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Beyond Passion: Maximizing on Lessons Learned to Better Serve African American Males

Peabody Journal of Education: Issues of Leadership, Policy, and Organizations, Vol. 88, No. 4

Earl Martin Phalen


A passion to ensure the educational and life success of all children, particularly young African American men, has propelled my work for all of my professional life. Although following one's passion can make for a fulfilling life, passion is not enough to create a successful and sustainable nonprofit organization. Like many leaders in the field, my passion is serving children, and so the skills needed to effectively grow and lead an organization came second. In the over two decades I've been in this industry I've learned a few key lessons along the way that have helped the organizations I have founded get to the place we are today. But throughout the ups and downs the stories of our scholars’ success have always sustained us.


Earl Martin Phalen is the Founder and CEO of Summer Advantage USA, an evidence-based summer learning program that has been scientifically proven to produce 2 months of academic skill gain for the children served by the program. Summer Advantage currently serves nearly 5,000 scholars in communities across the country. Due to the impressive outcomes of the Summer Advantage program, the Summer Advantage team was approved to open charter schools throughout the state. The George and Veronica Phalen Leadership Academies, named for Phalen's parents, will operate 10 blended learning K-12 charter schools in Indiana, to eventually serve more than 10,000 children annually. The first Leadership Academy will open in August 2013. In addition, Phalen grew the former organization he founded, BELL (Building Educated Leaders for Life), from a community service project educating 20 children to a national nonprofit educating 15,000 scholars annually, from an annual budget of $12 thousand to $27.5 million. Phalen's leadership has earned recognition from numerous national media outlets, including the cover story of Time magazine; a feature interview on MSNBC's Education Nation; coverage in Parent magazine's feature on summer learning slide; highlight of the use innovative technology in Education Week; Black Entertainment Television's Shine a Light/Hero award for his exceptional contributions to the education of children; and more. Phalen is a Mind Trust Fellow and Ashoka Fellow, and holds a B.A. from Yale University and a J.D. from Harvard Law School.