Announcing the Emma Iris González Arts Fund

Emma González was a founding mother of Morningside Center. A new fund uses proceeds from the sale of her vivid art to carry on her work.

EmmaWe are excited and honored to announce the launch of the Emma Iris González Arts Fund.

For almost all of Morningside Center’s 40+ years of existence, Emma Iris González helped to invent and drive the work of this organization. Over decades, she brought her endless creativity and her driving passion for justice and joy into classrooms, schools, and our own organizational culture. Emma passed away in 2021.

As a Morningside Center deputy director, staff developer, trainer, coach, and most recently as a board member, Emma was a founding mother of Morningside Center. Our organization was shaped in part by Emma's leadership style, which was interpersonal and collective. She approached people with non-judgmental confidence and encouraged people of all ages to be inquisitive, reflective, and engaged in the world with passion and purpose. “Emma was open hearted and loving and crafted a path for her life with beauty, generosity and human solidarity,” says Emma’s beloved friend and colleague Mariana Gaston.

Emma’s influence on Morningside – and on the young people and adults she worked with in schools – cannot be overstated.

Emma diversity panelEmma was an expert in social and emotional learning, conflict resolution, and multicultural education. One of her greatest gifts was her capacity to listen to and learn from young people, to invite their creativity, and to be guided by them. Her approach emanated from her own life experience and path. She was self-reflective and used a unique method of inquiry to help young people develop that practice for themselves. She believed that even very young children could become self-reflective and develop a purposeful path for their lives.

Emma also believed that young people’s natural intelligence, creativity, and generosity of spirit served to inspire adults. And that is exactly what happened when Emma was able to do deep collaborative work with young people, as she did for years at Brooklyn’s P.S. 24.

Emma peace helpersTogether with P.S. 24 students, Emma invented a Peace Helpers Program that gave K-2 students the chance to comfort and support their classmates. She created a Diversity Panel program in which older students shared their stories with peers, cultivating empathy and awareness across whole schools. The work to develop and pilot these programs at P.S. 24 was so inspiring that the school became a national model for fostering social and emotional learning and student leadership. (See videos and more about Emma’s work here.)  In so many ways, Emma was far ahead of her time.

Domingo De Gallos Art surrounded Emma wherever she went – it was incorporated into her work with young people, it was in the clothes she wore, it filled her apartment. Emma herself was a gifted painter. As Mariana Gaston observes, “Emma was a Puerto Rican woman who embodied and channeled her Taino roots. She followed her spiritual insights into her life, her deep respect for young people, and into her art.”

When Emma died, she left behind a rich trove of her artwork. Emma’s family and friends decided that one way to carry on her legacy would be to dedicate proceeds from the sale of her art to support the Morningside work that Emma was so passionate about.

“Emma’s spirit is dancing with joy to know that her art continues to be a catalyst for peace and justice through Morningside,” said Emma’s stepdaughter Andrea “Ande” Diaz.

Mujer Con PicaflorWe have now created the Emma Iris González Arts Fund. All proceeds from Emma's work will go toward this fund, which we expect will provide small grants to schools to incorporate practices Emma championed, including peer mentoring, student leadership, and projects to advance racial and gender equity. To view and purchase Emma's artwork, visit the link here.

“My conversations with Emma will live in my heart forever,” says Morningside Center’s executive director Cassie Schwerner. “Her brilliance has paved the way for Morningside's work. The Emma Iris González Arts Fund will be yet another way that Emma's legacy of social responsibility and collective action will live on with future generations of New York City public school students.”

All of us at Morningside Center are honored to have known Emma and we are grateful to carry on her spirit and her work through the Arts Fund.