“God doesn’t call the equipped, He equips the called.”
There are moments in time where African Americans have a chance to shine. For example, in 2002 at the Oscars when Halle Berry and Denzel Washington won the two most prestigious awards for Best Actor and Best Actress, we shined. In 1999 and 2002, when Lauryn Hill and Alicia Keys won five solo Grammy awards in the same night, we shined. There are other times when there is just black excellence everywhere. To give you glimpse of my weekend at the inaugural National Black Male Educators Convening held in Philadelphia, try to imagine those events I previously listed, NAACP Image Awards, and Black Girls Rock all wrapped into one with educators. That’s what this weekend was for me. Having the chance to be in the room with over 500 black male educators was simply breathtaking. Not to mention having the opportunity to hear from some amazing educators doing incredible work. One of my personal highlights of the weekend was I had the chance to facilitate the session “Elevating the Black Male Voice in Education.” Read more about that in an upcoming blog post.
This weekend, I was fortunate enough to sit in a room full of educators who are the who's who of black education and have my mind blown away with their wisdom, their insight, their passion, and most importantly their love for our black babies. Here is the recap from my weekend at the Black Male Educators Convening.
Friday Night was the opening ceremony. The night was kicked off with words from Pennsylvania State Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera. He talked about the important work that was ahead of us as black educators. One of the most memorable things he said was, “Having just one educator of color changes perspectives for a lifetime for all students.” Those words were powerful because it reminded us that our work as black male educators has an impact on all students not just the black students. He spoke with so much passion and love for education and the work of education students of color. Next, was Shavar Jeffries, President of Democrats for Education Reform. Mr. Jeffries challenged us to fight harder and push harder to ensure black students receive a quality education. He spoke about the importance of not giving up. He said, “The education of a black child is inherently a political thing.” That quote reminded me this work of educating black children is ingrained in us and it is part of the fabric of who we are as educators and a nation. Those two speakers were just the preview of the greatness that was about to happen.
Bright and early at 8 a.m. over 500 black educators packed the ballroom on the third floor of the Sheraton in downtown Philly ready to celebrate this inaugural occasion and learn and receive insight from some of the brightest minds in education. The opening panel picked up right where the speakers the night before left off. The session was titled Stay Woke: Taxation without Representation - The Invisible Tax on Teachers of Color. This session of heavy hitters including former US Secretary of Education John King, School District of Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite, former Executive Director of White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans David Johns and it was moderated by one of my favorite educators Kaya Henderson, former Chancellor of DC Public Schools. This session comes from an op-ed written in the Washington Post by Secretary King about the “invisible tax.”
Sometimes you get a chance to sit back and listen to excellence and that panel was every bit of it - so many gems dropped. Here are some of my favorite quotes. David Johns spoke about the importance of self-care. He asked a question that had everyone thinking, “How can we as educators do our best for kids when we are not at our best?” Secretary King said, “We have no future as a country if we fail to educate low income students or students of color.” These students represent the diamonds in the rough that will be the beacons of hope and prosperity for our country. For too long they have been left in the dust and it is time now for us as educators to ensure their future.
Immediately following lunch was the second of three panels for the day. This panel was titled The Movement: Then and Now. This panel featured Head of School for Edison Charter Salome Thomas-El, Marquette Professor and Educational Expert Howard Fuller, and CEO of Wayfinder Foundation Chris Stewart. These three gentlemen kept everyone on their toes. You couldn’t help but to switch back and forth between the three of them. Just as with the first panel, there were many gems shared during this session. Principal Thomas-El hit the nail right on the head when he said, “One day with a great teacher is worth more than a lifetime of study.” In a room full of teachers, he reminded everyone the power a teacher has. It cannot be underestimated how important the role of the teacher plays in the lives of students.
The final panel of the day really brought home the theme of the conference, “Stay Woke.” During the opening session CEO of The Fellowship Vincent Cobb spoke truth when he said, “Being here is an act of protest. We are taking a knee and in fact reclaiming our time.” This panel was called Radical Educators: Activism in our communities, classrooms, and schools. Why there can be no separation between activism and education. The panel featured Derrell Bradford, Robert Simmons, DeRay McKesson, and Brittany Packnett. DeRay kicked it off by challenging us to not just love the idea of equity, but to also love the work that comes with equity. One of the highlights for me of this panel and probably of the weekend was when Brittany Packnett said, “Go and be your black selves. Have the audacity to be authentically you.” I felt chills. She spoke truth and power during that session and definitely left everyone feeling inspired and excited. She was right. By being our black selves it gives black students the permission to do the same.
After a full weekend of unapologetic blackness and black educational excellence, I left Philadelphia and returned to Indianapolis inspired. I have a new fire lit inside. I have to take all the gems I learned over the weekend and I have to put it into action. It is time to go to work and do the work necessary. The most important thing this weekend taught me was there is power when you get black male educators together. The rally cry for The Fellowship rings ever true “2% is not enough.” It is not enough and we must inspire more black men to become teachers and we must also support and retain the black men that we have. Thank you to The Fellowship for hosting this convening it was much needed and all too inspiring!