Staff Tribute: Joshua Vasquez

Tribute to Joshua VasquezHigh School Social Studies Teacher

“Mr. Vasquez was such a beautiful soul who always kept me out of trouble. But I also always knew that if I got into trouble, he was someone you could talk to about anything and he would never judge you. Not only was Mr. Vasquez an amazing human being, he was always there unconditionally for me when I was coming out, undocumented, and struggling.”

— a former student of Joshua Vasquez, a social studies teacher at Bushwick Leaders High School who passed away of COVID-19 in April 2020 

Above and beyond Mr. Vasquez’s gift for stirring up a passion for learning in the classroom, he pushed his students to become agents of change in their community. A former community organizer before he began his career as an educator, he enthusiastically practiced what he preached. In 2013, the New York Daily News published a profile of Mr. Vasquez highlighting his work with the police to improve safety in the neighborhood surrounding the school. Mr. Vasquez’s quote in that article reflects the philosophy that guided his life’s work with such purpose: “The ingredients for transforming schools and communities are always the same: dedicated, organized people having the courage to work for the same goals.” 

 Mr. Vasquez was a mentor to countless educators over his twenty years with the DOE, including Gerard Henry, who went on to become principal at Brooklyn Lab School. The testimonials those colleagues posted on the internet after his death convey the profound effect he had on them and his students, such as:

“Mr. Vasquez was a hero to every kid he ever taught, and had a real love for the Bushwick community. He mentored me as a new teacher, taught our students to organize, took them on meaningful field trips, and he’d even dress up as ancient historic figures to engage the class. He made the work fun, and he brought joy and a sense of belonging to so many kids that the city had given up on. I hope all his students know how much he deeply loved them.”

“The world lost a smart, big-hearted, and crusading educator. Josh Vasquez was a mentor to me and so many others when I began teaching in Brooklyn 15 years ago. He worked passionately and optimistically within an imperfect system and used his own life as a model for what others like him could achieve. He loved his community and his students fiercely, but he always welcomed and championed outsiders like me.”

Mr. Vasquez’s talent and passion for healing wounds and spurring community change continue to serve as a guiding light to those fortunate to have known him and to the school community he leaves behind.