Words Fall Short (Reflections on PoCC17 in Progress)

Words can do a lot. Or, I should say we can do a lot with words. And still they fall short.

Which words would I choose to tell you about my day?

I would start with beauty. Human beauty in so many hues, tones and shades. An unyielding variety on which to feast the eyes that didn’t realized they were starved.

I might continue with brilliance – the kind that comes in a warm smile of greeting, the kind you hear in a voice that is both clear and rich and needs no mic.

But also a brilliance of presence – to hold sway with an audience of thousands through song and movement, in chorus and in the spirit of freedom.

And of wit…to tell the familiar truths in the charm of Disney’s favorite fairy tales and allow us to laugh when our response under different circumstances could just as well be to weep.

I might use bravery – some of my own and really that of others – especially those who invite us to learn with them; who stand at the podium encouraging us to turn and talk, connect and commit.

I’d have to say ready. Ready in the sense of prepared, hungry and waiting for this moment to finally, yes finally, say what needs saying without sugarcoating, or toning it down and be heard, heard, heard. So very ready for exactly that again and again.

Fierce in our love for one another, for this particular space and time together. Fierce in our understanding that even if we do not see eye to eye, we see and acknowledge each other and the sacrifices we have each made to be here.

Responsive. Oh these snaps and praise hands and nods and shout outs – that kind of real responsiveness. Call and response responsiveness like in church. A hug, a touch, a moment, a shared silence – ways of responding we find for each other.

I cannot report well what was said and how it was received. I have just these impressions of

colleagues and kin, folks and friends

some people I’ve never met and may never know

but I saw them and they moved me

each magnificent in the singular, breathtaking as a body.

This is PoCC for me. People of Color Conference. Where I can be

Black (with a capital B), Woman in all the ways I choose; teacher, learner, listener, facilitator, space maker, collaborator, blogger, tweeter, note taker, observer, participant, ally, accomplice, friend, sister, colleague, dancer…

Me.

Keeping the PoCC Conversation Going

Celebrating with Dr. Hazel Symonette and Caroline Blackwell

Celebrating with Dr. Hazel Symonette and Caroline Blackwell

One of the things about attending excellent conferences is that one often leaves feeling empowered, energized, ready for action.  And then you return to your reality.  Not everyone else has been where you have been, has experienced the positives you have experienced.  You are feeling warmed up and limber. Many others may be feeling lethargic and sleepy.  This is the time when our best and reinvigorated selves need to remember to be kind; to be understanding; to become bridges and not the fence.

Before coming back to school this morning, I sent an e-mail to my colleagues in the elementary:

Dear colleagues,

I spent the better part of last week attending the National Association of Independent Schools’ (NAIS) People of Color Conference (PoCC) in Washington, DC.  In a nutshell I would describe my experience there as stimulating, resonant and uplifting.  In contrast to typical professional development conferences, PoCC provides opportunities for educators to engage in conversations which begin with social identity (race, gender, ethnicity, faith, sexual orientation, etc.)  as the context for addressing the what and how of our work in school communities. Equity and social justice are on the table throughout the conference.

 

This means that participants have space to consider and celebrate the intricacies of individual identity and the tremendous wealth of our collective diversity.  In this conference I was encouraged to speak about my experience as an African-American woman working in a European international school setting and to welcome others to share their unique identity and context perspectives.

 

The conference boasts high levels of participation: just over 2300 adults and 1400 students who attended their own Student Diversity Leadership Conference.  The caliber of keynote speakers is outstanding. Over the three days we welcomed activist Daniel Hernandez, award winning author Junot Diaz, Congresswoman Dr. Marisa Richmond and NPR’s Michel Martin.  Additionally, I enjoyed the privilege of co-presenting a breakout session with 3  Klingenstein alumni of color on the benefits of our online coaching experience last spring.

 

My learning from this conference has been particularly valuable and rich. I invite you to ask me about it.  We all have complex and interesting identities which we bring to work every day and the astounding diversity we create and navigate in our school community is worthy of our reflection and celebration.  In closing the conference, Michel Martin encouraged each and every participant to “keep the conversation going.”  This message to all of you is a step in that direction.

 

Thank you and it is great to be back! J

Warmly,

Sherri

 

It occured to me during my long journey back home that I wanted to share my wins and discoveries from PoCC with colleagues and friends without overwhelming them.  That’s how I began crafting this message. The response has been remarkably positive and appreciative.  “Keep the conversation going”  provides a useful perspective on how to bring our best experiences back to our very unique communities.