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Lamar Shambley

While a student at Norfolk Academy, Lamar Shambley '06 cultivated a love for the Spanish language and a desire to experience foreign cultures.

That love propelled Mr. Shambley to start a nonprofit organization, Teens of Color Abroad, whose mission is to provide high school students of color with foreign travel and enriching language learning opportunities.

As with so many organizations, the worldwide coronavirus pandemic has greatly altered Teens of Color Abroad's immediate plans. But instead of being frustrated, Mr. Shambley has pushed forward, finding alternative ways to spread his mission.

“There are students out there who still deserve these engaging, educational opportunities," Mr. Shambley said.

Mr. Shambley grew up in Brooklyn in New York City. He moved with his mother to Hampton Roads when he was in middle school, and started at NA in eighth grade, after two summers participating in Breakthrough at Norfolk Academy, an academic enrichment program designed to prepare area students for success in high school and beyond.

He participated in theater at NA, and enjoyed learning from Dance Master Elbert Watson and Mr. Ron Newman. He also connected with Spanish teacher Audrey Brinkley, whose support got him to “fall in love with the language," he said. 

From Norfolk Academy, Mr. Shambley advanced to the College of William and Mary. Fortified by Ms. Brinkley's encouragement, he knew he wanted to expand his love of the language by studying abroad. As a sophomore, he participated in a two-week medical mission trip to the Dominican Republic. That trip “transformed my world view and I knew I wanted more," he said.

As a junior, Mr. Shambley studied in Seville, Spain, for about six months. He was surrounded by students from many other countries, and built strong relationships both with them and Spaniards, who were curious about his experiences as a Black American. “Absolutely changed my life," he said. 

After graduating college, Mr. Shambley started teaching math for a program called Uncommon Schools. He enjoyed giving back to students, but still felt a tug toward his passion. After five years teaching math, he was able to become a Spanish teacher.

More than four-fifths of Uncommon Schools students are considered economically disadvantaged. The program serves communities in New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, and has several locations in Brooklyn, where Mr. Shambley taught. That borough has hundreds of thousands of Black residents, according to census estimates, and Mr. Shambley said his classes were predominantly Black.

One day, he asked his classes whether they were interested in studying abroad. Almost every one of his roughly 80 students said yes. From his own experiences, he knew the benefits of such travel. He also knew from the statistics that few if any of them would enjoy that opportunity; according to the most recent Open Doors Report, which provides information on international study, only about 6 percent of U.S. college students who studied abroad in 2017-18 were Black. The report does not calculate high school study. 

Mr. Shambley had found his calling. He left full-time teaching in 2018, and in 2019, he won Diversity Abroad's Innovation Competition, in which finalists pitch creative programs that advance inclusive excellence in global education.

He knew nothing about how to launch a nonprofit. But he dedicated himself to researching, networking, making contacts, and asking as many questions as possible. Through that hard work, he founded Teens of Color Abroad, built a team of support, started raising needed money, and created the framework for international study for New York City-area high school students.

One of his contacts was a director from Centro MundoLengua, the school in Seville where he studied in college. The director loved Mr. Shambley's project, and they were able to schedule an initial class of 15 students to travel there. They planned to depart this month.

Then the pandemic hit, canceling much travel between the United States and Europe, including that session. 

Mr. Shambley was saddened. But instead of brooding, he explored other ways to provide for students. He started hosting virtual panels, in which people of color speak about their travel experiences. He developed a blog on the Teens of Color Abroad website that accomplishes a similar goal - keeping students “excited for when the world will open up for them." 

In the next few weeks, Teens of Color Abroad will partner with another organization, NaTakallam, to give students the opportunity, virtually, to learn Arabic and participate in group dialogues with Middle Eastern refugees and other displaced people. Participants won't need to pay, since fundraising has successfully sponsored 50 students. 

Mr. Shambley is working toward launching the initial Seville trip in summer 2021.

Ms. Brinkley is retired from teaching, but has kept in touch with Mr. Shambley; she even met him when she was in New York last fall. 

During that reunion, she could see the fire in his eyes as he talked about Teens of Color Abroad. He is devoted to providing opportunities for students who have not been included in these experiences, she said.

“He's making dreams come true for others. He's giving back and I think that's what's important," Ms. Brinkley said. 

Learn more about Teens of Color Abroad by visiting its website. You can also keep up to date through @TOCAworld on Twitter, teensofcolorabroad on Instagram, and @teensofcolorabroad on Facebook. 








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