From March 2–4, 2017, educators, practitioners, and change-makers of all stripes will descend upon Appian Way for the 2017 HGSE Alumni of Color Conference (AOCC). The conference, which explores issues of race, gender, class, and education, particularly as they apply to communities of color, is celebrating its 15th year of creating spaces for these critical discussions. Students representing all 13 of HGSE’s master’s programs, as well as its doctoral programs, will lead panel discussions around the conference’s theme, “Define. Defy. Dismantle — Forging Our Legacy Through Activism.”
On Friday, March 3, the AOCC will kick off its Friday session with a keynote panel in the Askwith Forum, “Take Action: Advancing Justice and Equity in Today's Climate.” The panel of social justice leaders (listed below) will discuss their different paths to activism and the values they bring to the work. They will also share their advice for people who want to take part in the work and truly be of service to others and consider the question of how to build systems of sustainable activism.
The steering committee for the AOCC is made up entirely of HGSE students, including master’s candidates Rashaida Melvin, a committee tri-chair, and Akiesha Ortiz, who led the committee that identified and recruited this year’s keynote speakers. We spoke to Melvin and Ortiz to discuss their hopes for this weekend’s events.
What does “Define. Defy. Dismantle.” mean to you?
Ortiz: "Define, Defy, and Dismantle" in the short term applies to systemic racism. What is systemic racism? What strategies, people, and tools can we used to resist the nefarious impact of it within our communities as well as on a global level? Finally, how can we fight and resist against inimical perspectives and generational institutions that cause large scale inequities and detrimental injustice?
Melvin: I love it, I cannot deny. When we created this last year, before the election happened, we had no idea how relevant it would be now. Our main goal was for people to come to our conference and walk away with actionable steps, items they can use within their own communities, to help bring about positive change and promote social justice. It just so happens that if you’re defining things and defying things and dismantling, you can do exactly that.
How did the Askwith Forums panel come together?
Ortiz: Michael Blake is a lawmaker and personal friend who looks out for all people. Simran Noor does amazing work for social justice in New York. Albino Garcia founded this wonderful organization, La Plazita, in New Mexico, which takes people who have been disaggregated through their involvement with the law and gives them jobs and leadership positions. And Dr. Arshad Ali is a professor at Georgetown who works with social justice and inclusion. Everybody has a different path that they’re taking and they’re coming together to wonderfully discuss the values that they bring to social activism and how they became involved and advice for everyone who wants to have a part.
You hear the passion in their voices every time you talk to them, even if it’s an email or a text exchange. You can hear that committed passion, you can hear that they’re very excited to be a part of this, to share their experiences, hopes, and advice.
Melvin: We have done a great job of identfying a variety of people who are leaders in their communities within education but as well as within social justice.
In my opinion, being an educator is a form of working for social justice. It’s not in silos. There are so many different contexts that come into play in a school building that actually impact the justice that’s able to take place. I think it’s important to be able to hear people’s different perspectives and for it all to come together to really be part of the big picture.
What do you want attendees to take away from AOCC 2017?
Melvin: I want people to feel rejuvenated…. I want them to know something that they can do. It doesn’t have to be the biggest thing, it doesn’t have to be the only thing, but at least something that they can go back to their communities and do; something they can go back to their schools and implement; something they can go to their classrooms and use to inspire their students. We want the people’s reach to not only be the people actually attending the conference. We want it to spread beyond 13 Appian Way, we want it to go across the world.
Ortiz: I want to help give, activate, and motivate. I’ve been a teacher for a very long time, and I’ve been in education for 25 years. One person can really inspire students, children, anyone who looks up to them. I feel like it’s very important that others see the role they play in engaging others through their actions, their motivation, and inspiration. To me, it’s inspirational, it’s motivational, and it’s going to allow me to feel more fire. Can you tell that I’m already excited?