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Jalaya Liles Dunn joins SPLC as new Teaching Tolerance director

Jalaya Liles Dunn, a trailblazer in anti-bias training for educators, is the new director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance program, the SPLC announced today.

Liles Dunn joins the SPLC with 20 years of experience in social and racial justice pedagogy. Most recently, she served as national director and director of youth leadership and development for the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools® program.    

At the SPLC, Liles Dunn will lead a team of anti-bias education specialists who help teachers and schools nurture inclusive, equitable classrooms and educate students to be active participants in a diverse democracy – a job she calls “a challenge” during a time when the country is so politically and ideologically polarized.

“The separation of what America is and should be is very clear now, so bridging that conversation is very important,” Liles Dunn said. “My immediate goal is to drive direction and ask what justice looks like in this era, in this type of movement – this type of fight – ahead of us. How does it look, and how do we shape it?”

At the Children’s Defense Fund, Liles Dunn’s leadership led to the training of 5,000 young leaders of color for action in their home communities; she managed national partnerships that provided high-quality summer and afterschool programming for 13,000 children annually; and developed cohorts of educators to institute culturally responsive and sustainable teaching models in their local schools.

She has also served as a social justice consultant for the University of Arkansas Academy for Educational Equity, and she created the House of J in South Carolina, a farm and wellness retreat to address the health disparities of poor communities of color, with a specific focus on women.

Liles Dunn earned a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of North Carolina-Pembroke and a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Spelman College.

“Teaching Tolerance has been working for years to reduce the negative impact on young people who are vulnerable to misinformation and recruitment by hate groups,” SPLC President and CEO Margaret Huang said. “We are thrilled to welcome Jalaya as she helps us lead this important work.”  

Liles Dunn’s background in social justice training and organizing for educators and children led her to take on her new role with Teaching Tolerance, she said.

“There’s a need – a hunger and excitement – right now to make the world a better place,” Liles Dunn said. “Training educators to teach through the lens of justice and democracy has been the highlight of what I do. But there’s still so much work that needs to be done, and I’m ready to attach myself to work that is authentic and honest. I don’t see any place doing that other than at the SPLC.”

Photo by Dan Chung