An attorney with a wide range of experience in education, housing and racial equity issues is slated next month to become the new president of ERASE Racism, the Syosset-based civil rights organization led for 21 years by founder and current president Elaine Gross.
Laura Harding, 48, will start the new position Sept. 19 after concluding her work with the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education in Washington, D.C., where she is director of strategic initiatives in K-12 education and co-chair of the racial justice and equity team.
Gross, 71, who announced her plans to retire in April, will become president emeritus and a consultant to ERASE Racism.
Harding previously worked as director of strategic development for the New York City Department of Education's Office of Equity & Access. She also formerly served as assistant director of the Office of Federal Programs for District of Columbia Public Schools; a staff attorney with Legal Services New York, focusing on tenants’ rights, and the NYPD, with a focus on risk mitigation. Harding has a bachelor's degree from Adelphi University, a master's degree in social service administration from the University of Chicago and a law degree from Howard University.
Harding has remained active with Adelphi, where as recently as May she was a facilitator in the university's Diversity Certificate Partnership Program, training Long Island residents about diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Marsha Darling, Adelphi's special assistant to the president for Strategic Initiatives in Executive Leadership, as well as director of its Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT) Campus Center, cited Harding's "glowing" workshop evaluations, and her "deep and abiding commitment to social justice."
ERASE Racism officials said Harding's broad experience is well-suited to their organization.
Kalpana Bhandarkar, co-chair of ERASE Racism’s board of directors, in a statement, said Harding was "uniquely qualified," citing her “expertise in public education policy and programs centered on equity."
Gross, in a phone interview, said: "I really liked the work experience that she’s had because she comes with an appreciation for dealing in challenging and difficult situations, whether she was working with New York City and now Washington D.C., Those are not simple institutions," Gross said. "And even though we are a small organization, we deal with complex problems and have to interact with larger systems. That’s how we get change made. I appreciated she came with that level of experience. And she knows something about patience — needing to stick with something."
Harding said her entire career has been "steeped in racial justice and equity," so she was drawn to ERASE Racism's focus on housing and educational inequities.
"I made the center of my career serving and being a voice for the underserved and those overlooked, which tend to be African Americans and people of color. Education for me is a transformative experience," Harding said. "I’m Barbadian born, and moved to Brooklyn at age of 10."
She said being a graduate of the acclaimed Brooklyn Technical High School put her on a firm educational trajectory.
"Whether it's New York City, Long Island or Washington, D.C.," Harding said, "we know that frequently where one lives determines your access to high quality education."