Matthew Kincaid '07

Matthew Kincaid '07

Matthew Kincaid ‘07 graduated Honos Civicus from Tufts University in 2011 with a degree in American Studies with a concentration in African American Studies. He earned the Presidential Award for Public Service and Active Citizenship and the Alumni Association Senior Award. After graduation, Matthew served as both a social studies teacher and school administrator in New Orleans, Louisiana. 

Matthew is currently Founder and CEO of Overcoming Racism, LLC, an organization that seeks to develop more equitable institutions through comprehensive race and equity training. Overcoming Racism equips teams with the tools to build an actively equitable culture. Matthew has personally trained teams from a vast array of organizations from the National Basketball Association to elite universities and statewide school systems and has been leading anti-racism workshops for over 15 years. He is a published author (Freedom Teaching). His work has been featured in GOOD magazine and during the solution sessions at AFROpunk. Matthew was recognized as a top 100 visionary leader by Real Leaders magazine. In 2019, Matthew was the recipient of Gambit’s 40 under 40 recognition. He is a former Young Entrepreneur of the Year for the state of Louisiana’s small business administration. His work has been showcased in prestigious platforms like The Washington Post, Forbes, Huffington Post, Now This, and Black Enterprise, amplifying the message of equitable education for all and societal change.

His first book, Freedom Teaching published by Wiley Publishing, releases January 24.

What are you most thankful for from your Whitfield experience, both in and outside of the classroom?

I am thankful for the confidence and leadership skills that Whitfield inspired in me both academically and socially. I was the student body president at Whitfield as a junior and senior, and I was deeply involved in my community throughout high school. Going into college I was academically prepared and socially prepared to hit the ground running. For many, freshman year is a wake-up call. The work gets harder, you are away from your family, and there are fewer accountability structures in place to ensure your success. For me, I felt that Whitfield prepared me both for the coursework and the freedom that my university offered. 

Where I am today has a lot to do with the activism that I helped to lead on my college campus. I am thankful for how hard my teachers worked to ensure that I was academically confident; that gave me the freedom to explore all of the other things that I was passionate about at Tufts. 

What were some of your favorite classes at Whitfield? Why?

I have always been a person who loves to learn. Whitfield allowed me to learn from some very gifted teachers. When I look back at Whitfield, my favorite classes were truly defined by my favorite teachers. I enjoyed my English classes with Mrs. Ringe (Vaugier), who planned great units around advertising and marketing and the Canterbury Tales.  Ms. Lotz was just great at her job. She had a way of pushing you and holding you accountable while holding the perfect balance of seriousness and joy in her classroom. She never accepted “good enough” from me: she always expected my best, and I appreciate that about her and her class. Ms. Sharif was brilliant, unapologetically black, and funny, and her class made me feel seen and valued as a Black student at Whitfield. Ms. Sharif let me know how much she cared about me inside and outside of the classroom, and I appreciate that. 

Then there are the two teachers who made me enjoy science, which has never really been my thing. Mr. Barker, also my basketball coach, felt more like a father figure than a teacher. Physics class was full of real-life, practical applications and was always interesting and challenging. Then there was Mr. Gienke and Biology. I just loved going to Mr. Gienke’s class. He was humorous, his lessons were interesting, and I learned a lot in his class.

What skills do you use in your career that you began forming at Whitfield?

There are plenty of academic skills that I formed at Whitfield. If you work hard at Whitfield you will be prepared academically for most environments. For me, the social and leadership skills I began honing are the most important for the work that I do now. I learned how to build relationships and coalitions with people who were different from me. One of my best friends at Whitfield was a white student whose political views were just about as opposite to mine as they could be. We learned to love the things we had in common like our faith, our love for sports, and metal gear solid videogames, and we learned to engage respectfully about the things we disagreed about. Whitfield exposed me to a diverse set of students with a diverse set of experiences. When I was faced with people who were different from me in college and my career, I already knew how to build bridges across those differences because I learned to do that at Whitfield.  Our world is so polarized now that people seem to have forgotten that we need one another to build the society that those who come after us deserve. 

My work is about creating a world free of racism. To do my work well I have to be able to connect with people from all different races, political backgrounds, religions, and walks of life. I don’t have the luxury of tailoring my message to one crowd or type of people. Whitfield helped me to see the value in all people, even people with whom I disagreed. It is a vital skill that more people should invest in. 

Describe your career. 

I started my career teaching in New Orleans. To date, teaching is the most edifying thing that I have ever done. I taught 7th and 8th grade social studies at a public middle school in the Hollygrove neighborhood. It was there that I met some of the most curious, brilliant, creative, passionate, and magical young people I had ever had the opportunity to work with. I attended great schools. I graduated from Whitfield and Tufts. I had never seen young people who were more gifted than these. It was teaching in my New Orleans public school that I saw firsthand how tragically broken our education system is. When I attended Whitfield, wealth, privilege, and access were in abundance. I had friends whose parents owned businesses, who were lawyers and doctors, friends who were products of households with generational wealth. In New Orleans, 97% of my students lived below the poverty line, and 99% of my students were African American. It was clear to me very early on that these kids were not any less intelligent, capable, or committed to their future than the kids that I went to school with. The opportunities on the other hand were VASTLY different. It became crystal clear to me that the problem in our school system isn’t with “broken” kids; it is in our broken systems. 

After four years of teaching, I was promoted to the assistant principal role at my school. During my first year in this role, I asked my principal if I could train the staff on culturally responsive practices. Culturally responsive practices simply means educating children in a way that values their culture and identity. White students in the United States benefit from this type of education by default in most school settings. For example, at Whitfield, my entire freshman history course was about the history of Europe. We even made family crests where students traced their European heritage. It was a fun exercise, and I learned a lot in that class, but I can’t say that I felt the relation or connection to the content as a black student whose grandfather was a sharecropper.  I saw firsthand how empowering it was for my white peers at Whitfield to read books written by and about white characters. To learn deeply nuanced European history and to see themselves represented in the curriculum they studied on a daily basis. My students in New Orleans received a very similar curriculum. I believed that if they were exposed to more content that helped them to understand who they were and where they came from, school might feel like a  more empowering place for them as well. In just a year of implementing these practices at our school, we raised our academic school performance score while almost completely eliminating suspensions.

The work that I do now with Overcoming Racism was born out of the changes that I helped to implement at my school. Other schools across New Orleans wanted to know the secret behind our growth and success, and eventually, it became clear to me that other schools could benefit from the paradigm shift that my work offered. My book, Freedom Teaching, is about how we can create schools that work for all students. At Whitfield, I was educated in a learning environment in which I felt free. Being a Whitfield student made me feel special, intelligent, and important. My work and the book are about how we can create those types of environments in schools that have fewer resources than Whitfield does.

When I founded Overcoming Racism, I only had the desire to help educators create anti-racist environments so that all students can thrive regardless of their skin color or the zip code where they were born. The work has grown so much more vast than that now. We support businesses, healthcare providers, universities, and non-profit organizations who have the desire to both envision and actualize a workplace culture that allows all of their employees to leverage their greatest strengths. Our partners range from the National Basketball Association to small nonprofits to large school districts to single-site charter schools. There is a lot of noise surrounding anti-racism work in our political discourse today. Our work is about cutting through that noise to get to the core of what anti-racism is. At the end of the day, racism hurts all of us. It divides us, it weakens our connections, it limits potential, it dehumanizes. If at the end of the day I can say my work has changed one heart, one mind, one organization then it is worth all of the sacrifice that it requires.