I’m a Brooklyn native, child of two public school teachers and social activists. Growing up in New York City I was exposed to diverse cultures, and witness to the powerful systemic forces that create injustice. Questions about power, privilege and oppression have guided my personal and professional journey to this day.
When I was 19 I had a transformational experience while doing relief work in New Orleans a few months after Hurricane Katrina. Witnessing the devastation from the storm and lack of governmental support, I began to see the scope of systemic racism and how it is ingrained in the largest institutions and affects their most basic functions. At the same time, I began to reexamine my personal privilege as a white man by reflecting on the factors that enabled me to travel to the Lower Ninth Ward to do this service work.
After graduating from Grinnell College with a studio art degree I made ceramic art for several years while teaching pottery to kids and adults. During this time I developed a love for teaching and worked in community studios and after school programs in Brooklyn and Manhattan.
I was very lucky to discover the transformational work of the Brooklyn Free School, a democratic school whose mission is “Education for social justice.” During the three years I served as their middle school teacher I designed and taught curriculum on race and racism, and helped students use a racial equity lens to connect historical events with present day struggles. With the gracious support and challenges from staff and students I continued to evolve and define what it means to participate in social justice work as a white cis gendered man.
In 2016 I transitioned out of full time classroom teaching to share my experience and skills with educators and expand my reach. I was excited to help teachers empower their students to talk about identity and create inclusive learning environments. I co-founded a training and consulting company, The Human Root LLC, which uses empathy and social emotional learning as a platform to have conversations about race and other challenging subjects.
Ben Howort is an artist, activist and social justice educator. His past work has included painting community murals in Brooklyn with Groundswell Community Mural Project, gutting houses in New orleans with Common Ground after hurricane Katrina, and teaching middle school at the Brooklyn Free School. Using social and emotional development as a cornerstone of his practice, he creates safe spaces where students learn to bring their whole self into the community. Ben uses democratic process, collective decision making and restorative justice techniques to engage with others around issues of identity and equity.