Daseta Gray: A Transformative Leader for Infants and Toddlers

This fall, Daseta Gray, invited me to join her at a roundtable on transactional and transformative leadership at the East Harlem Asthma Center for Excellence in New York City.


Transactional leadership is hierarchical, with employees motivated by reward and punishment. Subordinates follow the orders of a superior, and are closely monitored and controlled. Trust is not part of the equation. Transformative leaders,  on the other hand, challenge colleagues to be innovative and creative.  They express genuine concern for the needs and feelings of others, bringing out their best efforts.

They’re also charismatic, they “walk the walk”—like Daseta. A certified Infant Toddler Specialist, she migrated from Jamaica to the United States in 1981. She held down a number of jobs while attending school for her GED, then worked her way through the various levels of the City University of New York, securing a master’s degree. She’s now plugging away at her doctorate.

The incoming president of the NYC Association for the Education of Young Children, Daseta has her own consulting company, Sabree Education Services. She also co-facilitates Central and West Harlem’s New York Zero-to-Three Infancy Leadership Circle, whose members are studying the ways in which racism affects young children as well as strategies to eliminate inequities.

Recently, Daseta weighed in on the subject at the blog of the National Association for the Education of Young Children’s interest group dedicated to Diversity & Equity Education for Adults.

Here’s her litany of inequities:

It actually begins in the doctor’s office through the unequal information that is given. A good example of this is a personal experience: my daughter took my grandson (2 years old) to the dentist on 23rd Street (a more affluent, majority-white community), and he was given an age-appropriate book. Another day, he was given a book in my community, by the same organization, but it was inappropriate for his age.

When mothers are pregnant they are not given information about brain development, and as a result, when they have their babies, they are not able to help them along the developmental lines.

The businesses in underserved communities do not sell books that are appropriate for infants-toddlers and the libraries do not have a section just for infants-toddlers with age-appropriate books. You cannot find enough quality toys in our community. Many times we say those mothers are terrible at parenting, they do not care about their kids…but is anyone taking the time to teach them? That is the real question.

These disparities show up in the amount of referrals for speech, occupational therapy, attention deficit disorder, infant-toddler mental health in  underserved communities. This shows up in the high number of calls to ACS [Administration for Children’s Services] from certain zip codes. This shows up in the high rate of three-year-olds that are being suspended from preschools. This shows up in the amount of three-year olds that are placed on Ritalin.

This shows up in the amount of children of color that are taken from families  by the Child Protection Agency and… placed in a foster home with a family that is not trained in infant-toddler care. The system dismantles many families, but minority children are ten times more likely to be taken from their families.

This shows up in child care programs with staff who are not knowledgeable about infant-toddler development…Sixty percent of these children lack the social, emotional and cognitive school readiness skills when they get to kindergarten.

Here are Daseta’s recommendations:

I would like to see all pregnant families be given classes on brain development based on the current research.

I would like businesses to understand that they need to invest in the infants and toddlers in underserved communities because these infants and toddlers grow up to become tomorrow’s customers.

The faith-based community should play a more active role in educating themselves and their members about the importance of those first three years.

I would have an infant-toddler space in all housing projects, and have appropriate toys and a library with a parent coach. During pregnancy, classes on brain development will be offered in that space and attendance will be mandatory.

I would like to see everyone who is touching the lives of infants and toddlers join the First 2000 Days campaign New York [designed with her daughter, Reesheema Brightley]

The provider, mothers, and daycare teachers and directors would be trained on brain development during the first three years.

I would also improve the teacher preparation course in the colleges by adding an infant-toddler curriculum. According to Sarah Diem and Bradley Carpenter “the preparation of today’s school leaders must include a purposeful focus on building the critical dialogical skills necessary to facilitate anti-racist conversations, which includes carefully examining issues/concepts pertaining to color-blind ideology misconceptions of human differences, critical-self reflection and the interrogation of race-related silences in the classroom.”

In addition to all of the above, Daseta is the host of a show at Empire Radio. She also is a regular guest at Gospel Vibes, where I heard her early one Saturday morning. Before she and the minister got going on the importance of social-emotional development, I  listened to a group of reggae troubadours, calling for “A Revolution in Education.”

This woman means business.


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2 comments to Daseta Gray: A Transformative Leader for Infants and Toddlers

  • Thanks for posting this. I would add the request that all pregnant families be given the CDC developmental milestones through age 3. They are free, but most families, especially in less affluent areas, don’t know they exist. When families know what to expect from their children, they can be better advocates for them – with staff in child care, medicine, and a whole host of other instances.

  • Ramik

    Daseta is a legitimate voice for the infants and toddlers who need and deserve equitable education opportunities. Review her recommendations with care and seriousness as they do not offer to take away from any one population but rather seek to add resources to those in need.

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