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Leadership Brainery: Breaking barriers and building leaders

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Leadership Brainery: Breaking barriers and building leaders
Derrick Young Jr., executive director, Leadership Brainery, left, and Jonathan Allen, director of development. PHOTOS: Leadership Brainery

Banner Business Sponsored by The Boston Foundation

In today’s ever-changing world, education and professional advancement are intrinsic steps in an individual’s growth as a person and as a member of society. Yet systemic barriers are continuously preventing underrepresented communities from accessing higher education and leadership opportunities.

Leadership Brainery aims to change this.

Founded in 2018 by two individuals who both pursued their graduate degrees at Boston institutions with the mission of “training the next generation of workforce leaders, many of whom come directly from Boston,” the nonprofit is dedicated to dismantling barriers by creating equitable pathways for underrepresented talent to master’s and doctoral degrees, which can lead to workforce leadership roles.

Jonathan Allen and Derrick Young have experienced firsthand being part of a minority of students of color within their graduate programs, which they entered after their undergraduate years at Grambling State University, a historically Black college in Louisiana where they were both first-generation students.

Following their undergraduate experience, the two forged their own paths. Allen continued his education and graduated from Boston University School of Law in 2019. At Tufts University, Young earned a master of public health with a concentration on health services management and policy. Young, who is Leadership Brainery’s executive director, gained experience as the former president of the Public Health Alumni Association at Tufts University School of Medicine and recently served the city of Boston as policy and strategy specialist for intergovernmental relations for the Public Health Commission.

With their respective and shared journeys at varying academic institutions, Allen and Young both experienced and recognized the critical difference obtaining an advanced degree makes when attempting to access high-wage jobs, leadership roles and consistent financial success. Commenting on their organization’s journey, Allen, whose role is director of development, details how he and Young “set out to create a solution for underrepresented students who have been systematically excluded from the benefits of a graduate school education, that is, increased earning potential, social capital, specialized knowledge and training, and greater industry influence.”

Allen and Young aim to not only enhance Boston’s professional environment but also prepare those they serve to create positive change in their communities.

Leadership Brainery aims to open equitable pathways to master’s and doctoral degrees to help pave the way for workforce leadership opportunities. The co-founders know what it takes to access these opportunities. Allen, for example, served as freshman and sophomore class president and ultimately student body president of Grambling. With Leadership Brainery they are ready to “build a more robust society of leaders, not only so that under-resourced individuals can strive for their greatest potential, but also so that everyone can look to positions of leadership, and see themselves represented.”

Although Allen and Young have put in countless hours helping combat the inequities and barriers in the way of the success of minority communities, their experiences as Black and queer entrepreneurs in Boston have brought challenges as well as unique opportunities. The city of Boston itself, Allen said, “while globally renowned, has a complex history with systemic and cultural racism, and the wealth and opportunity gaps are starkly visible throughout the city.” Most individuals starting and scaling businesses in the city encounter obstacles, but the systemic and cultural oppression that the Black community experiences on a daily basis introduces a whole new set of challenges to the operation.

The co-founders are using what they learned as two of the few Black individuals in the ecosystem of Boston’s professional schools to train the next generation of diverse leaders to break into and succeed within professional environments. The two have witnessed “firsthand the necessity of creating a supportive and inclusive environment for underrepresented communities,” they say. Having provided over 3,000 prospective graduate students with the mentorship and resources necessary to navigate the graduate school admissions process, their community-driven model aims to “establish one of the most robust pipelines to leadership roles within Boston’s workforce,” says Allen.

Leadership Brainery is part of the 3% of Black-owned businesses with employees in the United States, providing several successful career-advancing programs to underrepresented talent, including students of color and those from lower-income backgrounds. The organization’s dedication to hiring locally and providing valuable diverse perspectives actively enriches the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Boston. So far, they have partnered with 15 Boston-based college access and success organizations, K-12 schools, and workforce development programs, including Bottom Line, Build Greater Boston and Epiphany School.

Among its diverse portfolio are three pivotal programs. One is the online platform “Dear Future Colleague,” which Leadership Brainery calls a “nexus for over 1,500 members nationally, offering scholarship and graduate school readiness resources, and fostering mentorship connections between undergraduates and partnering graduate school admissions teams.”

Another program is the annual Graduate School Summit, gathering together 200 participants and 20 recruitment schools such as the MIT School of Engineering, Boston University Law School and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The summit provides prospective and current college and postgraduate students with “insights into the admissions and testing processes, coveted internships and networking opportunities with graduate school recruiters, peers and industry professionals.”

Leadership Brainery’s Ambassador Fellowship, launched in 2019, is an extraordinary long-term development pipeline program that identifies 20 high-achieving young, diverse talents from the Greater Boston area and equips them with not only a guaranteed $10,000 scholarship upon enrollment, but also grants them the “the skills and resources to prepare for postgraduate education, build inclusive networks, and gain access to impactful and high-wage careers.”

While they have had numerous successes over the past eight years, Leadership Brainery co-founders say their work is far from over. Allen states they remain “driven by the urgent need to dismantle the systemic barriers that often prevent Boston’s youth from accessing the prestigious institutions in their own city and beyond.”

Continuously expanding their programs to reach more students and help them achieve their academic and professional goals, Leadership Brainery is on the forefront of the movement to make higher education more equitable and accessible to underrepresented communities, especially within the Greater Boston area.

Those inspired by this mission who want to be part of this transformative journey can visit Leadership Brainery’s website,, to keep up to date on programming and achievements. For more information or to get involved, reach out to Join Leadership Brainery today to be part of a movement that is breaking barriers and building leaders.

business, careers, graduate degrees, Leadership Brainery