Jose Luis Vilson Heard Education’s Calling

More than likely, you have been at a crossroads at some point in your life. One direction seemed sensible, maybe lucrative, and safe—while the other promised to be interesting, fun, and though not monetarily rewarding, had the potential to leave you fulfilled.

José Luis Vilson encountered this dilemma in 2004, when he was about to graduate from Syracuse University with a degree in Computer Science. “I didn’t want to be coding the rest of my life.” he remembers. He had had experience coding part-time in college, but the job always left him feeling unfulfilled, and he knew that he was meant for something more. “I could’ve sat in a dark back room making a lot of money, or I could make a difference,” he explains. The difference that he found came in the field of education.

Jose Vilson

Jose Luis Vilson. Photo by Tafari K. Stevenson-Howard


Today, Vilson is a teacher, author, activist and father. The New York City native is also the founder of EduColor, a grassroots network of educator-activists, and will be a featured speaker at SXSW EDU 2018.

Vilson has said that his own personal education experience growing up as a minority in the United States education system helped lead him down the path he is on now. “I went to both public and private schools growing up,” he says. “And I was always the only Black and Latino student going to a majority white school.”

While studying at Syracuse, he was the Education Chair of La LUCHA (Latin Undergraduates Creating History in America), through which he ran workshops, study sessions and after-class programs for fellow student members, enjoying the part he played in their education experiences. “It’s where I got my first real taste of teaching,” he explains. “And having people looking at and listening to me was a good feeling.”

Right after graduation, Vilson got a job with the New York City Teaching Fellows program, where he taught at-risk, mostly African-American and Latino students. Fairly soon, he realized that he had found what he was meant to do and went on to earn a master’s degree in mathematics education from the City College of New York. “I always thought of education as a calling,” he says.

Vilson, who currently teaches 7th and 8th grade mathematics at a public school in New York City’s Washington Heights neighborhood, began his teaching in earnest in 2005. For the past 12 years, he has been a dedicated instructor and advocate for his students in his hometown. Throughout these years, he has used his drive and passion to reach out and help his students realize their own previously untapped potential.

He has since been recognized by the United States Department of Education and had his blog named by Scholastic, Inc. on its “Top 13 Teacher Blogs” list. He has also appeared on both PBS and NPR, and has been featured in The New York Times and Washington Post for his outspoken views on education activism. In 2014, he was honored with a Math for America Master Teacher Fellowship.

After publishing his first book, This is Not a Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and the Future of Education, in the spring of 2014, Vilson decided to found EduColor, a coalition of teachers, parents and other concerned citizens dedicated to uplifting people of color in education. “EduColor needed to start,” he says. “At the time, the education policymakers tried to pretend to be color blind, and it just wasn’t working.”

EduColor’s mission continues to be to serve as a champion for students, parents and educators of color. The program strives to develop long-term strategies and policies to help students participate and excel in the professional world, as well as to address the underrepresentation of students of color in education policy discussions. “We would be opening more doors for students who would never have had the opportunity in the first place,” Vilson says about the importance of his group’s effort. EduColor is actively working to direct public education systems to remove their frequent legacies of oppression, exclusion and disenfranchisement in minority communities.

2018 will be the second time that Vilson has participated in SXSW EDU. The first time was in 2016, when he served as a judge and panelist during the SXSW EDU Launch startup competition, which included teachers and leaders in the education industry from across the country. This time, he will be speaking about his experiences in the classroom and community, and what teachers can do better to serve their students, especially those from minority backgrounds.

He hopes to have the opportunity to speak with educators in Texas and other states to see how they interact with their students both inside the classroom and in the communities which they serve. He is also excited about seeing the newest tools that teachers will soon have at their disposal. “I’m most excited to see the newest EdTech,” he enthuses.

When looking back to his fateful decision at the end of college, Vilson says that he has never regretted his choice to go into education: “Being a teacher is part of my identity now.”

José Luis Vilson was a speaker at SXSW EDU 2018, watch below.

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