People of Color Conference 2023 Inspires Brewster Contingent

People of Color Conference 2023 Inspires Brewster Contingent
Suzanne Morrissey

Five Brewster faculty and Head of School Kristy Kerin attended the National Association of Independent Schools’ People of Color Conference (PoCC) November 29-December 2. The Association’s flagship conference, PoCC is a collaborative and supportive space where people of color and allies in independent schools pursue strategies for success and leadership through networking and professional learning. We asked this year’s attendees to share what they learned and are bringing back to campus after an experience they describe with words like “transformative,” “truly beautiful,” and “freeing.” (We also reveal who took full advantage of the St. Louis BBQ scene!)

Q. Who attended this year’s People of Color Conference?

Chris Brown, Dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: I was joined this year by Head of School Kristy Kerin, Assistant Athletic Director Both Long, and World Languages faculty members Margarita Proulx, Julian Lopez-Kelly, and Josefina Sanchez-Moneny. 

Q. Why did you want to attend the PoCC?

Kristy Kerin: This was my first time attending PoCC. I have heard for years that it is a powerful and important conference for educational leaders, so I wanted the chance to experience it myself. It was particularly meaningful being able to attend with a fantastic group of faculty of color to learn alongside and from them. Given Brewster’s mission, to prepare diverse thinkers for lives of purpose, it is essential that we continue to do all we can to develop the conditions, climate, and culture to ensure that all of our faculty, staff, and students feel a sense of safety and belonging. 

Chris Brown: This is my fifth time attending PoCC and as always it was a rejuvenating experience as a person of color. I attend for several reasons: To support those first-time attendees in their diversity, equity, inclusion, justice and belonging (DEIJB) journeys; to build new connections and networking opportunities; to reconnect with former colleagues; and to recharge the DEI battery and witness the beauty of being around so many educators of color. 

Both Long: It was the fourth PoCC for me. It was great to see many former colleagues and reconnect with people who helped create a space to recenter myself. 

Q. What was the most valuable workshop or session at the Conference for you? Did you have any “a-ha” moments during the week? 

Chris: Christopher Emdin’s Keynote presentation on private school structures and the barriers it poses for strong DEI work. Also, the need for administrators to be more involved in the DEI work/taking on more leadership initiatives in the world of DEI in order to show the schools’ true dedication to the work. 

Both: For me, it was the Faculty of Color Retention Workshop. 

Kristy: All of the plenary sessions were excellent and thought-provoking. Perhaps my favorite session was Gholdi Muhammed’s opening keynote, in particular her focus on the genius that lives within each child. It was a concept that centered my thinking throughout the conference as I considered ways we can do more to help each student unlock their potential at Brewster—and what barriers we need to acknowledge and address. It made me proud to be a part of a school that focuses on unlocking each student’s unique strengths, and that we do so within the context of community.

Margarita: Strategies for Supporting Biracial Children was perhaps the most inspiring session I attended. The deep discussions and self realization about racial identity has given me a new perspective about my own racial journey and that of those around me. I enjoyed the affinity groups and general sessions as well, as they provided inspiring insights which enriched the overall experience. 

Q. There were some great speakers at PoCC, including Dr. Lisa Talusan, who worked with Brewster just a couple of years ago. What message or idea stuck out to you among the speakers you heard? 

Margarita: Unfortunately, I was not in attendance at Dr. Lisa Talusan’s session, but Gholdy Muhammad was incredible and she talked about joy…joy as a leading step into every interaction, every situation, and for every person. She gave the analogy of our students as seeds that need to be cared for and nourished to grow. My redaction does not do justice to her inspiring presentation.

Kristy: Lacey Schwartz Delgado is a filmmaker who explored issues of identity. She shared clips from several of her films including Little White Lie, in which she shares her autobiographical story of growing up in a Jewish community, unaware of her full racial identity. It was a thought-provoking exploration of the human journey and the complex role that identity plays in terms of the way we see ourselves and the ways we are seen by others. 

Both: Brittany Packnett Cunningham spoke about the need to change the way we measure and the way we design our curriculum to better fit the needs of an ever-changing world. 

Chris: I’ll go back to Christopher Emdin. He did an amazing job explaining how the structure of private schools is built for the elite, and in order for strong DEI work to happen, the structural model needs to change. For example, not having DEI as part of the daily schedule, but instead always having it be an add on, typically having to happen after regular work hours. 

Q. The lineup for this year’s conference also included some interesting self-care and creative expression opportunities, like a PoCC choir! Did anyone participate in that? 

