We're all pregnant with something."
(Faculty Attendee at People of Color Conference)
“I show up and speak up because I care.”
Blogger Sherri Spelic
"Advancing human and civil rights. Fulfilling the dream together."
PoCC 2016 Conference Theme
“Why do you go to the People of Color Conference?” This is a question my colleagues and I were asked as we embarked for Atlanta. My colleagues of color faced the question this way as well: “Why do YOU people go to that conference every year?” They answer in many ways. They go for community, to feel part of the mainstream rather than as a person who may be marginalized in a predominantly white school population. Some attend to find strength and learn new ways to address insulting language or graffiti directed at their students or themselves in independent school settings. Others go to learn how to better mentor and nurture a diverse community of learners, making each student feel valued in our schools.
As a white woman, I attend to learn how issues of diversity and inclusion affect all of us, to reinforce my resolve to take action, to build my skills as a caring and inclusive teacher and peer, and to use my whiteness to call attention to the needs of all kinds of students and colleagues. Upon my return, I share photos and highlights with each of my classes, telling my students I think it is important for students to learn about what their teachers care about and are learning about. I welcome you to learn about PoCC as well.
The mission statement of the conference includes these goals: “PoCC equips educators at every level, from teachers to trustees, with knowledge, skills, and experiences to improve and enhance the interracial, interethnic, and intercultural climate in their schools, as well as the attending academic, social-emotional, and workplace performance outcomes for students and adults alike."
Highlights of the People of Color Conference [PoCC]
For a varied group of faculty, staff, and students from my independent school, this mission came to life. Simply attending, comparing workshops, and talking about keynote speakers with a diverse group of colleagues from different units of the school was invigorating. Having time to linger over a meal and share perspectives, experiences, and plans was a treasure. We engaged deeply in learning ways to build a welcoming and inclusive community. Several conference highlights spring to mind.
Bryan Stevenson’s spoke about his work with the Equal Justice Initiative, including stories from his memoir Just Mercy. Called by Archbishop Desmond Tutu “America’s Mandela,” Stevenson charged us to: 1. Get near people/places of injustice. 2. Resist fear and anger. 3. Stay hopeful. 4. Do uncomfortable things. He reminded us all that like the wrongly accused whom he defends, “We’re all broken.”
Other keynote speakers were noteworthy as well, including Richard Blanco, the fifth inaugural poet, spoke of his journey from Cuba to the United States, from “San Giving,” as his mother called the holiday, to “Thanksgiving.”
Rinku Sen, publisher of the news site Colorlines, gave us several powerful images to understand how the United States has “stumbled toward becoming a multiracial society.” Using Rumi’s image: “The wound is where the light comes in,” she urged us, “Let that light in and shine that light back out to the world.” Talking about interacting with others, she noted, “We cannot prove what’s behind someone’s words, but we can measure the impact of their words and actions. Focus on the impact.”
Zak Ebrahim, son of one of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers, spoke of his journey to work for peace. “I am convinced that empathy is more powerful than hate…. No matter what path you’re put on, you can work for peace…. Sometimes we take steps backward, but we are overall moving forward….” He urged us to foster conversations and bring people of all backgrounds into the conversation.
Worthy workshops offered ways to approach classroom content and character education opportunities. For example, lawyer-turned-teacher Jessy Molina, from Garrison Forest School, reminded teachers of the difference between debate and dialogue, and offered classroom prompts for each. (Debate=Argue/win. Listen to find flaw. Dialogue=Explore common ground. Listen for understanding.)
Oman Frame and Martha Caldwell of Paideia School offered “Let’s Get Real: Exploring Race, Class, and Gender Identities in the Classroom.” (This is also the title of their book.) Their model of creating a safe space for students to explore and share their identities beyond stereotypes leads to better academic learning outcomes as it diminishes “stereotype threat” and helps students feel heard, cared for, and understood. For example, they ask a series of questions to elicit: “What do you need to feel safe? What is a challenge you’ve faced? Moving forward what obstacles do your face?” These questions, followed by brief sharing and listening opportunities, built a sense of community even in our short workshop. They will teach a four-day summer institutes in Atlanta as well: “iChange Summer Teaching Institute,” in June 2017.
My trip also included a guided tour of Woodward School, facilitated by Mark Carrington. The school’s enrollment is approximately 50% students of color and 50% students who identify as white. Mark says, “we’re not working on diversity anymore, we are working on inclusion.” Yet, they do not have an office for this task. The head of school has told all faculty and staff: “We’re all responsible for this work.” Using NAIS climate assessment tools and conversations with multiple constituent groups, the work of building an inclusive community is vibrant and ongoing at Woodward, with this year’s “Week of Understanding” theme involving “What is home? What is family?” This theme offers the community a way to reflect on refugee and immigration issues as well as the varieties of families at the school.
Several of us toured the Center for Civil and Human Rights, reliving the journey from sixties civil rights heroes to today’s human rights champions. We were at once heart-broken, shaken, and inspired by the lunch-counter simulation of the vitriol endured by those college students trained by Reverend James Lawson and others to protest against segregation non-violently. This museum is a treasure of history and how-to-do it activism much needed today.
I’ll close by mentioning a workshop on educational blogging, organized by bloggers Sherri Spelic (American International School Vienna) Marcy Webb (Watkinson School) and Christopher Rogers (Greene Street Friends School). Talking about educational blogging filled most people in the room with joy. Several shared their blog addresses, posted below. At one point Sherri shared, “Care must be at the core of everything we do…. I show up and speak up because I care….” These words say it all for me. Whether we’re talking about writing, or teaching, or attending a conference such as PoCC, “I show up and speak up because I care.”
--Susan Gelber Cannon
People of Color Conference Website: http://pocc.nais.org/about/Pages/About-PoCC.aspx
Bryan Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative Website: http://eji.org/bryan-stevenson
Rinku Sen’s Colorlines: http://www.colorlines.com
iChange Collaborative: http://www.ichangecollaborative.com
National Center for Civil and Human Rights: https://www.civilandhumanrights.org/
Scientific American Article: How Diversity Makes us Smarter: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-diversity-makes-us-smarter/
PoCC Twitter Feed: #PoCC2016
@Kawai_lai is the artist of the Bryan Stevenson, Rinku Sen, and Zak Ebrahim photos above: https://twitter.com/kawai_lai
· Sherri Spelic’s blog, edifiedlistener: https://edifiedlistener.wordpress.com
· Marcy Webb’s blog post on Teaching Tolerance: http://www.tolerance.org/blog/have-courage-teach
· Christopher Rogers: http://digitalis.nwp.org/users/edinterwebs
· In 5th Grade with Teacher Julia: http://www.teacherjuliasroom.com
· David Cutler’s Spin Education: http://www.spinedu.com
· Susan Gelber Cannon’s ThinkCareAct Blog: http://thinkcareact.blogspot.com