

Za’Tayvia Hayes (she/her) is placed at the Equity Assistance Center-South at the Southern Education Foundation. EAC-South assists public schools and districts in their work to provide more equitable opportunities for students in the areas of race, sex, and religion, as required by federal law. She was raised in Honey Grove, TX, where she developed a deep appreciation for community and education from an early age. After graduating from high school, she pursued her passion for empowering youth and communities through education by enrolling at the University of Texas at Austin, where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Applied Learning & Development with a focus on Youth and Community Studies. At the same time, she studied to become a 7th-12th Social Studies Teacher through the UT’s Urban Teachers Program. During this time she served as President of Minorities in Education and Urban Teachers Program. Driven to effect systemic change in education, she decided to continue her learning before entering the classroom at Teachers College, Columbia University, to pursue an M.A. in Education Policy. She also served in New York’s Education Policy and Leadership fellowship at Fordham University Graduate School of Education. Through her academic and career journey, she aims to advocate for equitable access to quality education for all students, particularly those from underserved and rural communities in the South. 

Jae Lockhart

University of Missouri - ColumbiaGeorgia Budget & Policy Institute (GBPI)

Jae Lockhart (He/Him/his) is serving at Georgia Budget & Policy Institute, an institution dedicated to working to advance lasting solutions that expand economic opportunity and well-being for all Georgians. He is a PhD student at the University of Missouri-Columbia, where he studies Educational Leadership & Policy Analysis. Jae holds a bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Henderson State University and a master’s degree in Higher Education from Arkansas State University. He is an active member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. Additionally, Jae has recently been named the 2024 Missouri Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development Russell Scholar Fellow, as well as being the recipient of the Robert R. Ross Fellowship in Educational Leadership & Policy Analysis. Jae values and prioritizes the experiences of Black men/boys in his scholarly work, with a particular emphasis on Black male college students enrolled at Predominantly White Institutions. 

Tyler Mathieu

Morehouse CollegeGriffin-Spalding County Schools

Tyler Mathieu (He/Him) serves at Griffin-Spalding County Schools, participating by analyzing data, conducting assessments of district policies, and researching ways to improve racial equity in Griffin-Spalding County Schools. He is a Rising Junior at Morehouse College majoring in Educational Studies and Philosophy and plans on continuing his education, obtaining an EdD in Educational Administration and Policy. While on the dean list, he serves as the Junior Board of Trustee, Senior Bonner Intern, and Presidential Ambassador. He hopes to one day serve as a Superintendent or start his own Charter School. He is very passionate about changing the outcome and possibilities for students coming from disadvantaged socioeconomic factors and believes your education is the most powerful tool one can have.

Darieon McFadden

Howard UniversitySouth Carolina Commission on Higher Education

Darieon McFadden (He/Him/His) serves at the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education (SC CHE), the coordinating board of higher education in South Carolina. The SC CHE advocates for the citizens of South Carolina to create greater access, affordability, and excellence in higher education. Mr. McFadden is a PhD student at Howard University studying higher education leadership and policy. Post-graduation, Darieon aspires to research the effectiveness of post-secondary correctional education on post-release opportunities and eliminate the stigma associated with previously incarcerated populations. Darieon holds a bachelor’s degree in public health from the University of South Carolina and a master’s of public health from Morehouse School of Medicine. In connecting education and public health, Darieon’s life goal is to tirelessly pursue equity in higher education by dismantling racist systemic barriers and diminishing disinformation and misinformation about marginalized groups and institutions, instilling hope for a more inclusive future. Darieon’s top three accomplishments are becoming the first PhD student in his family, becoming a duly initiated member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., and having the opportunity to work with schools and organizations to continue positively impacting the lives of others.    


Bryan Sorto-Hernandez

The University of North Carolina at Chapel HillEvery Texan

Bryan Sorto Hernández (He/Him/Él) is placed at Every Texan, a nonprofit organization based in Austin Texas that prioritizes policies to improve equity in food security, financial security, healthcare, and education. He is an Undergraduate student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill studying Human and Organizational Leadership Development, Public Policy, and Spanish for the Legal Professions. He is a member of La Unidad Latina, Lambda Upsilon Lambda Fraternity, Inc., served as the 2023-2024 Co-President of Mi Pueblo (the largest Latinx student-led organization), and is a founder of Latinx in Law at Carolina. Through these organizations, Bryan has been a servant leader by inspiring, serving, and encouraging others to reach their fullest potential. He ultimately aims to improve the education system through equitable education policies to ensure all students receive a quality education and can ultimately access and attain higher education.

Jackson Streit

Duke UniversityDudley Flood Center for Educational Opportunity

Jackson Streit (He/Him) is serving at the Dudley Flood Center, a North Carolina nonprofit that seeks to explore and combat the complex policy and social challenges that contribute to inequality in K-12 education. He is an undergraduate student at Duke University studying Public Policy and Psychology with the eventual goal of practicing family law. Jackson is an assistant researcher of foster care through the Eads Family Undergraduate Research Endowment Fund, serves underprivileged elementary-aged students through Jumpstart, and is the Travel Team Captain of Duke Moot Court. He advocates for the rights of disadvantaged children and believes in an equitable and meaningful childhood for all. 

Hanora Tracy

Tulane UniversityCenter for Public Research and Leadership

Hanora Tracy (she/her/hers) is placed at Center for Public Research and Leadership (CPRL) at Columbia Law School this summer. She is pursuing her PhD in Sociology at Tulane University. She received a B.A. in Psychology and Black Studies before continuing to teach for a year in upstate New York. While in her undergraduate studies, she interned at a child and adolescent mobile crisis unit and worked as a teacher’s aide for autistic children. Helping students of all ages and abilities achieve their academic goals has been one of Hanora’s greatest accomplishments. Additionally, she has had the privilege of participating in the Just Education Policy summer program and David Clark Scholars seminar. Throughout her doctoral program, her research has explored the intersections of race and place in public education, as well as equity-oriented school choice policies, reflecting her commitment to education justice in public education.

Tania Trejo-Mendez

University of FloridaLatinxEd

Tania Trejo-Mendez (she/her/ella) is serving at LatinxEd, a North Carolina educational initiative that works to provide targeted, multi-year support to Latinx students and immigrant families striving for higher education and greater socioeconomic opportunity. She holds a master’s degree in Latin American studies from the University of Florida and a bachelor’s degree in history from Emory University. She has participated in student activist projects, such as the Disruptors Project recording the history of undocumented and working-class student activism at CSU Los Angeles and the Consciousness Is Power movement which championed the development of Latinx Studies offerings at Emory University. She has also engaged in nonprofit and volunteer work with organizations such as Children Beyond our Borders and United Way Miami. Tania is passionate about diversifying educational curricula and making sure that young Latinx students and other students of color see their histories and cultures represented in the classroom.

Karen Xu

Duke UniversityParents’ Campaign

Karen Xu (she/her) is currently serving at The Parents’ Campaign, a Mississippi-based education nonprofit dedicated to strengthening public schools through parent advocacy. She is a rising senior at Duke University, where she studies Public Policy with minors in Education and Journalism. At Duke, Karen serves as President of the Marching and Pep Band and volunteers in the Canine Cognition Lab, where she helps raise service dogs. Additionally, she is a contributing writer and Photography Editor for The Chronicle, Duke’s independent student newspaper. Karen believes in journalism as a catalyst for change, using it to highlight critical issues in education, inspire meaningful action, and ensure legislative accountability.