March 1, 2016

Dorothy Stoneman’s journey to the frontlines of the Civil Rights Movement can be traced back to an eye-opening experience in France in 1959. As a member of a World Learning Experiment cohort, Stonemen credits the experience with expanding her worldview and exposing her to an array of perspectives outside of her own.

Stoneman, who was named by the White House as a “Champion of Change” in 2012, recalls her decision to join New York’s Harlem Action Group as one that ultimately would go against the grain within the movement. As most of her white peers headed south to get involved in activism, she decided to enact change within a community not in the headlines through education and advocacy.

“I learned to use my privilege in a way that was accountable to the community and embedded in it,” she said. “The white folks who went south tended to overwhelm the movement with their point of view.”

Stoneman began her career as a public school teacher, and then became director of a community-based, parent-controlled daycare center and elementary school. In addition to her role as an educator, Stoneman turned her focus to breaking the cycle of crime and poverty through suitable living solutions within her neighborhood.

In the 1970s, Stoneman’s students told her they wanted to rehabilitate empty neighborhood houses that attracted crime, which inspired her to found YouthBuild USA. The program helps low-income people aged 16 to 24 earn their GEDs or high school diplomas, learn job skills, and serve their communities by building affordable and increasingly green units of housing.

According to the Stoneman, there are still pressing civil rights issues that resonate from her time as a teacher in Harlem. She remains determined to advocate for closing gaps within the education system and finding solutions to address the disproportionate number of people of color in prison.

“The dominant culture needs to invest in opportunities for education, job training, employment, and service for young people born into poverty,” she said.