Margarita: I did not sing in the choir, but I took the opportunity to dance in their late night session just for dancing. I grew up dancing and it brings me joy. I loved being able to be “free” and dance to the music that speaks to my Latin blood. 

Q. Did you get to go to the famous St. Louis Arch? Or sample the local cuisine? We hear the BBQ in St. Louis is something special. 

Both: No Arch visit. I ate too much St. Louis BBQ, and the BBQ scene lives up to the hype!
Chris: No Arch visit but like Coach Long said, the BBQ did NOT disappoint. I’ve never seen Coach get taken out by meat before, but when you house a full rack of ribs, a slab of brisket, and make a sandwich out of fried chicken skin and the other meats, anything is possible. 

Kristy: I did have a chance to visit the St. Louis Arch Museum with Margarita and Julian. Unfortunately, the trams to the top of the arch were sold out. We walked the park grounds at dusk, reflected on the historic and current-day importance of the Mississippi River, and noted the diverse roots of the area during Colonial times. According to a plaque at the museum, “People came to St. Louis from around the world: French from New Orleans, Canada, and Europe, Refugees from the French Revolution, African, some enslaved and some free, American Indian, from the Osage and many other tribes, Spanish, from the Caribbean, New Orleans, and Europe, Some migrated from the West Indies, Holland, Italy, Ireland, Switzerland, and Great Britain.”

Margarita: From afar, the Arch seemed much more dulled than I expected. It wasn’t until I took the time to visit that I realized its true presence and beauty—a metaphor for people in the world, indeed! It was particularly special to have been able to do so with my dear colleagues. St. Louis is known for its barbecue. I HAD to try the ribs. It was delicious, but far better was to see Both consume barbecue like it was his last chance in life. 

Q. What do you plan to bring back with you to Brewster and implement in your work? 

Chris: There is so much to unpack with the conference, so I don’t know if I can specifically name what we plan to implement. However, I do know we will be meeting to dive deeper into the structure of the school and changes needed to make DEI work at the forefront of what we do. We will also be diving into the hiring and retention of faculty of color. Finally, we will be diving into what needs to be done in order for more community involvement, especially with the adults on campus. 

Margarita: As a woman of color, a Latina, I was empowered to be free. To let myself take the space that I have been restraining myself from. As a woman, to use my background to build other women and grow together and stronger against inequality. I came back with a transformative lens in which I allow myself to be my authentic self and can empower my female students to do the same. We have earned the right to take space and we should do so proudly. 

Kristy: Above all, I think I am returning with a new perspective and lens on the experience of our faculty and staff of color. That perspective will hopefully make me a better, more empathetic leader. One of my goals as a school leader is to support individual growth opportunities for high-potential faculty and staff. This conference gave me tools for engaging in deeper conversations about values, purpose, voice, and impact. 

Q. Are you glad you went?

Margarita: Yes! I want everyone to be able to experience PoCC and I am grateful to Brewster for giving me the opportunity this year. It is a conference like no other. It transforms you in ways that you did not ever imagine or intended. If I have the opportunity to attend again, I will do so without hesitation, but one thing that I came to understand from the experience is knowing that the world is filled with people of color and that I can live my very own PoCC experience everyday if I am intentional about it. So, you bet I will be!

Kristy: I agree with Margarita—the PoCC is unlike any other conference I have attended. It has all of the usual components of a professional development conference, including powerful and relevant plenary sessions and workshops for skill development and reflection. It also gets at the heart of what is possible through education and the ways we work with students to gain a better sense of self, grow in the context of a shared community, explore and test values, and develop character and leadership skills. The combination of skill building and opportunity for reflection and goal setting make this conference a unique professional growth opportunity. The conference also gave me a much better understanding of the experiences that faculty of color can have in independent schools, especially in communities where diversity is lacking among the faculty and staff. 

Chris: Yes. As I said earlier, this was my fifth time attending, and it’s always amazing to see the number of dedicated educators of color. The President of NAIS said “This conference has THE MOST hugs I’ve ever seen!” Which is true. The more you go, the more you connect, and more you bond with educators of color across the country. It’s truly beautiful. I can remember the first time I attended this conference. I went solo, didn’t know anyone, and was so lost. But people bring you in, they don’t let you be on your own, and truly feel a sense of belonging. Something not always felt throughout the school year for people of color in these spaces. I also loved watching my colleagues return from sessions with so much passion, so many stories, and so much joy. It’s a conference like none other and I am so excited for future conferences and the experiences our faculty and Admin will be able to have. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to bring students this year but we plan on bringing students next year and, the hope is, to continue bringing several members of the senior leadership team.