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Each February, we take time to honor the countless contributions and triumphs of the Black community during Black History Month (BHM). This year, we are proud to spotlight incredible role models a little closer to home through our BHM spotlight series. 

Throughout this month, we have shared scholarships and inspirational stories of strength from Black stakeholders across the YES Prep network. These narratives illustrate how identity shapes personal growth and drives professional impact. 

Today, we close out BHM by profiling Ja’Qualan Keal, senior seminar instructor and 12th grade co-grade level chair at YES Prep Fifth Ward Secondary. From a small town in Louisiana to guiding Houston youth, his journey reminds us of how a supportive community can empower positive future change. By lifting leaders like Keal, we instill this same pride and possibility in the students we serve. We had the honor of sitting down with Keal to ask him more about his journey and how his experience continues to shape his impact:  

 

Where are you from? Houston? Where did you go to school? What did you major in? Can you share a bit about your career?   

What’s up YES Prep! I am Ja’Qualan Keal, and I am originally from a small town located in Southwest Louisiana called Jeanerette (Lafayette, Louisiana area). I attended Grambling State University where I earned two Bachelor of Science degrees in Economics and Accounting. While attending Grambling, I was heavily involved in all aspects of student life. I served as a student ambassador, Student Government Association member, President of Phi Beta Lambda Business Fraternity Inc., President of Kappa Kappa Psi National Honorary Band Fraternity Inc., a member of the World Famed Tiger Marching Band and pledged Kappa Alpha Psi (Gamma Psi Chapter). These opportunities strengthened my leadership skills, which helped me become a Drum Major for the World Famed Tiger Marching Band. Performing as the Head Drum Major on major platforms such as NFL Halftimes, the Essence Festival, and the 2012 Inauguration Parade is an experience I’ll never forget. Post-graduation, I moved to Houston to work at NRG Stadium as an entry-level financial analyst. While working at NRG, I also earned an MBA (Master of Business Administration) and later transitioned into the role of Director of Operations at Houston Methodist Hospital Main Campus (HMH). Following HMH, I finally got the courage to pursue a career in education. I began my career with YES Prep under the College Initiatives umbrella teaching Junior Seminar at Fifth Ward Secondary. I later joined the 12th grade team where I am the senior seminar instructor and 12th grade co-grade level chair.   

 

Did your family encourage you to embrace your identity? Did your family speak about hardships you might face? Have you faced any hardships? How has being Black/African American enriched your life?   

I have always been taught to be proud of who I am.  Not only did my family emphasize the importance of knowing and accepting who I am, but my community did as well. I am a true product of the saying “It takes a village to raise a child.” I have always been made aware of the hardships we face as a people, and I am thankful that not only was I made aware of these hardships but was taught how to effectively navigate through them. My goal as it relates to education is to continue to do what was done for me— to not only educate our students on how to effectively maneuver through the hardships they will face, but also to serve as an example for our students.   

 

How did you get introduced to YES Prep? In your current capacity, how has being Black/African American influenced/motivated you in this role?   

I am a firm believer that educators should be able to relate to their students. My background has enabled me to build meaningful relationships with students, their families and staff. Through these relationships, I make sure to emphasize what is important: the holistic student. Being Black has motivated me in this role because it has helped me realize that yes, we have come a long way, but there is still so much work to be done.  Our students truly need our guidance, wisdom and understanding if we expect them to be able to navigate through the hardships, they will undoubtedly face. Being the sponsor of BMI (Black Male Initiative), BSU (Black Student Union), and co-sponsor for the Fifth Ward Step Team has created spaces where I can educate our students on how to deal with these hardships. Knowing that there are students who look like or can relate to me in any capacity, who are expecting me to show up and guide them, is why I continue and will continue to do this work.   

 

We’ve talked about your past and present, what about the future? What impact do you hope to have on others, like your family, our students, career, etc.? Or what advice do you have for our YES Prep families and/or students?   

As Black History Month concludes, we must remember the importance of the work we do for our students does not solely revolve around a month but is work that we should do to the best of our abilities 24/7, 365. Although this work is not and never has been easy, it is necessary, especially if we want to see our students succeed once they leave our schools. To whom much is given, much is required, and I am grateful that I have the privilege to motivate and educate students who look like me and can relate to me.   

At YES Prep, we feel privileged to have educators like Keal who pour so much care into this effort. And we will continue working to uplift more leaders willing to pass the baton to the next generation. This is how we honor Black excellence. 

To explore more stories and resources from YES Prep’s Black History Month, visit here

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