Becoming a transformational leader

Che' Hagins seeks to unlock potential, especially among youth of color

Che'ffan — known as Che' — Hagins '22G wants to inspire young people to succeed, especially Black and Brown youth whom society discourages. "Some kids have dreams, but they're afraid to live them," says Che'. "They have it in them. They just don't know it yet."

Che' Hagins

Che' Hagins at his Intuitive Innovation Learning Center in Rochester.

So first Che' became a teacher in the Rochester City School District. Then a round of layoffs in 2020 bumped him to his earlier role as a teaching assistant for part of the year.

He realized that his goal is bigger than a classroom and a teaching degree — and requires more learning. His mentors had gotten degrees in leadership, which intrigued him. So instead of a master’s degree in education, as teachers typically get, he is pursuing a master’s degree in leadership and organizational change at Nazareth College — alongside a cohort of business and nonprofit professionals who also are looking to become transformational leaders.

Che' is halfway through the program — in a close-knit cohort who frequently talk about examples from their work lives. Che' regularly shares his perspective and resilience as a Black male from an impoverished area of Rochester to encourage further thinking and understanding. Raised by a single mother and as a graduate of the Rochester City School District, he strives to lead by example and show that Black and Brown males from backgrounds like his can successfully occupy spaces where they’re normally underrepresented.

Che' chose Nazareth for its strong reputation and because he valued the one-weekend-a-month class format for this master’s degree. During active weekends on campus, the students work in small teams on hands-on projects, experiencing the principles and strategies they’re mastering.

“I intentionally use the learnings and the teaching we receive in class in everyday life, whether it’s conflict management or the strategies of high-performance organizations,” says Che'. Courses also cover decision-making analytics, leadership development, organizational strategy, systems thinking, leading organizational change, and virtuous and purpose-driven leadership.

Che' Hagins

Che' Hagins appreciates the hybrid schedule of one-weekend-a-month classes on campus and online components for his master's program in leadership and organizational change.

To work on his dream, Che' opened a business during his first year of grad school, while also teaching at a Rochester high school. His Intuitive Innovation Learning Center on Tremont Street in Rochester offers tutoring and test prep to youth, using primarily teachers who can relate well to students because they've had similar life experiences.

During the spring 2021 semester, his learning center served more than 40 students, for varying amounts of time. Some students are served by community agencies who pay for the tutoring and educational support services.

In the future, Che' sees himself running two or three learning centers, all focused on relating lessons to students' lives. "I want them to be inspired and encouraged to learn, rather than be discouraged because they don't think that they are smart," says Che'. "The thing is, they are smart. I encourage them to unlock their dormant potential — especially Black and Brown kids who live in the city, who have been conditioned to believe they are not smart." He tells them: "Don't fear growth. Embrace elevation. Dare to do something that you've never done before. You never will understand if college is for you, until you try."

Che' regularly shares quotes and affirmations aloud to inspire himself and others, including his 7-year-old son. One of his favorites: "Try is the alibi for failure."

Che' Hagins with son

Che' and his son, Amir Breedlove, at graduation from Monroe Community College and on Father's Day in 2020.

Che' says that his growth and advancement as a person and as a leader also helps him be a better father. "When I was able to love myself, I was able to love my son better. I was able to take education seriously." Che' works on being authentic and communicating openly, with love. "I want to be so free that I remind people to be themselves — and they become free as well."

Che' feels blessed to be pursuing his larger goals, armed with new skills and perspective. "I don't settle for good enough," he says. "I settle for greatness. I always want to be a better me."


Among the LOC Class of 2021, 54% were promoted or chosen for a new job during their graduate work or shortly after completing their master's degree.