From Zimbabwe to The Bronx: An Interview with Brilla Pax Principal Shingi Mutasa

If you felt a calling to move to a new country and begin a new career, how would you respond? The simplest approach would be to ignore that desire and continue living your life as usual. However, by saying ‘yes’ to that calling, Brilla Pax Founding Principal Mr. Shingi Mutasa has been able to make a positive impact in countless children’s lives.

Shingi Mutasa grew up in Zimbabwe and obtained a Master of Business Administration there. He worked as a management consultant for a large multinational company, but when the 2008 recession hit, he began to rethink his priorities and started exploring different opportunities. His sister told him about Teach for America and he became intrigued by its mission. “It was eye-opening for me to learn about the achievement gap and the educational disparities in America,” Mr. Mutasa explained. It didn’t take long for him to apply, get accepted, and travel across the Atlantic to begin his new mission serving in a school in the heart of New York City.

Mr. Mutasa poses on “superhero day” during Brilla’s Spirit Week.

Recalling the experience, Mr. Mutasa says, “educating children and working in these communities, the achievement gap was something that I saw first hand. I felt I had the tools and mindset to impact the children. For me, it became a calling. I had been searching my whole life, and I realized that I was called to serve children.” He served as a teacher for several years and earned a graduate degree in Educational Leadership from Fordham University. It was there that one of his mentors introduced him to the work of Seton Education Partners and Brilla Schools. Mr. Mutasa fell in love with Seton’s mission and its focus on developing the whole child. “Having dedicated character curriculum components matters to me personally,” Mr. Mutasa explained. “There is a natural alignment between my personal values and Brilla’s values.”

When Mr. Mutasa was chosen to be the founding principal of Brilla Pax, he spent a lot of time thinking about his desired vision for Pax before finally settling on three words: love, joy, and excellence. “We love children and we love each other here,” he explains. “You bring your heart to Pax.” This love for others overflows into joy, which is tangible when you walk through the halls of Pax. “I like to laugh and have joyful children skipping in our hallways,” says Mutasa. 

Excellence is a key part of his vision for Pax as well. “We do excellent work and have high standards of performance.” Mr. Mutasa sees an urgency in educating children well at the elementary levels to prepare them for success in high school and beyond. “We want to impact the trajectory as they enter formal schooling in kindergarten for the first time,” he says. These values, love, joy, and excellence guide everything that is done at Pax each day. 

This vision has guided Mr. Mutasa and Pax through difficult times. Brilla Pax opened in the fall of 2020, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. Between illness in the community, economic hardship, family losses, and the challenges of remote and hybrid schooling, it was one of the most difficult school years that educators across the country had ever faced. But, Mr. Mutasa had a personal challenge as well. His wife, whom he married in Zimbabwe in 2018, still had not been granted a United States visa after two years of marriage. Mr. Mutasa would travel to Africa on breaks to visit his wife, but when the pandemic hit, travel became nearly impossible. “I did not see my wife for a year,” Mr. Mutasa explained. “The way I got through that time is beyond human understanding. I had this peace in my heart. My wife is incredible. We love each other deeply and we were very patient.” 

It was an incredibly difficult time, but the calling that he felt to serve his students helped carry him through. Mr. Mutasa explained that “I saw how much the children needed me, and I immersed myself in the work. These [scholars] are creations that we are serving. They have a purpose that they were created for and we have a duty to do our best to do justice by them. For me, it is more than just a school. It is a calling. I don’t think I could be as immersed as I am in any other organization.” Thankfully, after travel restrictions subsided, he was able to visit his wife. 

Mr. Mutasa welcomes a kindergarten scholar on the first day of school.

In November 2021, Mr. Mutasa and his wife were blessed with their first son. A month later, while he was in Africa visiting for his paternity leave, he and his wife received some incredible news:

“We were driving in Johannesburg, and my wife saw that she got an email from the U.S. Embassy. She had received her visa! She started crying and I pulled the car over. We got out and started hugging and crying. Immediately I called Luanne [Zurlo] and Jen [Gowers] and told them, ‘my family is coming to New York to be with me for the first time in four years!’” 

 Those values of love, joy, and excellence, continue to motivate Mr. Mutasa as he serves his family and the Brilla community through his vocation as husband, father, and leader of Pax. When asked his greatest hope for Brilla Pax, Mr. Mutasa replied, 

“I have many hopes for Pax. But what keeps coming back to me is the reason why I stayed in education. My biggest hope for Pax is that we transform children’s lives. We want children to graduate, to be financially independent, to be good people and serve the world. My hope is that journeying through Pax will be a transformational experience for our children.”

We at Brilla are thankful to have such a dedicated leader at the helm of our school!

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