Teacher for Life: Errol Saunders II (RBS 2002)

    Originally from Los Angeles, California, Errol C. Saunders II (RBS 2002) is currently working toward a doctoral degree in the department of Curriculum and Teaching at Teachers College, Columbia University. He earned a BA in Political Science from Yale University in 2006. Like his fellow Scholars, Errol is passionate about living a life guided by positive impact. He is devoted to maximizing the educational experiences of young adolescents, supporting and growing the Ron Brown Scholar Program, and expanding opportunities in his beloved adopted city of New Haven, Connecticut.

    Prior to attending Columbia’s Teachers College, Errol was a faculty member at the Hopkins School in New Haven. There he wore many hats: he taught ancient history to middle schoolers and New Haven history to high schoolers; he served as an administrator and instructional coach for Pathfinder Hopkins School; he served on the financial aid and admissions committees; and he was the head adviser of the class of 2021. His research interests are heavily influenced by these work experiences. As a doctoral student, he is interested in how students’ socialization to types of schooling affect their transitions into new schooling environments, how schools and teachers conceive of their relationship to critical pedagogies, and how those conceptions affect the learning of students entering those new environments.

    In addition to his educational interests, Errol is a firm believer that wholehearted engagement in civil society can strengthen communities by building community capacity. He became an active member of the New Haven community shortly after his arrival as an undergraduate and quickly developed passionate interests in urban education, New Haven history, and the relationships between cities and their suburbs. Pursuing those interests, he worked as a research assistant for the local Regional Growth Partnership and as a Deliberation Day organizer for the Community Foundation of Greater New Haven.

    Errol believes that it was the old buildings and structures (so different from the newer edifices of his native Los Angeles) and the great number of trees and green plants that first piqued his interest in New Haven. Unlike the stucco dwellings of his youth, the old brick spoke to him of time and history and a degree of permanence over time. The fact that trees were growing everywhere—not just on the private property of the wealthy—served as his metaphor for what was possible in his new home city. He became fascinated by the city’s neighborhoods and realized that, unlike many of his fellow students at Yale, he could easily distinguish between “impoverished” and “criminal” and thus felt comfortable spending time and getting to know residents from all areas of the city. During his time in New Haven, he served on the boards of the New Haven Land Trust, the Urban Resources Initiative, and New Haven Festivals, Inc. He was also member of the board of directors of the Ulysses S. Grant Foundation for many years.

    Ask Errol about The Ron Brown Scholar Program, and he will tell you that just as he is a “teacher for life,” so he is and will always be a passionately proud and devoted Ron Brown Scholar. He credits Vanessa Evans-Grevious (VP, RBSP) for setting him firmly on his path by suggesting an undergraduate internship program that he remained associated with as an intern and eventually as an administrator of for more than 10 years. Michael Mallory (President and CEO, RBSP) convinced Errol to trust himself about his decision to work in a private school versus a public school setting. Errol says that it was the Program that not only made it possible for him to attend Yale but also gave him the freedom to pursue what he loves and opt for a teacher’s salary over a higher-paying career. He credits the Program—through its mentorship, financial assistance, and community of Scholars—with 100% of the responsibility for the positive impact he is making and will make during his lifetime. He says that though he will likely never be very wealthy and able to donate huge sums, he will always readily share with fellow Scholars and the Ron Brown Scholar Program whatever he has in terms of support and contributions. It is no mere promise.

    Errol has met every new Ron Brown Scholar since 2002 (with an exception of one year when he was unable to attend Selection Weekend). Three years in a row, he served as the official “RBSP Greeter”—going to the airport and meeting all Finalists as they arrived for their selection interviews. He loved doing this because he found that, without fail, he would get to know extraordinarily smart, genuine people whose conversations did not brag about their intelligence but rather about their hopes and dedication to creating and making positive impacts. Though Errol does admit to trying to influence RBS Finalists to give Yale serious consideration, he loves that fact that the geographic diversity of the Scholar family makes it possible for him to be in most American cities and arrange a casual a meet-up with a Scholar living there.

    He speaks fondly of Scholar experiences and the lasting impressions they create. Errol fondly remembers his own selection weekend, when Carmelle Norice-Tra (RBS 1997), years before she attained her MD and PhD degrees, taught the soon-to-be Scholars of the Class of 2002 to play MAFIA as a way of getting to know each other. Errol remembers his first Triennial Conference just as fondly, although on a much more serious note. In Aspen in 2002, Katori Hall (RBS 1999), years before her successful debut as a Broadway playwright and producer, asked the group of Scholars to be in a short-short play about a group of people sitting on a bus and having a discussion. Errol says it was the first time he really “got” how fundamentally black men didn’t understand the emotional life experiences of black women. He considers himself profoundly changed by that conference and believes that it is these types of interactions, this sharing of joy and the importance of knowing that there are older RBS who care about the new RBS, that creates the strong family bonds between Scholars. Errol believes that promoting deeper family connections is the responsibility of older Scholars and that is why he says he will continue to show up for Program activities and remain actively involved with the Alumni Association and Selection Weekend activities. He knows that creating a highly successful network of leaders is crucial but believes that it is the quality “family time” that makes all other RBSP accomplishments possible.

    The fact that there is now a 21-year age gap between the initial and most recent Scholars, engenders crucial mentoring opportunities for RBS alumni. Errol remembers spending three hours speaking with a young Scholar he had initially befriended at Selection Weekend about the difficulties this young woman of color was having adjusting to a predominantly white student body and faculty. Errol convinced the Scholar that she was not crazy and that what she was experiencing had happened to other members of the Ron Brown Scholar family. It is the freedom to speak honestly between members of an extended family who care deeply about each other, members who don’t sculpt narrow definitions of perfection but rather encourage each other, that Errol believes is the great strength of the RBS family.

    Errol is a man who believes optimism is the potent tool against despair; that working toward a goal of surmounting barriers to change is the key to effective leadership; that striving to improve educational opportunities for young people is one of life’s noblest callings; that New Haven, Connecticut, is the best city in the country; and that the Ron Brown Scholar Program is the best thing that ever happened to him and likely to his 415 fellow Scholars.

    We hope you will consider supporting the Ron Brown Scholar Program on #GivingTuesday by making a donation to impact the lives of future Scholars just like Errol. We appreciate every vote of confidence, no matter the size of the gift. Click here to donate online.