Inside the chapel at Girard College on Martin Luther King Day, with the Philadelphia Orchestra and CAPA high school choir.
Two weeks ago, I went with three of my colleagues from school to the People of Color Conference in Anaheim, California, organized by the National Association of Independent Schools. It was the first time I had ever gone, and the PoCC was celebrating its 30th year anniversary. It turned out to be an incredibly impactful experience, and I thought I’d share some thoughts and reflections that I had written in an attempt to process my 3-day experience and to highlight the significant moments of the conference:
When I left Delaware for the conference in a frazzled, chicken-without-a-head state, I wasn’t sure if going would be worth all the trouble. I came back feeling like a slightly different person, with a more re-defined purpose in education, as if everything had suddenly come into focus.
When I sat in on workshops outlining curriculums on cultural competency for middle school, I thought about how we could be educating our students on combating stereotypes and fully exploring their own identities during an age when vulnerability, integrity, and honesty towards oneself are great challenges and great necessities.
When I listened to three presenters riff on Disneyland stories, speak their wishes upon a star for a more equitable world for the ever after, and then end with, “And when Sleeping Beauty woke up, she stayed woke,” I laughed out loud but felt incredibly empowered by those wishes.
When I watched Katherine Dinh, chair of the board of NAIS, smile kindly on stage and talk about how parents in her school came to her and said appreciatively, “I didn’t even know people who looked like you existed in your position,” I felt a surge of admiration, happiness, and hope.
When I listened to Elder Don, a Native American leader, recount to us the story about the gifts of forgiveness, unity, healing, and hope, I felt a powerful awe and reverence. When he presented to us a hoop made out of a hundred eagle feathers and proceeded to bless us, an audience of 6,000, with the power of the four gifts, the tears spilled freely down all of our cheeks.
When I listened to the songs that the Wildwood School elementary students wrote and recorded to promote care of the environment, the people in the world, and animals, I thought how fortunate we are to guide our children down this future path, and how much work there still is to do to to help them reach their potential for good on this planet.
When I sat in on a workshop about implementing culturally relevant material into the Spanish classroom, I came away with so many ideas for my own curriculum and how to involve my students in critical thinking about what a better world can look like, with their actions and ideas.
When I attended my affinity group session, saw the faces around me, and listened to each person’s experience, I felt fearless and resolved to share my own story. I was outspoken, and spoke about the insecurities surrounding my identity and my career. I came away feeling reaffirmed, ignited, and whole. I grasped the bigger picture of our commonalities, woven together by the varied and disparate threads of our diverse experiences as communities, as individuals.
When I saw so many educators in the same room that looked like me, I felt surprised by this completely new experience, uncomfortable at first, then empowered.
When I listened to the joys, challenges, barriers, and hopes of different groups, I laughed, I empathized, I acknowledged, and I agreed.
When I participated in a ‘agree/disagree’ spectrum activity in a workshop about viewing the inner self, I realized that our kids need to see how their experiences and opinions are not just binary nor black, white, and gray, but rather on a continuum and going in different individual dimensions. We need to see ourselves, and if we do not understand our role in the problem, it is difficult to be part of the solution.
When I experienced the abundance of possibilities, hope, and movement towards a more just world for us, our students, our communities, our citizens, I saw my place in the world more clearly than I ever did before. I felt more confident and resolved than I ever did before to help make this change.
When I heard Kimberlé Crenshaw’s lecture on intersectionality, the history of the invisibility of black women in America, and the suffering of “occupants of multiple fault lines,” I felt indignant, angry, and motivated to reach back into history, learn new things, and remember correctly.
When I listened to Dalia Mogahed speak so patiently and wisely about the threat of Islamophobia to all of our communities, I resolved to be an ambassador for the facts and the freedom that fear erodes.
When I listened to Sandi Crozier talk about how she shared with her students her parents’ experience of living in a Japanese internment camp, I realized how much we as teachers are a mirror of humanity for our students, and how much they need us to tell them our stories.
When I heard people of color stand up in workshops to state how this conference has recharged them, given them a haven, and offered them a space for learning and conversation every year, I understood how important connectedness, community, and common goals are.
When I connected with a fellow teacher from Pennsylvania and shared my teaching experience with her, I felt fortunate to teach at a school that embraces diversity and all religions.
When I watched diverse high school students blending their voices on stage and dancing beautifully to the promise of freedom, I felt absolute awe and pride in the abilities of our youth.
When I listened to Maria Teresa Kumar speak about the plight of DACA recipients and the constant fear they live of being deported to a country they did not grow up in or know, I felt anger and the need to help and comfort. When she spoke about what a beautiful country this is and the opportunities it affords to its immigrants and its citizens, I wholeheartedly agreed.
When a teacher who had lived as an undocumented youth stood up and shared her experience in front of the audience of 6,000, I could only begin to imagine her pain, fear, and isolation, and how much a space like this could mean to her.
Other lives are lived before floating back up into rumple of covers, Saturday morning remembers other occasions when light threw the same hue onto bedspread, the hundreds of occasions of waking up wiping dust from the eyes and head, the world blinked back slowly into intermittent existence, the underworld snatched at in puzzle pieces soon disintegrating, dissolving into the blanket’s floral pattern. The cats of Saturday morning, the quiet feet and play of shadow on walls, window weather and clink of coffee vessel, browning toast. Life on pause. Liquid languor. Knots in wood call the eye — here is where you fall in to those other, less obvious places. Doors to protect spaces, drawers to siphon away what the every day proffers to the occupied self. Occupation of the self as hazarded by hapless entities, those contending you’s emboldened, embittered by the secrets of autonomy. The cat cleans herself in quick motion, noises from the outside from disembodied neighbors. Alone-ness like a well, sprung from darkness and water and wishing. All the Saturdays spent content within the cloud of thought, fields of words by windows looking out. All the lives lived by being, all the spaces inhabited by the traveling mind, wanting always to be just, wholly, one.