Growing up in the South Bronx is what drove Majora Carter away from her neighborhood when she was able to leave, but it’s also what brought her back. Carter made education her first priority so that she could move away however she got a financial reality check after enrolling in grad school, which forced her to move back in with her parents.
“It was a good thing for me because I got to go back to my neighborhood and see things in a complete different light. I thought it was this ugly, dirty place and there was something inherently wrong with us. That’s how the media presented it and on some level we believed it,” she tells HelloBeautiful about the moment right before her career epiphany. “The more I learned about the way that our communities were built and the regulations that created them, particularly around poor people and people of color, I was like, that’s against us from the get go and I really wanted to be part of a change so that’s why I started doing this work.”
“This work” that she does is urban revitalization planning. Carter has been the CEO of the Majora Carter Group in the private sector for the past six years. Prior to that work, she was a community activist.
The MacArthur Genius Fellow is credited with swaying the Giuliani in the direction of positive economic development, founding the non-profit environmental justice solutions corporation, Sustainable South Bronx (SSBx), and writing a $1.25M Federal Transportation planning grant for the South Bronx Greenway among many other achievements but one of her latest projects resulted from a serendipitous moment that brings her life’s work full circle.
Enter Girls Prep Bronx; a charter school with plans to expand to a middle school and another elementary school this fall. Carter got involved with the school’s expansion plans after receiving a package seemingly out of the blue, of handwritten letters of gratitude by first graders who were from the Majora Carter Classroom, one of many rooms named after phenomenal women. After realizing that the school’s mission was in alignment with her personal beliefs—like, encouraging the girls to support each other, teaching financial literacy to parents and educating them on how to achieve better well-being for themselves and their children—Carter got on board.
“The kind of people who use the resources available at that school successfully are the future leaders of that community. The building and the nurturing of a community begins where you are,” she tells us. “When you walk outside of that school you are part of that community and as far as our research development work goes, it is all about using those transformational tools to create the kind of aspirational communities that we haven’t had in decades.”
Plans for the school’s expansion are in limbo due to some conflict about the future of charter schools in New York City, but Carter is hopeful that this will be resolved soon.
“We’re all really nervous. That’s a highly functioning school and it would be really sad to close it because folks couldn’t decide to get along. I think we should take a cold hard look at something that doesn’t succeed whether it’s a charter school or not, and deal with it on its merit, for lack of a better word, and I think that’s the problem that a lot of people are having, that it’s us against them,” she says. “I don’t think that’s the case. It’s, ‘Are we accomplishing excellence?’ and if the answer is, ‘No,’ then regardless of if it’s a charter or not that needs to be addressed.”
Next up for Girls Prep Bronx is its 4th annual “Namesake” Benefit Luncheon on April 10, honoring Carter and several other female role models who have classrooms at the school named after them.
GET INVOLVED: For more information about attending the benefit luncheon, or a yoga class at the school’s “Breathe, Stretch, Give” series, visit Publicprep.org.
FOLLOW MAJORA ON TWITTER: @MajoraCarter