The National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), of which Saint Mary’s is a member, hosts the People of Color Conference (PoCC) each year as part of its commitment to “equity and justice in teaching and learning.”
The mission of the conference is to “provide a safe space for leadership and professional development and networking for people of color and allies of all backgrounds in independent schools. PoCC equips educators at every level, from teachers to trustees, with knowledge, skills, and experiences to improve and enhance the interracial, interethnic, and intercultural climate in their schools, as well as the attending academic, social-emotional, and workplace performance outcomes for students and adults alike.” (pocc.nais.org)
This year’s conference took place Dec. 4-7, 2019 in Seattle. The theme, 1619. 2019. Before. Beyond. Amplifying Our Intelligence to Liberate, Co-create, and Thrive, aligned with the international commemoration of the 400 years since the first British ship carrying captured Angolans arrived in North America, initiating enslavement of black African people.
As in years past, the PoCC is scheduled in conjunction with the NAIS Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC), a multiracial, multicultural gathering of students in grades 9-12, from across the U.S. and abroad. SDLC focuses on “self-reflecting, forming allies, and building community” and is led by a diverse team of trained adult and peer facilitators. This year’s conference, titled 1954. With All Deliberate Speed. 2019. Integrating Schools, Minds, and Hearts With the Fierce Urgency of Now – a reference to Brown vs. the Board of Education decision regarding the desegregation of schools, worked with students to develop cross-cultural communication skills, design effective strategies for social justice practice through dialogue and the arts and learn the foundations of allyship and networking principles.
As part of Saint Mary’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusivity, English Academic Chair Alison Chernin, Residential and Student Life Coordinator Meredith Primm, and five Saint Mary’s students – Sofia Cimballa ’22, , J’Lah Johnson ’20, Wilder Semans ’20, Aya Wehbi ’21, and Mimi Wellington ’21, were among the 7,000 students and educators attending the conferences this year. These participants return to Saint Mary’s eager to share what they have learned with our community.
“Attending the People of Color Conference reinforced the research that indicates that, across all industries, diverse teams achieve more,” says Chernin. “The workshops and speakers, especially keynote speaker Dr. Joy DeGruy, all emphasized the many stories and experiences that make up America and its systems. I feel that those of us in schools and in the classrooms must highlight the many stories that may be ‘hidden in plain sight’ so we can begin building empathy and inclusivity. From learning about land-recognition ceremonies to the true story about the giving of the Statue of Liberty, the conference reminded me to seek out opportunities to learn more about diversity in order to teach and lead with equity and inclusivity in mind.”
Also participating in the PoCC conference was Saint Mary's alumna Jeannine Eason Brown '94HS '96C, a presenter for the workshop: Beyond Buses and Boycotts: Revamping Black History Month and Your Entire School Calendar. Brown is on the faculty of Carolina Friends School in Durham, N.C.