Educational consultant and poet Danielle Bero ’07 fuses creativity and social justice to engage today’s youth
By Stella Katsipoutis-Varkanis
“Dream big for yourself, yes, but dream big for your community as well.” It isn’t simply a mantra coined by Posse Foundation president and founder Deborah Bial. For Danielle Bero ’07, who quoted Bial in her Pepper Prize acceptance speech upon graduating from Lafayette, it is a life mission. Since then, Bero’s work and unshakable devotion as an educational consultant, social justice warrior, and poet has not only impacted the lives of marginalized youth across the country, but also helped reimagine what it means to be an American educator.
“Growing up in New York, in a mixed family, and being queer, school was always my safe place,” Bero says. “My train rides to and from school were when I got to do most of my reading and writing. I loved learning, discussing, engaging. I wanted to extend that feeling, that safety to other students who may be struggling.”
And she leaves no moment undevoted to her cause. As an adolescent program manager for Girls Leadership—a nonprofit dedicated to teaching girls to exercise the power of their voice—Bero leads and facilitates weekly diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) workshops for young women, their parents, and educators, teaching them about hard-hitting topics like bias, trauma, compassion, informed care, and healing-centered engagement. At Future Leaders Incubator, an organization in Brooklyn that helps support schools in their efforts to increase equity and inclusion and strengthen their communities, Bero provides literacy intervention services as well as DEI training. On the weekends, she teaches as an adjunct professor at Medaille College, preparing educators to teach high school English.
Bero—who after college spent a year teaching in Indonesia on a Fulbright scholarship and earned a master’s degree in English education through the Teach for America program at Lehman College in 2010, a master’s in educational leadership from Lehman in 2013, and a master of fine arts degree in poetry from University of San Francisco in 2016—had a long list of accomplishments to her name prior to her current roles as well.
A Posse Scholar herself, Bero previously helped select and train students for full-tuition college scholarships at the Posse Foundation, working in conjunction with Lafayette, her alma mater. She was also one of the founding teachers of Broome Street Academy in New York City—where she worked to create athletic and creative writing programs for children in transitional housing, group homes, and foster care—and served as principal at Northside Charter High School in Brooklyn. Her achievements as an educator, she says, were the result of being engaged with children and being dedicated to their success.
“The thing that drives me every single day is the question, ‘How do I continue to create spaces where students and educators explore, find their voices, and connect, build, and collaborate with each other?’” Bero says.
Her secret to forging deep connections with her students, she explains, is to make her classroom material interesting and relevant to them by intertwining traditional literature with modern pop culture.
“I like to think of my classes, my curriculum, and my approach as a buffet,” Bero explains. “I want students to try as much stuff as possible so they can decide what works for them, what they want to pick up, and how they want to build their platter.”
Her experience with expertly crafting curriculum, she says, began her first year as a Lafayette student. Bero knew she wanted to pursue a career in education; however, because the College didn’t offer an education major, she decided to create a unique major that blended her two passions: creative media and social justice.
“I sat down with Deborah Byrd, [professor of English], and she helped me map out my foundational courses in English, government and law, and philosophy, and we added music, art, and social justice-related classes to my course list to bridge the gap,” Bero says. “The process of building the major taught me to think about building curriculum from the ground up, something I use even now when managing schools.”
Bero’s interests were further solidified when a friend and fellow Lafayette student invited her to join Kids in the Community (KIC), an after-school program for children in the Easton area run by the College’s Landis Community Outreach Center.
“I absolutely fell in love,” she says. “I noticed that a lot of the Lafayette volunteers were really engaged with the younger kids, and there were four or five teenagers standing off to the back and playing with lip gloss, super uninterested. And I thought to myself, ‘These are the kids I want to focus my attention on.’ I had to figure out new ways to reach them, and so I started developing curriculum and workshops for them that focused on things like race, class, gender, sexuality, religion, power dynamics—things I was already talking about in Posse, but just figuring out how to have those conversations with teens.”
After witnessing how excited and engaged the students were with her work, Bero started the Teens in the Community (TIC) program at Lafayette, which helped teenagers in the community process their emotions about issues like gang violence through creative outlets, such as open mic nights, poetry, dance, and more. “That was the fuel that got me really excited about my career as an educator,” she says. Bero was also active in other student organizations at Lafayette, including Students for Social Justice (SSJ), Association of Black Collegians (ABC), NIA: A Sisterhood, Association of Lafayette Feminists (ALF), and Questioning Established Sexual Taboos (QuEST).
Bero, a poet, also co-founded the Writing Organization Reaching Dynamic Students (WORDS), through which Lafayette students and artists across all mediums—musicians, poets, dancers, comedians, and the like—could collaborate and bring together their visions to create unique performances. She continues to celebrate the bridging of artistic worlds and worldly issues in her written work today, which has been published in several literary magazines and journals—including Juked, sPARKLE & bLINK, Lavender Review, Sinister Wisdom, Jack Straw Writers Anthology, and others.
“My poetry focuses on identity and queering up the spaces that I’m in,” she says. “There’s a lot of musicality and rhythm to it too, because hip-hop is a huge influence on the work that I do.”
But the molding of her career path wasn’t the only lasting influence Lafayette had on Bero. To this day, she continues to be grateful for her close relationships with her professors, and for the opportunities Posse and the College afforded her to not only earn her undergraduate degree, but study abroad in places like Namibia, Guatemala, and the Bahamas as well.
“My first two years at Lafayette were tough because it was really stark for me to be in an almost all-white space coming from super-diverse New York City,” Bero says. “But I felt so connected to my professors, who supported not just me, but my fellow Posse students as well during a time when there was a big racial divide between students on campus. I’m still in touch with Debbie Byrd, who is so incredible and helped make my gigantic ideas and big dreams come true. My English professors really pushed me in terms of my creative writing, and [professor of psychology] Susan Basow taught me about cisgender, transgender, and all these terms I had never heard of before as a queer person. She was influential in helping me identify myself.”
“Growing up in New York City,” Bero continues, “my family was middle class at best. We didn’t have a lot of luxuries, just necessities. I knew college was going to be financially difficult for my family, and so not having to face the financial burdens thanks to the Posse scholarship allowed me to focus on my classwork. I also received a study abroad scholarship and was able to learn in some of the most incredible places in the world. I couldn’t be more grateful for everything that was gifted to me. And now, that’s the gift I’m able to give back to the world: being able to create engaging educational spaces.”
Bero isn’t sure what the future holds for her just yet; however, she recently followed her calling to move to Atlanta, which has become the country’s epicenter for social justice issues following the 2020 presidential election. She is excited to see what paths her new home will forge for her as she continues her fight for civil rights, and she hopes to one day earn a doctoral degree in creative writing and open her own school. She urges current Lafayette students to help others, to take advantage of the resources available to them, and to be unafraid of constructing their own opportunities.
“Build those connections, create your network. Think about how your reach extends beyond you, especially if you’re coming from a privileged or unmarginalized place. Think about how you can reach your hands back to pull others up. Lafayette has so much to offer, so don’t waste those four years. And if there’s something you want to do at Lafayette that doesn’t already exist there, you can create it—because Lafayette cares and will help you build it.”