The 2016 RFK Urban Education Awards

Contact: Casey Lamb
Director of Growth, Schools That Can; 470-440-0782

Kerry Kennedy presents the RFK Urban Education Awards to Franklin Headley, Lisa Ellis, and Naudia Loftis on the 50th anniversary of her father’s “Day of Affirmation” speech

School leader, teacher, and student recognized for being a “Ripple of Hope” in their communities during the 3rd Annual Robert F. Kennedy Urban Education Awards Luncheon on June 11, 2016.


NEW YORK (June 16, 2016) — Robert F. Kennedy’s “Ripple of Hope” speech, delivered on June 6, 1966 in apartheid South Africa, implored citizens to reject injustice and embrace community service. He said:

“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

On June 11, 2016, Schools That Can (STC) and RFKennedy Human Rights celebrated the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s address by honoring change-makers from across the country. Kerry Kennedy, President of RFKennedy Human Rights and daughter of Robert F. Kennedy, proudly presented the awards during a special luncheon at New York University.

nyu-KK1Days prior to the ceremony, Kennedy had returned from a trip to South Africa commemorating her father’s historic visit. Joining her on the trip was a delegation from the U.S. Congress that included Chris Coons and civil rights leader John Lewis.

“What my father said in South Africa fifty years ago holds true today more than ever,” said Kerry Kennedy, President of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. “In the face of injustice and inequality, we must abandon the role of bystander.”

Presented annually by STC, a national nonprofit focused on improvement and innovation in urban education, and in partnership with RFKennedy Human Rights, the Awards celebrate a student, a teacher, and a school leader who embody Kennedy qualities. STC selected 10 finalists from the dozens of nominations received – all inspiring individuals who have been champions for change in their schools and communities. RFKennedy Human Rights then selected three winners – one school leader, one teacher, and one student.


Presenting the 2016 RFK Urban Education Awardees:

Franklin J. Headley, Founding Principal, VOICE Charter School, Long Island City, NY


©NYU Photo Bureau/Olivo

According to assistant principal Zoe Rind-Ryan, “Mr. Headley’s story is unequivocally one of steadfast moral conviction and shared transformation.” After years as a teacher and administrator in NYC public schools, Franklin Headley founded VOICE Charter School in 2008 to help underserved students achieve at high levels while providing a school-wide vocal music program.

Having grown up in a family with a farm in rural South Jersey, Franklin learned some powerful lessons about people from his interactions with animals. For example, by “listening” to horses’ – paying attention to their body language and eyes – he earned their trust, and eventually they became cooperative and let him ride them. As the leader of VOICE Charter School over the past 8 years, Franklin applies these lessons daily. “People get defensive,” he says, “but if you listen and become curious, you can clarify the issue and eventually reach common ground.” These principles are foundational to Franklin’s leadership. He listens carefully to his team, and has built a truly collaborative school culture. First in his family to graduate college, Franklin has earned 5 post-secondary degrees and staunchly believes that quality education is the ultimate civil right. He equates the Kennedy family’s legacy with civil rights, and is honored to receive this award.


Lisa Ellis, Guidance Counselor, MC2 STEM High School, Cleveland, OH


©NYU Photo Bureau/Olivo

“While many of the students of MC2 STEM High School suffer injustices, one person in the school always seems to have an answer for helping students deal with those injustices,” principal Feowyn Mackinnon says of counselor Lisa Ellis. Three years ago, Lisa began to develop a relationship with Minnie, then a sophomore, when the two worked together to find an alternative solution to what would have been another suspension. Later, when Minnie’s father was incarcerated, Lisa invited Minnie into her home – first on Saturday nights and eventually full-time. Minnie bonded with Lisa’s children, and even when her father was released from prison and she became a college freshman, Minnie has continued to stay with Lisa’s family.

To hear Lisa tell it, Minnie is a once-in-a-career case, but colleagues would argue that her unconditional positive regard envelopes all her students. Lisa has launched a Yoga Club for stressed out students and a Gay Straight Alliance to create a safe and welcoming school environment for LGBTQ students and allies. When Tamir Rice was shot and killed by police officers less than 10 miles from MC2, Lisa organized counseling sessions, participated in safe public protests with students, and guided them through emotions she said ranged “from shock to anger to sadness to frustration to helplessness and back again.” Lisa is a rock for her community and an inspiration to all who meet her.


Naudia Loftis, Alumnus, St. Martin de Porres High School, Cleveland, OH

©NYU Photo Bureau/Olivo

©NYU Photo Bureau/Olivo

Naudia’s spirit of activism and advocacy was instilled in her by her granddad, with whom she participated in marches and rallies at the ripe age of seven. Despite her young age, she would be right by his side carrying signs and chanting with the crowd. As part of her senior capstone project this year, Naudia organized a “Value Our Lives” rally. Fed up with the high homicide rate in her hometown, she chose to leverage the capstone opportunity to address this social justice issue. Her rally was intended to bring awareness to the rising crime rate in the city and give hope to community members that change is possible.  “Naudia believes that an end to black on black crime will come from young people, like herself, engaging in peaceful protests and speaking out against violence to people of all ages,” says Faith Hurley, teacher coach at her school.

Upon receiving the award, Naudia recited “Believeland,” a poem she had written about her hometown. Says Naudia of Cleveland, “they put us down but we end up smiling, we’re never a Shyland, a “work hard then shine” land, Cleveland isn’t perfect but it’s definitely Myland.” Naudia graduated from St. Martin de Porres less than a week before the awards luncheon and will continue her education at John Carroll University this fall.


STC is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that connects educators and leaders within its cross-sector network of urban schools to share innovative and effective practices. The network includes 153 charter, district, independent and faith-based schools in 15 cities — all of which serve predominantly low-income students and students of color. “We are honored to collaborate with RFKennedy Human Rights to celebrate students, teachers, and school leaders who have created ripples of hope in their schools and communities,” said Michael Druckman, executive chair of Schools That Can.


STC will be publishing profiles about each RFK Urban Education Award winner. For more information, go to, follow @SchoolsThatCan on Twitter, and like STC’s page at