Every year change-makers, educators, and innovators from independent schools join a celebration of diversity, inclusion, and fun! This 29 November–02 December, Senior Associate Brian Lettinga joined over 8,000 adults and students at the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) People of Color Conference (PoCC), held this year in St. Louis, Missouri. The mission of the conference is to provide a safe space for leadership, professional development, and networking for people of color and allies of all backgrounds in independent schools.
NAIS PoCC invites adults to engage in meaningful conversations around equity and justice. Concurrently, students from around the U.S. come for their conference, the Student Diversity Leadership Conference, at the same location. This year's PoCC event, Gateways to Freedom: A Confluence of Truth, Knowledge, Joy, and Power, took place in St. Louis, Missouri.
Offering more than 100 workshops on a range of topics exploring the diverse experiences of people of color in independent schools, the PoCC is designed to equip educators at every level—from teachers to trustees—with new knowledge and skills.
This year’s conference, like the ones before it, did not disappoint! In addition to the wide variety of workshops, attendees were treated to master classes, panel discussions, interactive sessions exploring cultural awareness, and Ted-style talks—all centered around fostering inclusivity and awareness in independent schools and across all communities. Seven dynamic keynote speakers shared their stories, experiences, and wisdom.
Thursday opened with Gholnecsar (Gholdy) Muhammad, Author, and Associate Professor of literacy, language, and culture at the University of Illinois Chicago, who studies Black historical excellence in education, with an aim to reframe curriculum and instruction today. After lunch, Social Justice Educator, Activist, and Musician Sonny Singh used music and creativity to address anti-oppression, racial equity, faith, and justice. The early evening welcomed Author, Musician, and Activist Simon Tam, best known for winning a landmark case at the Supreme Court level in 2017, about which he wrote an award-winning memoir. Founder and bassist of one of the first all-Asian American dance rock bands in the world, The Slants, Simon co-founded a non-profit foundation supporting arts, activism, and civic engagement.
Early Friday morning, Educator, Leadership Coach, and Author Liza Talusan spoke on how an identity-conscious practice can work in schools, with the firm belief that building the habits and skills for identity work helps us to enhance curiosity, connection, collaboration, and community. Later that morning, Filmmaker and Producer Lacey Schwartz Delgado illustrated how we can use storytelling to reclaim our sense of self and bridge societal divides. In the early afternoon, Activist, Educator, and Writer Brittney Packnett Cunningham spoke on the topic of intersection, within culture, justice, and policy.
The final morning, NAIS PoCC welcomed award-winning Author, Professor, and Creator of the #HipHopEd social media movement Christopher Emdin. Time magazine recently named Emdin one of the 27 people bridging divides in the United States, and The Root included him on The Root 100 list of the most influential African Americans, so Christopher’s talk was a wonderful way to finish the conference.
In the Exhibit Hall, our busy representative Brian helmed the Search Associates (SEARCH) table, sharing our services with as many visitors as possible. SEARCH looks forward to further connections with the PoCC conference and is excited to attend next year’s gathering in Denver!