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AOCC 2023: Authenticity and Activism in Education

This year's Alumni of Color Conference will take "A Journey Toward Healing"

Since its founding, the HGSE Alumni of Color Conference has brought together educators, scholars, artists, and activists — both from the HGSE community and beyond — to share best practices, new research, and innovations that strive toward diversity, equity, and inclusion and strengthen educational spaces for people of color. This year’s conference, A Journey Toward Healing: Authenticity and Activism in Education, being held on the HGSE campus March 3–4, will explore how being authentic — as people and as educators — is a form of activism and central to a collective healing.

Speaking in advance of the conference, student co-chairs Justis Lopez (Ed.L.D.) and Sari Saint-Hillaire (Ed.M.) — discussed this year’s theme and what attendees can look forward to.

What drove you to become involved as student co-chairs of this year’s AOCC?
Justis Lopez
Justis Lopez

Justis Lopez: I have attended AOCC in previous years as a participant, and it was the experience that gave me the confidence to see that I belong here at HGSE and could be an enrolled student. To see so many beautiful and brilliant Black, brown, and beige folks together in one space inspired my spirit deeply. A few years later, after serving in various roles for the conference as a DJ and host, I have the honor to be able to give back to an experience that means so much to communities of color on this campus and beyond.

Sari Saint-Hillaire
Sari Saint-Hillaire

Sari Saint-Hillare: I got involved as a student co-chair because I wanted to stand behind a cause I really cared about. Having graduated from undergrad last May, I felt intimidated at the idea of being at this institution. AOCC provided me with relationships and support I will never forget. This conference embodies everything I stand for from the people presenting and the topics being presented. Now it goes so much further where community members, especially BIPOC, can come in this environment and see those who look like them thrive while prioritizing healing.

Tell me about the theme, A Journey Toward Healing: Authenticity & Activism in Education.

Lopez and Saint-Hillaire: In a world where we are always expected to “be on,” we are celebrating simply being. Simply human being, a conception of educator activism offered by [Carolina] Valdez as “the struggle for the inalienable right of all people to human be.” This year's theme  is putting an emphasis on celebrating people of color in all of their essence. Remaining authentic is activism. The constant messaging of how to “be” often stands in direct opposition to who we are, and thus being our authentic selves, is a form of activism and central to our collective healing. It is important to name what we are striving for and not only resisting against.

Education and activism are not synonymous;  it is an intentional awareness of and navigating through violent spaces on an individual, interpersonal, intuitional, and ideological level. Education is not only practiced in a classroom, it is celebrating ancestral knowledge and wisdom. It is the continuation of practices that allow us to thrive. Our knowledge is power, our connection to our ancestors is power. It is by knowing history we know self, but if there is no history, there is no self.

What we invite into this space is something beyond the classroom. This is the education as activism we hope to embody at AOCC this year. Educating others and ourselves only pushes us further.

So come be with us. You are welcome as you are. This is a season of healing.

What can attendees expect from the conference?

Lopez and Saint-Hillaire: An intergenerational experience that has been intentionally crafted to center restoration, community, celebration, love, and joy. We will have everything from a private tour of the hip hop archive, to an open panel session with HGSE professors Karen Mapp, Christina “V” Villarreal, and Bianca Baldridge and others. We will have opening remarks from our incoming professor of practice Shawn Ginwright that will focus on healing-centered practices. An opening keynote Friday from Jamila Lyiscott — “Dr.J”— on racial healing and a moving keynote to close us out on Saturday with Manuela Welton.

We have more than 50 sessions with more than 700 registrants joining us from across the country and world centering everything from healing through food, philanthropy, art, education, activism, and so much more!  

What do you hope people take away from the conference into their careers as educators?

Lopez: You are enough.

Saint-Hillaire: It's worth it to do the work.


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