As I depart Albuquerque, New Mexico today, after having enjoyed multiple, glorious days of engaging in professional learning and development with a vast community of both nonprofit and K-12 peers, I’m holding so much space and gratitude for the warm, beautiful Indigenous people of the Tamaya and Santa Ana Pueblo, whose sacred lands cover 73,000 acres east and west of the Río Grande. Within the inviting bosom of their picturesque environment, I am energized, made anew and ever so grateful.
I salute the absolute beauty of my travel experience from the rich, inclusive professional learning sessions I was fortunate enough to both actively co-facilitate and eagerly participate in during what will long be regarded as a life changing and absolutely power packed, 3-day convening with several hundred educators from across the country at the joint Education First, NoVo and Rockefeller Foundation sponsored SEL In Action Conference; to being nestled in the healing space of the luxurious Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort & Spa accommodations. After being home bound, like many of you, over the course of the consecutive years of zero travels given the rigors of the still prescient, global pandemic – this initial excursion from the familiarity and safety of the comforts of my own home – was like a warm, bear hug and a spiritual retreat for the soul. Now, even in my travels home . . . My heart smiles from having been blessed with such an opportunity.
Perhaps the best way for me to share just a hint of the tangible highlights of the deeply meaningful time convening with hundreds of educators who are each worthy of salute, for the creative ways in which we have all respectively engaged in the grant award winning, arduous work of imparting culturally relevant and responsive, anti-racist, social emotional learning across K-12 schools and both rural and urban communities across this country, would be to provide insight into the remarkable educators I was fortunate to meet along the way.
I’ll start by extending heartfelt gratitude to Adam from Denver, Colorado who works on a neighboring Pueblo and had a ready smile, sound professional practices, and genuine enthusiasm to share re: having made the 2-hour drive to the conference to represent the meaningful work he and his colleagues do with our Indigenous youth on the Navajo reservation. Likewise, how fortunate I was to have met Stephanie, a middle school principal from Charleston, South Carolina who was determined to take back any/all of our “best practices” to help her ensure that her teachers would feel appreciated, inspired and encouraged to continue in their daily work. This priority was paramount to her because she shared that she increasingly sensed that they were already overworked, overwhelmed, losing strength, motivation and zeal just a few short weeks into the start of the school year. Kudos for any school leader willing, ready, and prepared to center the needs of her overworked instructional and support staff. I was transparent and effusive in my respect for her style of leadership.
I was admittedly impressed by and hereby express gratitude for having met Linda from Illinois (by way of NY), whose work in the community and former work as an engineer, offers her unique insights into how all educators must prepare for what she calls the “long game” of dismantling entire systems of oppression. I’m also grateful to have met Robin, Schevonda, Medina, and the beautiful Evelyn, originally from Cuba and who now lives and works in LA. during a brief yet meaningful roundtable discussion on organic topics ranging from how to engage our students in classroom discussions and manage to distract them from their phones long enough to activate the critical thinking and deep learning which comes from what Paulo Friere refers to as “naming the world” in the liberatory practice of acknowledging the five foundations of discourse.
And no doubt, as confirmation that God had clearly predestined that we share space, despite our meeting place occurring across the country, how fortunate I was to meet a Mother and daughter team from my own stomping grounds here in Detroit, MI. Given the admirable beauty, impressive reach and powerful impact of their nonprofit work with the My Sisters Keeper program here locally, I stood in awe of my newfound sister and an awesome grassroots, community leader in her own right, Tanesha Windom, whose powerful gift of discernment, spiritual anointing and commitment to our children and people, is rather effortlessly weaved through her admirable body of work in the local community. I must also express gratitude for the beautiful energy and infectious joy of my new friend, Anna, from California. She and I had the privilege of breaking bread together over a delicious Mexican culinary feast and then later, she found me and was kind enough to congratulate me on my recent opportunity to bask in the limelight of peer affirmation after I received such an incredible, rousing response from conference participants after having delivered my own Ed Talk. Thanks to her kindness and enthusiasm, Anna and I celebrated this moment by embracing as if we had known each other for a lifetime (fully masked of course), and even did a little celebratory dance to David Guetta’s inspiring jam Titanium, featuring Sia! Eternal gratitude to all who were so affirming and generous to me, in response to my brief personal testimony and aha moment.
I will wrap up my salute to the awesome educators I met (note: there are countless others, too numerous to name and for whom I give thanks), by taking the time to express deep gratitude and respect for the thoughtful and brilliant keynote address we received from dynamic author and educator, Dr. Gholdy Muhammad! From her, we were applauded for our body of collective SEL work, patiently advised how to be much more intentional in infusing joy in the work we do daily, and through her historically responsive framework, we were able to glean from countless, tangible examples, reflective of every grade level and subject area, to cultivate students’ genius in the key areas of identity, skills, intellectualism, criticality, and joy.
Ultimately, my post travel takeaway is that I will long treasure the authentic connections made with like minded educators from all walks of life, this past week. How utterly empowering it was to be in the presence of so many educational leaders, who are humble, talented, creative and intentional in their admirable levels of commitment to the work of advancing the status of what one fellow SEL presenter, Baionne, proudly referred to as the “global majority”, which is to say that together we pledge to increasingly meet the needs of the overwhelming majority of Black students and other students of color in this nation’s schools. And to that I can only say: Asé ✨