BY MARILYN TINNIN
Jackson Prep’s Chief Diversity Officer
His passion is working with kids on matters of leadership and character development. Adam Mangana is completing his first full year as Chief Diversity Officer at Jackson Prep. The new position was created by a forward-looking Head of School Jason Walton and a Board of Trustees who want the student body to be more reflective of the Kingdom of God. Adam is a natural as the person charged with bringing that vision to fruition,
His lineage is its own patchwork of diversity. He is the son of an Ethiopian Jew father and a Southern Baptist mother. He laughs that he got his politics from his conservative dad and his religion from his mother and grandmother. Above the bed where he slept as a child was a cross-stitched sampler that read, “He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools will be destroyed” (Proverbs 13:20). That was the first of many scriptures he can recite from memory.
Adam’s hometown of Newport News, Virginia, was a blue-collar shipbuilding city in Southern Virginia. There was a small-town sense of camaraderie with the military and a love for country that was almost in the water.
Adam graduated from his public high school and attended Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, where he played defensive lineman on the football team. Here was this unusual conservative-leaning black man in the middle of one of the most liberal schools in America. For Adam, it was all good. He had deep Christ-centered roots, and he was able to take the best of his Ivy League education, make a huge and diverse group of friends, and just be whom he was.
When he graduated, he joined Teach for America and was assigned to teach special needs children at a public school in Miami, a job he absolutely loved. He knew then that investing in kids was what he was put on earth to do.
Along his college journey, he had met the girl of his dreams, Sophy. Although she was initially in a relationship with someone else, Adam was sure they had a future, and so, he waited patiently. Sophy was from the Dominican Republic. Her father’s family had become Christians because missionaries had come to their remote village of Sabena Dela Mar to share the gospel. Her father had joined the Peace Corps and through several assignments where he taught Spanish to Peace Corps enlistees, he ended up in New England, and Sophy ended up at Brown. Her dream was to be a physician and to “give back” in a place where people lacked the resources to pay for the best medical care. She became a radiation oncologist.
Adam eventually won her heart, and they married before she began an internship in Chicago at Loyola Medical Center. Adam found a position at North Shore Country Day School as Dean of Students and football coach. When Sophy’s internship ended and it was time to choose their permanent home, she was offered several posts, but Jackson’s UMMC emerged as the perfect fit. They couple shared a desire to raise their children in the South. They personally embraced a biblical worldview and felt like there was a greater chance to nurture, affirm, and root it in the South. Sophy also saw excellence and cutting edge medical technology at UMMC alongside a population of limited economic resources. Jackson was exactly the place both of them were hoping to find.
Adam took a position as Dean of Students and football coach at St. Andrews Episcopal School. That position was one more affirmation to him that his calling was kids, and his favorite thing was working from the inside in relationship where he could focus on character development.
When the first Charter Schools in Mississippi were in the incubation stage, there were many families from both St. Andrews and Jackson Prep who were engaged in their start up. Adam was very drawn to the concept. As one who had been on both sides—public and private—of education philosophies, he was quite drawn to Charter Schools and their potential. He accepted the position of Head of School at Mid-Town Charter.
He says, “It was an amazing experience, but it was also powerful in that it was an opportunity to learn about the complexity of the politics in Mississippi.” But that may be a story for another time.
At Prep, Adam has an incredible opportunity to be the spokesperson that tells the story of how a school founded during the hotbed of racial intolerance of the 1970s has evolved into a place that desires to serve all races. This is a school seeking to give a world-class education to anyone who shares their Judeo-Christian values, their work ethic, and their quest for excellence. That is the story Adam Mangana has been charged to tell. And believe me, he does it well.
Prep’s diversity pursuit is focused on race. That is a big one for the Deep South.
He tells the story of going to conferences all over the country, and he is often asked about what is happening in Mississippi. He gives his spiel, and then he is asked about bathrooms, pronouns, and gender. He finds that interesting, but not intimidating. He says, “This is high school. We teach math.”
His students teach Adam a lot in his day-to-day interaction with them. There is never a dull moment. At the end of the day when Adam closes his office door and heads home to his own children, Aaliijah and Aaron (ages five and three,) he feels like he has a heads-up on preparing them for the rocky road of adolescence.