Senior Advisor, DelawareCAN

Atnre (Ah-tin-ray) was born in Philadelphia and raised in South Jersey. Going into ninth grade, his mother exercised what he calls “school choice on steroids” and shipped him to school in Accra, Ghana. In addition to the cultural shock, Atnre soon experienced the realities of global competition. He was behind his peers in math and science in spite of finishing middle school at the top of his class. After graduation, he returned to New Jersey and completed a bachelor’s degree in economics and a master’s degree in public administration at Rutgers University-Camden.

Atnre’s passion for education and community development was shaped by his experiences living and working in Camden, NJ. He served as the vice president of the board for a community bank, analyzed crime data to help Camden Police with crime suppression efforts and developed performance management systems for a local charter school. Seeing the importance of education to community development, Atnre later founded an organization—TeenSHARP—that prepares talented students of color for top colleges.

Atnre’s interest in education led him first to the Strategic Data Project at Harvard working at the Delaware Department of Education leading policy and research efforts on teacher and leader effectiveness, and then to 50CAN’s Education Advocacy Fellowship Class of 2016. He launched DelawareCAN in January 2017 as founding executive director.

I aspire to be like Geoffrey Canada, Cory Booker and Dr. Randal Pinkett. Here’s why:

I aspire to be like Geoffrey Canada because his social entrepreneurship led to transformational educational opportunities for students and broader community empowerment. His fierce, no-nonsense attitude inspires me because it is driven by a deep understanding of what is really at stake for students and cities. I aspire to have Cory Booker’s contagious passion, ability to engage and communicate, humility, and approach to leadership. Finally, I admire Dr. Randal Pinkett’s (fellow Rutgers alumnus) excellence as a thought leader, competitive spirit, ability to execute and innovate, and integrity as a person of faith.

Why I love my job:

I spend my days thinking, engaging, listening, learning, strategizing, designing, writing, fundraising and advocating for equity and great schools for all students. I guess you could call it a job, but I love my work because it is also my passion. And the fact that I get to do this work alongside other leaders who also see our efforts as more than a job makes me love this even more!

My connection to public schools:

My high school in Ghana was a public school, but it was much different than any school in the U.S. It was the first government school in Ghana and was founded under the British colonial government in the 1920s as a school for African leaders. My “public school” experience was unique and very different from the public schools I’ve connected with in New Jersey, Philadelphia and Delaware over the last decade as I worked with students and their families.

My life-changing educational opportunity in Ghana makes me certain we can do much better for students in the U.S.

What I’m bad at:

I’ve tried to tell myself that I “do my best work under pressure,” but have realized that was a farce. I have the habit of procrastinating on seemingly trivial things. I’ve read the “getting things done” books, tried different organizational systems and always use Trello and other productivity tools—but I’m still a procrastinator and a work in progress!

The image that represents why I work at 50CAN:

This picture of myself with civil rights leader Stokley Carmichael in my childhood home in New Jersey is one of my most treasured possessions. My mother gave me the ancient Egyptian name Atnreakn and sent me to Ghana because there was something empowering for her about studying Egyptology, exploring the richness of African culture and seeking another narrative to counter assertions of the inferiority of people of African descent.

Stokely Carmichael promoted these ideas and famously said: “organize, organize, organize.” I want to work towards the day our education system does not treat large groups of students as inferior and unworthy of world-class learning opportunities.