When Enloe High School principal Will Chavis looks at Iman Dancy, he sees both the leader she’s been and her promising future.
The 18-year-old senior will graduate Friday with $800,000 in college scholarships to cover her costs at Yale University.
It’s the next step for a young woman whose focus on social-justice issues such as voting rights, cash bail reform, health-care reform and inclusion of different groups has made her stand out at Enloe.
“When you have someone like Iman that emerges as not only a leader but as an advocate and a supporter of all things and fighting for equitable experiences for all students, and not just all students but I’d go as far as to say people in general, you start to see people see her lead and they want to follow,” Chavis said.
“They want to aim and aspire to be much like her and to think about how they in their own communities can demonstrate that same type of leadership,” he said.
The North Raleigh resident is co-editor-in-chief of the school newspaper. a leader in the student equity team, founder of the Enloe Civil Liberties Alliance and a leader in Conversations in Dialogue, a student-led group that promotes honest conversations.
She’s also a member of the N.C. Child Youth Advocacy Council, which successfully lobbied the Wake County school board to strengthen the district’s anti-smoking and tobacco policies.
“I knew there was so much political passion within my school, within my generation really,” Dancy said. “Generation Z is just so politically active and motivated, as I’m sure everyone can see.”
Part of her desire to promote change comes from being a woman of color, she added.
“As a black woman in the United States this is just near and dear to my heart,” she added. “I’ve had family members that have gone through the criminal justice system and been affected by that in adverse ways. I’ve seen people who haven’t had the access to health care that they need. I’ve had my eyes opened to struggles beyond myself too.”
But a lot of Dancy’s attention has also been focused on trying to improve conditions at Enloe, a magnet school whose 2,500 students come from both the surrounding neighborhood in East Raleigh and across Wake County.
“Iman has been a prolific and intentional leader at Enloe since she arrived,” said Kevin Shuford, a social studies teacher and faculty adviser to the Conversations in Dialogue group. “Like so many of her peers at Enloe, she has chosen over and over to not let school be just classes and grades.
One of Enloe’s challenges is trying to serve its students’ diverse needs.
Dancy has played her part by being a member of the “Enloe 5,” a group of students brought together by school leaders to promote equity on campus.
Chavis vividly recalls the speech Dancy gave to teachers at the start of the school year about being “legendary.”
Dancy said she wanted to get across how much she had thrived at Enloe but also how other students other color need teachers to go the extra mile for them.
“I wanted to respark that fire for a lot of teachers and remind them why they entered (education) in the first place,” Dancy said.
Dancy has also practiced inclusiveness at the school newspaper by giving coverage to people and events who weren’t represented in the past such as the annual Black History Showcase event.
At the Conversations in Dialogue group, Dancy has organized events for students and teachers to hold frank conversations about issues such as race, gender and equity. Shuford said the conversations have helped Enloe students open up about their concerns.
“When Iman is totally invested in causes she is passionate about — which are myriad — she gives everyone around her the license to do the same,” Shuford said. “To me, that has been her greatest impact at Enloe, the ability to inspire thoughtfulness.
“She has a rare poise that elevates every discussion, activity, organization, or class she is in. I am very grateful to have taught her.”
Enloe’s focus on equity and honest dialogue was put to the test in March when vandals sprayed racist and homophobic messages at the school. The school responded by encouraging conversations about the incident and with a campaign in which students and staff created posters listing derogatory words that don’t define them.
“It definitely had an impact,” Dancy said.
Dancy hasn’t let her equity work cut back on her school work, earning academic scholarships from groups such as the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Ron Brown Scholars program and the National Merit Scholarship Program.
She realizes she’s been fortunate, having the support of her parents, Earl Dancy, a minister, and Michele Dancy, a nurse, to encourage and motivate her. She also benefited from being part of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Young Scholars program, which over the past five years has provided advice as well as financial support such as a computer, music lessons, trips and internships.
She plans to study political science at Yale. She also plans to continue with her Chinese language studies after having been one of only two students without Chinese parents in Enloe’s Chinese language program.
Dancy is keeping her future plans fluid but expects to become a lawyer and said community organizing and activism will always be a part of her life.
“When I see someone in need and I know that I can do something about it or I know that I’m in a position to fight on behalf of that person and then try to compel some person who can do something about it to do something about it, then it feels like a moral obligation I have,” she said.