2021, Change Agent: Sondra Samuels and other leaders started NAZ in 2008 to address racial and educational inequity in opportunities. The organization focuses on supporting children in north Minneapolis so they can succeed in school and the working world. Following George Floyd’s murder and the ensuing uprising, Samuels facilitated healing events throughout the city and continues to work on racial healing and equity. Going forward, she and NAZ are focused on creating a prosperous north Minneapolis, working with policy makers to support systemic change, and supporting residents in areas of housing, careers, health, and education. She and husband Don, a former Minneapolis City Council member, are also co-plaintiffs in a lawsuit seeking to enforce police staffing mandates in north Minneapolis.
2017, Pioneer: The Northside Achievement Zone is focused on closing the educational achievement gap in north Minneapolis. NAZ’s strategy connects organizations with schools to work with families to provide an “ecosystem” of support for children to do better in school and ultimately graduate from high school ready to go to college. Samuels has drawn national attention for her leadership and the program’s payoffs. Analysis by Wilder Research shows increases in kindergarten readiness and reading proficiency. NAZ’s work is resonating and continues to draw strong support. In 2015 the Target Foundation and General Mills Foundation each pledged $3 million to NAZ over the next three years, a strong endorsement.
2015, Next-Gen Leader: Samuels wants to craft better futures. Samuels aims to replicate the success of the Harlem Children’s Zone, but on Minneapolis’s North Side, working with a $28 million federal grant and schools, parents, and partners such as the University of Minnesota’s Center for Early Education and Development. The Newark, N.J., native’s goal: to prepare 2,500 low-income North Minneapolis children to graduate from high school ready for college. What drives her? In part, the loss of many friends and family to neighborhood violence.
2014, Education: As the president and CEO of the Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ), Samuels leads a collaborative of partner organizations and schools that work together to prepare low-income North Minneapolis children to graduate from high school ready for college. Samuels is a tireless advocate for effective solutions to end poverty through education. Under her leadership, NAZ was named a federal "Promise Neighborhood" and has become a nationall recognized model for educational achievement.