Eleven faculty members from all three campuses traveled to Atlanta, Georgia, from December 8 to 10 for the 29th annual People of Color Conference (PoCC) for faculty from independent schools across the country.
The annual event provides a safe space for professional development and a networking opportunity for teachers of all backgrounds, according to its website. This year, 2,800 educators gathered at the Georgia World Congress Center to attend workshops with the theme of advancing human and civil rights.
Additional activities included book signings, lectures about inequity and injustice, an LGBTQ social hour, peer-led workshops, affinity groups, and meetings with teachers of the same region.
Educators chose which workshops and events to attend over the three days, the trip’s organizer and Director of Multicultural Services Lewis Bryant said. Mr. Bryant, who began the school’s 23-year long tradition of attending the conference, called this year’s one of the best, adding that the workshops he attended on white privilege were both timely and informative after the recent presidential election.
Although the main topic of the conference this year was the experience of faculty of color, teachers who are not of color were welcome to attend and gain a better understanding of their colleagues. Faculty just had to express interest to Mr. Bryant, who in November formed a group of 10 teachers to accompany him.
Middle School History Teacher Simone Miles Esteves said her favorite part of the conference was the opening speaker, Bryan Stevenson, the director of the Equal Justice Initiative—a nonprofit that provides legal representation to those mistreated in state jails and prisons. Mr. Stevenson spoke about making the world a better place for everyone, including “our most vulnerable citizens,” in a talk he delivered to both the PoCC and the Student Diversity Leadership Conference nearby.
Ms. Esteves added that the Native American affinity group gave her an opportunity to further explore her Wampanoag culture, from which she had previously felt disconnected.
“I was able to gather lots of good information about fostering and facilitating conversations across a variety of differences, as well as facilitating difficult conversations in general,” she said. “I would absolutely recommend PoCC to colleagues.”
Lower School Grade Six Teacher Berhane Zerom said he hopes to apply new problem-solving skills to help make the school a more equitable place. He said his favorite part of the conference was when a 14-year-old boy from Atlanta recited poems about police brutality and standing up for underdogs.
“Another highlight was listening to Martin Luther King Jr.’s sister, Christine King Farris, talk about fighting ideas, not people,” he said, adding that the message felt important and timely.
Upper School Math Teacher Mariah Napeñas, who attended the conference twice before with Lawrence Academy, praised the conference for facilitating connections among teachers with similar cultural backgrounds—an opportunity she said is rare for her back at school as a half-Filipino teacher with a mixed heritage.
“It was neat to meet other people that have experienced the same things that I have,” she said, adding that some of the discussions and stories shared were very empowering and, at times, quite emotional.
The PoCC has always been a place to connect with others and catch up with old friends, Mr. Bryant said, and teachers who attend commonly return in later years.
“When you go the PoCC, you get to just be yourself,” Mr. Bryant said. “It’s momentary—you know that you’re going to return to a predominantly white, wealthy environment—but those three days can be the difference between surviving in these environments and not. That’s how powerful it can be.”