Tamara Wilkerson Dias’ passion for community service took root and blossomed as a student at the University of Virginia.
The Richmond native volunteered with a variety of groups, learning about Charlottesville and the local organizations addressing needs in the community, especially those supporting public education.
“I volunteered in the schools even before graduating and becoming a teacher,” said Dias, who earned a bachelor’s degree in Spanish and a master’s in teaching from what is now the Curry School of Education and Human Development. She went on to teach Spanish at Albemarle County’s Jack Jouett Middle School from 2013 to 2015 and then at Buford Middle School in Charlottesville in 2016.
Those experiences inspired her to apply for her current role as executive director of the African American Teaching Fellows program, a nonprofit organization focused on increasing the number of teachers of color in Charlottesville and Albemarle County schools.
The program, founded in 2004, provides recruiting, financial and professional support, advising and other resources to African-American teachers pursuing certification. In return, it asks fellows to teach in Charlottesville or Albemarle County public schools for at least three years.
A fellow in the program while in graduate school, Dias firmly believes in the difference it makes for African-American children to see teachers who look like them standing in the front of their classrooms. “I know the impact public education has on children and their futures, and on how they see themselves,” she said.