By Mr. Drew
I had the honor of attending the People of Color Conference 2018 in Nashville, Tennessee. Fellow Gunnery representatives were Mr. Poole, Mrs. Magana, Lenaijah Ferguson ‘20 and Miranda Smith ‘20. In this, I will speak mostly for myself, as we all had vastly different, yet special, experiences.
The People of Color Conference, which was held in Nashville, Tennessee this year from November 28 to December 1, is a conference organized by the National Association of Independent Schools. The organization, and the conference, is committed to “equity and justice in teaching, learning, and organizational development” and the mission of the conference is “to provide a safe space for leadership and professional development and networking for people of color and allies of all backgrounds in independent schools.”
From the moment we exited our plane in Nashville, I was full of wonder and curiosity. It was my first time attending this conference, and I spent ample time observing my fellow peers who work in independent schools from all across the country.
I was inspired by the sheer numbers alone. As a black man in the independent school arena, I saw an amazingly diverse group of people who work tirelessly to ensure a positive academic experience for their students. There was instant camaraderie in this fact, and I made great connections with people who had similar missions, drives and upbringings as me. It was a pleasurable experience just to be in the same building as these amazing educators, let alone have conversations with them. Mind you, at this point, I had yet to listen to a keynote speaker or attend a workshop. It was a long Thursday morning to just exist, and there was a lot to take in.
The early morning speakers consisted of a pump-up speech by the hosts, a marching band and a whole lot of excitement from the crowd. Considering the theme for the conference this year was “Harmony, Discord, and the Notes in Between,” it was fitting to have some music to emphasize us getting “woke” before we spread out to reach for knowledge amongst our fellow educators.
After the marching band, everyone was eager to conquer the next couple days. The conference has workshops that you attend according to your main objective for being there; my reason for attending this conference was to work with other diversity and equity practitioners to figure out how to provide a space for students of color here at The Gunnery.
Lenaijah Ferguson ‘20 and Miranda Smith ‘20, the students that joined us faculty at this conference, split from us to attend the Student Leadership Diversity Conference (SLDC), which is a separate program. The SLDC programming this year was focused on allyship, and how everyone can be used to combat intolerance on racial, sexuality and gender levels.
Meanwhile, faculty members from schools all across the country spread out to attend various workshops that were meant to provide discourse and advice on the state of diversity, equity and inclusion in independent schools and how to facilitate that diversity, equity and inclusion for the sake of students and faculty alike.
I spent my days in workshops and events. The first workshop I attended was titled “Protecting the Innocence of Girls of Color.” This workshop was about acknowledging how easy it was speed up the growth of young black girls, and how to acknowledge their youth to allow them to blossom into adults when it’s their time to be adults. Acknowledging the discord to bring about the harmony was significant to understanding the purpose of workshops like this and all the others.
The final guest speaker of the conference was Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, freshly fired from being a CNN political pundit for discussing heavily contested global political issues dealing with justice, equity and allyship. His voice echoed and rang across the room as he spoke to 6000 educators and students about how and where to find and establish love in your environment.
He spoke of more than just persevering as a person of color in a predominantly white space, but rather making the decision to thrive in any environment, a concept that takes work and self-care allies. He emphasized the significance of working with the harmony and discord of the American education system and all the discrepancies in between, and how we can play our part in improving for future generations of students and faculty.
One of the major themes of the POCC was to place emphasis on the fact that this conference is for the benefit of those of color. This was a reminder that non-people of color should be able to respectfully acknowledge the space they occupy and allow the students and faculty of color the space and time to speak.
This rarely had to be facilitated, because the people present understood who and what this conference was for. However, when it was mandated that non-people of color leave the room, the experience I felt being around only colorful faces blew my mind.
This experience was specific to the meeting between the independent schools of the Connecticut region that were in attendance. So many shades, creeds and colors. So many expressions, to me, exemplified a community that didn’t seem visible prior to me going to the POCC. Now these faces were visible. Now I know there are many places to call home, many places to reach out to grasp goals that are necessary for our students of color.
The POCC was an amazing experience for all of us Gunnery folks who attended, and we networked with people from other schools to look into establishing better connections with our respective faculty and students of color. This conference, in all its glory, was about supporting one another as we support our students.
As we hopped off the plane at Bradley International Airport, I realized we need a bigger push to get more faculty and students on this trip so they can see what we saw. We saw brave people with humongous hearts, who are fighting the notion of just being black bodies to fulfill school quotas of diverse employment and enrollment. These are people who are still working to be accepted as legitimate academics in independents schools.
The harmony is knowing we, as a community, are not perfect and explaining and describing our drive to be diverse, equitable and an inclusive community for minority students in all walks of our curricular and co-curricular activities. The discord is in figuring out how.