UCDS does a great job of vocalizing their intentions to help faculty and staff in supporting their professional development. A handful of my peers including myself were eyeing different workshops and conferences that we thought would help us grow individually and as a community. Fellow UCDS teacher Joey and I eyed this one conference for a while thinking it could shake up some stuff for the better. Myself and Joey went to the National Association of Independent School’s People of Color Conference (POCC) in Atlanta earlier this month. Joey and I fought to go to this conference because we thought it can help change and offer options that maybe weren’t present before. This is THE Conference and Professional Development event we thought we needed to jumpstart the big diversity talk at our school. When first arriving at the Convention Center we did not know what to expect because neither one of us had been there before. Once we got through the opening/welcoming ceremonies, the opening speaker Bryan Stevenson blew us away. He is a dynamic speaker and the founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative. He had 4 points that he covered during the speech.
The first point he touched was we have to get approximate to the problems we care about. Stevenson’s first point was that we can’t solve global, national or local problems at a distance. We have to get up close to the people and things we want to help, because that proximity helps us to truly understand them, their problems and the possible solutions. “We need to get closer to those places where there’s poverty, abuse and neglect,” Stevenson said. “There’s power in proximity.” He went on to explain his own personal experience while meeting his first death row prisoner while still in law school. You have to be close enough to be the change, you have to be close enough to be in it to make difference and to be engaged in the analysis and the fight for justice. I believe also that if you are close enough to the situation or in the middle of it all you should be uncomfortable. Being uncomfortable pushes you to make a change one way or the other. A lot of people I know of most who I met at the People of Color Conference in Atlanta are very uncomfortable and want to make a change for the better and create more opportunities available to those who aren’t usually afforded the same ones. This is big for me since I am an African American from Brooklyn, NY. I come from the so-called projects in Brooklyn but the education I received and schools I went to does not reflect that. I went to an all-white (what they call magnet /“gifted”) school that specialized in Math, Science and Computers in Elementary School all the way through middle school. I then went to a private Catholic High School where most of the people who looked like me mostly were on athletic scholarships, including myself, on both athletic and academic scholarship. I also went to a private Catholic University where I graduated with 3 degrees.
Every year while in school since being 4 years old I’ve wondered why more people in situations like mine weren’t given the same chances I have no matter if it was through academics or through sports (which I played from age 6 through my junior year in college). So as I thought back on everything I accomplished and went through I wondered how can I change, help or make a difference. To me going to this conference this was a great step.
Cemal Ford, 5th Grade Faculty