top of page
  • Hilderbrand Pelzer III

My Queen Smith Moment

In 2008, I received the QUEEN SMITH AWARD for commitment to urban education, a national award recognizing significant contributions to urban education by an urban educator. Erin Gruwell gave the keynote speech that morning. Gruwell’s students—affectionately called the Freedom Writers—came from backgrounds of poverty, gangs, and violence, and many were at risk of dropping out of school due to the school-to-prison pipeline.

The QUEEN SMITH AWARD is one of the highest honors presented by the Council of the Great City Schools. The distinction recognized my commitment to urban education and my willingness to challenge the long-held, false assumptions surrounding access to quality education for incarcerated youth. Specifically, I was recognized for designing an evidence-based school model focusing on system-level solutions to legal, logistical, and educational challenges in Philadelphia’s prison system, clearly demonstrating my ability to strategize, focus on students, and collaborate in a large, complex, public-sector organization.

Being nationally honored as a successful urban educator was an absolute milestone in my career. The award spoke to my experience and expertise because I enacted significant changes to help incarcerated youth, used my perspective to expand opportunities for students in highly challenging situations, and underscored the prominent role of education in all classrooms and schools that have children under their guidance.

Throughout my career, I have drawn on my powerful educational foundation to build an exciting resume as an educator and leader.

Sharing stories about the moving encounters I have had connecting with incarcerated youth and how they helped me raise their expectations of themselves is my passion. These encounters made me a stronger leader who is more resilient in supporting underserved and marginalized students.

There is a way for juvenile justice administrators and educators, K–12 administrators and teachers, counselors, social workers, and other professionals desiring to focus on underserved and marginalized students to make stronger connections and recognize their essential role in creating a culture of learning. In doing so, they can positively impact their students’ education, care, treatment, and custody.

So, if you want to know how I did it, simply contact me ( today to schedule a keynote and learn more about my journey.

bottom of page