Amplifying Our Intelligence: A Snapshot of 2019 PoCC and SDLC

“I am sure you can feel the collective power in the room,” NAIS President Donna Orem said in her opening remarks to the more than 7,000 adults and students who attended the 32nd NAIS People of Color Conference (PoCC) and the 26th NAIS Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC), which took place in Seattle last week. The energy––at the outset and throughout the conference––was palpable, electrifying, and healing.
The event, held on the land of the Duwamish people, honored the past—the first enslaved Africans that touched shore in Jamestown, the First Nations peoples and their civilizations that existed before European colonizers arrived—and imagined a future in which safe spaces are co-created and not defined by those in power.
The conferences were about both place and action; the themes for each put the spotlight on both history and the future: The scope and depth of the conference served as a rallying call and a reminder. “The fierce urgency is not now but right now,” said SDLC Co-Chair Rodney Glasgow. An urgency for action because equity and justice work can’t just fall on the shoulders of students or be siloed to one area of school life, embraced by the lone practitioner or a handful of educators of color. It touches every corner of school life, from grading, curriculum, mission, and leadership and needs to be centered. According to local committee PoCC Co-Chair Dori King, the conference provided attendees with an opportunity to gain “new knowledge, empowerment, and liberation.”

General Sessions

As the sounds of the West African drummers who performed before her introduction faded into the background, Joy DeGruy took the stage to deliver a powerful opening message about memory—how it can live in our DNA, how it can hide in plain sight, and how it can be intentionally distorted. She began her talk by recalling the trauma before the enslavement of Africans in the Americas as many either died en route to coastal towns or died in bondage in castles, waiting for the ships that portended a harrowing, one-way trip. 
Subsequent speakers reinforced DeGruy’s point and the theme of the conference: In our quest to create a more just society, we can’t jettison our memories or our pain. Valarie Kaur, whose family friend was the first person killed in a hate crime after September 11, 2001, reminded attendees that revolutionary love also embraces opponents but not at the expense of self-love. Read more of PoCC guest blogger Celeste Payne's impressions here.

Other general session speakers included Mike Walsh, Anand Giridharadas, and Pedro Noguera.

Featured Speakers and Workshops

In addition to the general sessions, attendees had the opportunity to gather in common spaces for affinity groups, featured speakers, and workshops. Some rooms became places of healing and solidarity and others were a place to build toolkits for leadership development or for creating more inclusive classrooms.  
For more insights and perspectives on the many sessions and dimensions of the conference, check out the #NAISPoCC hashtag on Twitter and Instagram.

In Closing

For the closing ceremony, after the PoCC choir filled the room with music, Dori King took the stage and delivered attendees home with a message from a student she found scrawled on scratch paper: “Inform, educate, do not go off.”
In the spirit of that message, we hope that attendees of both conferences will continue the journey from last week. What does the return to school look like? How do transformative moments at PoCC become ongoing ones at your school? As you unpack your literal and metaphorical suitcases and reflect on these and other questions post-conference, consider writing for the Independent Ideas blog or Independent School magazine. Writing can be a great way to amplify your perspective. If you’re interested, send us a note at [email protected]. Inquiries and initial ideas need not be fully formed. We look forward to hearing from you!