I attended the 2015 NAIS People of Color Conference in Tampa, Florida from December 2nd – 5th. I returned rejuvenated, honored, empowered, and inspired. It was great to be surrounded by the over 4300 faculty, administrators, and students of color from independent schools across the country. It was like one big family reunion with people giving hugs upon meeting you for the first time.
Most of the sessions focused on addressing microaggressions, implicit bias, supporting black males in the classroom, and inspiring future leaders of color. I was reminded of the responsibility I have when an auditorium of 2000 people gave a three minute standing ovation to the procession of heads of color across stage. A number that has tripled in the past five years, and is yet still a small percentage of the total number of heads of school. We still have a lot of work to do when it comes to hiring women and people of color as teachers and leaders in independent schools.
I was able to hear from inspiring speakers such as Mahzarin Banaji, who challenged us all to address our implicit biases (you can take the test at implicit.harvard.edu). Mae Jemison encouraged us to have students think outside the box—and participate in her 100 Year Starship Project. Gyasi Ross reminded us that history directly affects the success of today’s brown and black students and that “history” was not that long ago.
The high school students of color – who have a concurrent conference with the adults – spoke truth to power about the type of support they need. They stated that an important goal was to be able to see themselves in the school and in the curriculum. However, what they wanted more than anything was a space to talk about the things that are important to them in that moment (e.g., Mizzou, Ferguson, etc.).
There was meaningful discussion about how the key to having success with students of color is to help them build a positive racial identity—to say, “I see you and I recognize your journey.” Their passion caused me to contemplate how we can be more active among conflicts that are occurring in the Twin Cities metro area, right now. There is a great revolution happening in our own back yards. Our own students have seen firsthand and/or participated in the events at the 4th precinct, and now city hall—and not just our older students, but our lower school students and families, as well.
Now my question is, how can we, Friends School of Minnesota, contribute to this movement and continue the conversation? We should all be doing some sort of service for someone – at all times. What can we do that would include students at all levels? Let’s keep this conversation going. It is our job as Friends of this earth to actively fight against injustices and to teach our children peaceful means to achieving conflict resolution.
–Latrisha Chattin, Head of School, Friends School of Minnesota