Ten faculty members from all three campuses returned to Cambridge energized after accompanying Director of Multicultural Services Lewis Bryant to Anaheim, California, for the 30th annual People of Color Conference (POCC) from November 30 to December 2.
Hosted by the National Association of Independent Schools, the conference serves as a platform for nearly 6,000 teachers of all backgrounds—though 70 percent are people of color—to connect with one another and partake in leadership and professional development training in an environment that differs from the primarily white populations in many independent schools, according to its website.
At the conference, the faculty members chose from over 200 practitioner-led workshops, affinity groups, dialogue sessions, and speaker presentations to fill eight time slots over the three days. Evenings were free to allow teachers to socialize with one another or explore the city, Mr. Bryant said, adding that the primary goal of the conference was not just to discuss racial, ethnic, and cultural challenges.
“It’s first and foremost a professional development opportunity—an opportunity to be in the majority for a change,” he said. “Folks of color, who are the significant minority every day at their schools, have three-and-a-half days to be surrounded by people who look like them and have similar experiences. A lot of people also find this social aspect of it very empowering.”
Upper School Arabic Teacher Amani Abu Shakra, who attended the conference for the second time, said she enjoyed the greater Middle Eastern heritage affinity group session because she could connect with others with a background similar to her own.
“The affinity group is a safe space to discuss issues that pertain to my experiences as an Arab Muslim woman,” she said. “We talked generally about our lives but also focused on the experiences we have in schools—interactions we’ve had with parents, successes we’ve achieved in meetings and training, and challenges we have with students.”
She called meeting a Middle Eastern History teacher who was Palestinian, Judean, and American another highlight of the trip.
“Even though I don’t teach history, we found out we had a lot in common—he is taking his students to Morocco, and I am also going to Morocco with my students in March,” she said. “We exchanged information and got in touch.”
Lower School Spanish Teacher Omar Machado, who also attended the conference for the second time, said he most enjoyed listening to the opening speaker, leadership coach and author Anita Sanchez.
“She delivered a powerful speech about using our talents in our everyday lives, so we can really make a change as teachers and as human beings,” he said.
Middle School French Teacher Youssef Talha said after six years of attending the POCC, he still finds the conference intriguing each time. This year, he said, his favorite moment was hearing author and educator Ta-Nehisi Coates’ speech that closed the conference.
“His conversation in a large, packed auditorium focused on his newest book, We Were Eight Years In Power, and it was an eye opener for me,” he said. “It helped me understand more clearly the many layers of struggle students of color need to overcome in order to succeed. I will definitely bring Coates’ book to school and share it with my colleagues in the hope that it will raise awareness of the challenges that our students of color face.”
Mr. Bryant added, “[POCC] is for any teacher looking for opportunity and temporary escape from majority white environments. Black, Latino, Asian, LGBTQ+, Middle Eastern—there’s really something for everyone.”