As the Chief Visionary Officer of Denver Independent School, Joyelle Naomi manages what she calls an “ecosystem” of organizations. In a few years, this independent school—a Colorado homeschool option—will officially open, but Joyelle isn’t waiting to make a difference in other family’s lives. She already has four initiatives up and running.

Humble Beginnings

Her journey with homeschooling began with her son, who she homeschooled until he was in the 1st grade—she had to place him in public school when she was pregnant with his sister, because she and the baby faced significant health challenges.

She placed her daughter in public school as well but soon noticed she was facing learning challenges during her 1st grade year. She switched to a private Montessori school when she was entering 3rd grade, but the learning challenges persisted.

Every morning as she drove her daughter to the private school, she felt deeply that something was wrong. “I kept praying, ‘God, what am I supposed to do?’” Joyelle said. “And I heard Him say, ‘homeschool her.’”

She withdrew her daughter from the Montessori school that same year and started to homeschool her. She wanted to homeschool her son again as well four years later, but her now ex-husband wasn’t in agreement with her.

While she was in the process of divorcing him, he had challenged her right to homeschool her daughter in court. Joyelle won that case, but she was sure he would object again if she tried to homeschool their son. So she turned to prayer.

“All three of us spent a lot of time praying and just asking the Lord to shift the situation,” she said. “And my ex-husband agreed as a result of the Lord answering our prayers.” She was able to start homeschooling him as well when he was a freshman in high school.

A New Ministry

In the meantime, she and her daughter embraced the homeschool community by joining co-ops and field trip groups. But she felt something was missing and saw an opportunity to start her own co-op with two of her Black friends, both of whom also homeschooled.

In 2016, the three of them launched an enrichment co-op designed to allow students with similar backgrounds to learn about a shared cultural heritage. They named the co-op Kulan, which means “together” in Somali.

A few years after her divorce, she was struggling to make ends meet. In 2020, Joyelle took on a job teaching English to children in China. She spent many late nights and early mornings in those virtual teaching sessions. She was also in the midst of launching her first program, an expansion of her co-op.

“I was teaching at 3 in the morning, and then sometimes would work in the evenings as well,” she said. “So I would be up until 11, sometimes midnight, and then get up again.”

The rest of her time went towards writing her own curriculum, researching the best free resources, making runs to the local library to print lesson plans, and teaching her own children.

Then she remembered HSLDA’s Compassion Grant program, which she had first discovered in 2018. She applied for and received the grant in 2020, which allowed her to purchase curriculum and a printer.  

But the grant meant so much more than new books and a printer—it signified to Joyelle that God was with her family in their homeschooling journey and that her homeschool was real, possible, and supported. “I knew this is what I’m supposed to be doing,” she said.

She’s thankful for those who made the grant a reality: “The thank you that I have is a deep gratitude. Sometimes all you can say is thank you, but it means so much.”

Looking Forward

Today, Joyelle continues to work so that every Black mom has the opportunity and support to educate her children at home, no matter her circumstance.

She also strives to create a safe environment for Black students to thrive. “Black children are more likely to be disproportionately disciplined over minor infractions,” she said. And she sees an easy solution: “Let’s just bring our kids home.”

“I really want to see generations of families able to homeschool regardless of their background,” she said. People from different cultures have different needs, and catering to those needs allows them to thrive, she added. By using her experience as a single mom, she’s able to better understand those circumstances and serve those needs.

For example, Joyelle noticed early on that many of their co-op families lived in poverty. Kids wore clothes that were too small for them or came without food for lunch. She knew many of these families were working single moms and many had fled violent relationships. As someone who had also escaped a violent marriage, she understood their pain.

She remembers thinking: “Wow, these moms are really, really committed to homeschooling. We have a deep conviction that this is what’s right for our families, and some of us are white knuckling it and doing it through blood, sweat, and tears.”

I really want to see generations of families able to homeschool regardless of their background.

That realization is what inspired her to start her journey toward opening the Denver Independent School system. The school’s official opening in the coming years will provide families with an avenue to homeschool apart from public school districts.

While that gets under way, Joyelle is running four other “ecosystem” initiatives.

The CHOICE program provides one-on-one mentorship and financial aid to Black single moms, so they can start and sustain homeschooling. And her “Homeschooling in Color” program is a series of workshops and webinars designed to encourage families of color to homeschool and to show parents you don’t have to be a wealthy, stay-at-home mom to homeschool successfully.

She also offers a high school internship program to teens of any educational background, so they can practice leadership and gain skills in a non-profit setting. And she’s excited to launch The Heart of the Homeschool Conference, which will “uplift voices of color in homeschool through storytelling.” Local business professionals will also attend, bringing the larger community together and connecting families to resources like housing assistance or food banks.

Joyelle’s vision for homeschooling is to go beyond inspiration to practicality, and she hopes to provide a means to ease the challenges that come with the decision to educate at home. 

She frequently looks ahead to the future of homeschooling in Colorado.

“I would love to see whatever the Lord is gifting me to build to have a strong and lasting foundation, and to produce fruit continuously from generation to generation,” she said.