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The Importance of the People of Color Conference

Saturday, February 9, 2019

This Wednesday’s All School Meeting was highlighted by a special Black History Month program.. Black Americans have a unique American history and have made key and diverse contributions to the America we are today. And it is important for all Americans to be interested in the contributions of all Americans! Therefore, we are grateful to Arlene Guevara and our Viceroys teachers Efrem and Vicki for collaborating to put up this assembly presentation, which included students, teachers and some family members, too—all depicting famous African Americans.

While Burgundy and other independent schools work hard to recruit and retain diverse faculty and staff, the reality is that in any given moment there is less than a critical mass of any particular affinity group; in fact, the given group can be small or even non-existent, which is lonely and isolating, not to mention not serving to encourage a diverse and worldly student experience. The annual NAIS People of Color Conference (PoCC) is an opportunity for POCs (People of Color, along with LGBTQ people) in independent schools and their allies to share community in affinity groups, to be challenged and engaged, to learn and grow together, to support diversity in independent schools as well as to support themselves and one another.

We make a significant institutional investment each year to send faculty and staff to the People of Color conference. This year Diversity and Inclusion Coordinator Pat Harden along with PE teacher Prince Botchway and Technology and Integration Specialist Matt Goldman attended the PoCC in Nashville, Tennessee. Here is some of what they had to say about their experience.

There were workshops that made me feel empowered and I realized that I have a major responsibility to my own community...There was one workshop in particular that touched me in a profound way called “Black Boys Do What?”...The goal of the workshop was to unpack the myths associated with black boys and literature….My biggest takeaway from PoCC was that I have work to do! I have a duty to utilize the platform at Burgundy as a way to connect to my students and to help break down stereotypes that do not serve them… in our role as educators of color we are awakened and reminded of our importance in our schools and our culture when affirmed and educated within affinity. This awakening and remembrance is often times the fuel needed at just the right time to encourage one to continue the work knowing we hold and add tremendous value to our school communities. - Prince B

It was awesome to attend pertinent workshops and share experiences with like-minded educators who want to be more receptive and incorporate diversity with students. I was very receptive to the present challenges schools and educators face as people of color, both the visible and the invisible....My biggest take away was getting together in our “affinity groups”. This was a good workshop to bond with others whom I identified with the most, and in my case it was Asian-Pacific Islander (API) Affinity Group. There were close to 200 educators in my group and some have continued to attend POCC for over 20 years. This was a collective opportunity to share amongst my peers, validate with other API educators about pertinent issues happening at our schools, as well as [consider] what we could do as a whole to increase diversity and awareness through community outreach and recruit diverse educators. - Matt G

It is the one place each year where you are surrounded for up to 5 days by people who are committed to addressing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) issues focused primarily on People of Color in a scholarly manner…[T]he program addressed the macro and micro elements of diversity, equity and inclusion issues and work in independent schools today...In the progressive school construct where relationship is the central conduit for growth and learning, having the opportunity to learn about DEI in relationships with people both like you and different from you is a priceless gift. It reminds us that as we “teach” differentially, so must we also develop relationships differentially always open to the beauty in difference and the many different ways we have of being and learning. - Pat H

As Pat and Matt and Prince demonstrate in their thoughtful reflections, Burgundy teachers, staff, administrators, and possibly even trustees in the future, attending the PoCC helps position us individually and as a school to grow stronger in our relationships and to do the work required to maintain a diverse and inclusive learning community and to contribute to an equitable and just society.