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Meet the Schusterman Fellows: Neil Spears

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Over the course of 18 months, 24 outstanding Jewish professionals will engage in a customized professional development journey as part of the Schusterman Fellowship. The Fellows come from across the U.S., Europe, Israel and Australia, and they work inside and outside of the Jewish sector.

Meet Neil Spears below!

Neil Spears is the Executive Director of the Los Angeles and San Francisco regions of PowerMyLearning, an education nonprofit that connects students in low-income communities, together with their families and teachers, to digital learning that transforms the way they can excel in school and in life. Neil developed his drive for educational equity as a middle school teacher and Teach For America corps member in east Los Angeles.

Neil is also passionate about progressive causes and serves on the board of New Leaders Council Los Angeles, a nonprofit that trains the next generation of progressive leaders, and on the board of JQ International, an organization that facilitates community, provides services and runs educational programming for LGBTQ Jews and their allies. He holds a Bachelors degree in psychology from the University of California, San Diego, and a Masters degree in education policy and management from Harvard University.

1. What are you most excited to gain from the Fellowship? What are you most looking forward to learning?

I am most looking forward to learning more about my weak spots as a leader—and also a little scared of this, too! I have never had the opportunity to get 360 degree feedback and I know that there are going to be great learnings from this. I am also looking forward to having my coach and the cohort of fellows to help me process my weak spots and grow from them. I know my new group of reflective colleagues will help push me to become a stronger leader, and I will do the same for them.

2. "Leadership" is a popular term these days, used in a variety of contexts. Tell us, what does leadership mean to you?

Leadership means setting a vision for change, building relationships among a group of people and then motivating those people to work toward the vision. I have heard it said that a leader without followers is just someone on a walk, but I conceive leaders not as people with followers, but as skilled relationship builders who walk with people on a journey. Sometimes that means walking in front of them, but it often means walking alongside them and sometimes even behind them. Being a leader requires strong relationships that are built on authentic understanding of each peoples' stories and values.

3. How does your Jewish identity affect your leadership?

-“It’s not your responsibility to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.”

-“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”

These Jewish quotes are some of the ones that inspire me and drive my leadership. My drive to ensure that *all* kids get access to high-quality learning is based in these Jewish admonitions to seek justice. When I’m tired I remember that I don’t have to cross the finish line, but I have to keep running.

4. If you were given a surprise day off, how would you spend it?

First, I would wake up without an alarm clock. Then I’d do my usual morning routine of eating cereal while reading the real paper copy of the LA Times (yes, I really do this!). I love biking along the ocean in Los Angeles, so I would spend the morning riding to Palos Verdes where I’d eat lunch overlooking the Pacific. After riding back home, I would take a nap and relax. In the evening, I would cook dinner and invite close friends over to share it with me. We would play guitar and enjoy good conversation well into the evening.

5. If you could be compensated for your work with something other than money, what would it be?

I know I’m not the only one who wishes for more hours in the day for making impact, for spending time with friends, for cooking, for being active and for just living. These days, I find that my time is my most valuable asset. So If I was compensated with something other than money, I would want to be compensated with time, some extra hours in the day to be with my friends and family, to be with myself and to connect with and cultivate my inner source of strength and light.

The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation is proud to empower emerging leaders to explore their values, identity and new ways to strengthen their communities. We believe that as we work together to repair the world, it is important to share our diverse experiences and perspectives along the way. We encourage the expression of personal thoughts and reflections here on the Schusterman blog. Each post reflects solely the opinion of its author and does not necessarily represent the views of the Foundation, its partner organizations or all program participants.