Community Stories: Ray Stoeser, United Way Social Innovation & Equity Partnerships Director 

Published on October 21, 2022 in

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Growing up, all I wanted to be was a teacher. My mom was a teacher. And I had great teachers in high school and undergrad that reinforced the idea that the best educators were like superheroes – heroically guiding students to tap the knowledge within and become the best possible version of themselves.

I got my first job teaching high school English in Detroit, which was a long way from where I grew up in Tucson. I welcomed the adventure and fell immediately in love with the community and the students. More than anything, it made me reflect on my own schooling at a private, Catholic high school and the privilege that came with that.

I absolutely loved being a teacher. From 8 in the morning to 3 in the afternoon, when I was in front of students, was some of the best time of my life. At the same time, it was deeply frustrating. My students and I lacked the resources to be successful. I realized that I could be the best teacher in the world, and it would still not be enough to overcome the other institutional and systemic issues that are there by design to create the inequities we have today.

I came to understand that there’s so much outside of school – healthcare, income inequality, basic needs – that impacts education. I started looking for a role where I could impact the whole community, not just one slice of the pie.

When I saw the huge commitment United Way was making to DEI and eliminating systemic barriers, I knew I wanted to be a part of it. My goal is to turn DEI into a mindset – a way of being – to ensure the decisions we make are equitable for all people. I may not always be the expert, but if I can get resources and tools into the hands of the individuals and grassroot organizations that are the experts so that they can do their great work, that’s what it’s all about.

Ray Stoeser is the Social Innovation & Equity Partnerships Director for United Way for Southeastern Michigan.

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