by Coron Brinson
I arrived in Houston, Texas on Tuesday afternoon on April 6th at William P. Hobby Airport. It’s my first time in this city though I’m no stranger to other parts of the state like Dallas. Of course, for those who know me, I was rocking my Atlanta Braves gear because my hometown’s world champs defeated the Houston Astros in a 4-2 series win back in October!
However, I was not in town for baseball but instead for the Education Leaders of Color (EdLoC) conference. I had heard about it from several educational reform leaders in Oakland. EdLoC describes itself via it’s website: “a membership organization that ensures young people of color have the support they need to thrive, capitalize on opportunities, and build generational wealth”. I’ve never engaged with the organization in any capacity before attending this year’s national conference. It was happening during my school’s spring break which was perfect. Aspire Bay Area Public Schools has funds for school leaders like myself to attend educational conferences so it all aligned for me to go. Many thanks Ms. Deloris Brown!
Admittedly, I was apprehensive when I learned the conference would beTexas, given the craziness around the Critical Race Theory law, voter suppression, and racist immigration policies. Sharhonda Bossier, the newly minted EdLoC CEO, and native Houstonian, explained the reasoning via “A Special Update ” email a few weeks before the opening of the convening. “ In moments like this, we must remember our purpose,” said Bossier.
EdLoC exists to support and stand in solidarity with leaders trying to dismantle the systemic barriers that have always existed for marginalized people in this country —specifically within the context of education. “We seek to eliminate discrimination everywhere it is thriving. We are fighting our battles in every state across the country, including Texas,” said Bossier.“ Seeing that message from the CEO solidified my decision to attend.
The conference was hosted at the swanky JW Marriott Houston which happens to be located directly across the street from the super boogie Galleria Mall. As I checked into the hotel, Houston’s native Beyonce ‘s “Upgrade U“ immediately popped into my head. Seeing the lobby full of my Black, Brown, and Asian brothers, sisters, and cousins felt at home in this exquisite space. I saw familiar faces on the first day of events such as Kimi Kean, Co-Founder and CEO at Families in Action for Quality Education, who gave me a warm welcome. I also ran into national educational warrior Sharif El- Mekki, CEO of The Center for Black Educator Development, who is doing some compelling work around increasing and supporting the black male teaching force in our country. I remember attending two of The Fellowship: Black Male Educators for Social Justice Convenings in Philly a few years back, which were spearheaded by Sharif. It was a very powerful space for me as a Black male educator! I also chopped it up with David Johns, former ED of President Obama’s “White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans.” Johns spearheaded the creation of the African American Male Achievement programs in Oakland and throughout our country. Now as ED ED of the National Black Justice Coalition, he is working to increase programming for Black LGBTQ and trans youth. I also reconnected with an old friend from undergrad, Anashay Wright who is the Founder and Chief Disruptor for Disruptive Partners Social Impact & Equity Firm. The last time we saw each other was 1999. I say all this to say that EdLoc brought i heavy hitters from all over the country.
The theme of this year’s convening was, “Resilience & Reinvention: Ensuring Families of Color Are Earning More, Building Wealth, and Thriving”. The opening fireside chat was a discussion between the current CEO of New School Ventures Fund, Stacey Childress who passed will soon pass the baton to the forthcoming new CEO, Frances Messano. Messano is the first CEO of color for the fund.. Stacey Childress noted that 80% of funders were white whereas the schools that they are funding are 90% Black and brown. It felt so empowering to see that hard decisions had to be made to ensure Messano’s voice was heard. Diversity was a key factor and the fund, had to disengage from funders who did not align with that vision. The strategic gradual release of responsibilities from Childress to Messano was impactful to the point Messano was in charge of more than 75% of the organization with two-thirds of the organization reporting to her, before being named the CEO. She was introduced to all top funders, so she could have the space to create her very own direct relationships with them. She even spoke on the controversy at the New Schools Venture Fund meeting in San Francisco. It highlighted the rift to dismantle structural racism and explore issues of race, equity, and education and their conservative and far right funders. She pushed through this pain point and decided to do the real work to ensure that funding AND diversity were at the center.
Ed Loc’s teach-in sessions were all valuable. They centered on food justice, unlocking home ownership, developing more inclusive learning experiences, shifting narratives for systemic change, and many more. Every space centered on Black and brown students and economically empowering leaders of the new majority. They held parties on both nights curated from local and LA based DJs that gave space for all attendees to get lit, swag surf, and also partake in the Cupid shuffle! It was fun for everyone to have a good time and let loose after days of enriching content.
The closing keynote speaker was the glamorous and motivational Edgar Villanueva, Founder & Principal, Decolonizing Wealth Project and Liberated Capital, who is a southern queer Native American man. He brought the energy to discuss ending generational poverty within our community. ” He spoke about how our capitalist society needs to stop demonizing poor people, which sadly represents many of our students in our schools. They are not poor because they are lazy or aren’t hard workers, but because of public policies enacted over centuries of our country’s history. These policies are a product of theft from Native American and Black people and Villanueva made clear that this history needs to be acknowledged, healed, and reconciled through reparations. He left us all with a hopeful message that our society is finally awakening and realizing the atrocities of our country, and that changes can be made with collective action. Conference goers were given his book “Decolonizing Wealth” and look forward to diving in.
It was magically powerful to be in the presence of educational leaders of color just as history was being made — Supreme Court Justice, Ketanji Brown Jackson, being appointed as the first EVER Black woman on the supreme court. It was motivational and inspirational to attend the conference, because there were so many people in the room who were building movements.. Sharhonda Bossier did bring to our attention the racial demographics of those at the convening which was approximately 75% African American, 15% Latinx and the remainder Asian and White, respectively. The conference did a good job ensuring that voices from all were included and that was one aspect of the conference I really appreciated. I left with ideas and hope about my very own future in the educational field.
The vibrations were high, connections many, and just know that this will be the first of many visits to the annual convening. It was powerful to be in the room with educators of color making a difference within their communities. I walk away with ideas and motivation to push the envelope to become one myself. Our city can be one where parents have multiple options for their children to attend quality schools, that humanizes them, makes them feel a sense of belonging, while engaging in a rigorous curriculum.
Until next time….take care everyone!