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Passing the Torch of Knowledge

In its 20th year, the Alumni of Color Conference will honor historic movements in education as we prepare for a more equitable future.
Troy Lewis, Loyola Rankin, Sai Samboon

AOCC student tri-chairs (l-r): Troy Lewis, Loyola Rankin, Sai Samboon

Photo: Nakul Grover

Since 2002, the Alumni of Color Conference (AOCC) has been a signature event that cultivates conversations from HGSE alumni across the country. Through their unique perspectives, expertise, and research, HGSE alums hope to inspire students with current and timeless topics, with a specific focus on the educational experience of learners of color. Although past conferences have been in-person to celebrate a time for hundreds of students, alumni, and the HGSE community to come together, this year will follow a hybrid format following Harvard’s COVID-19 guidelines. 

For its 20th anniversary, AOCC's theme, Passing the Torch of Knowledge: Movements Toward Liberation Through Education, will honor historical movements — such as No Child Left Behind and the Every Student Succeeds Act — and prepares the HGSE community to launch into the future toward social justice, equality, and liberty for a more equitable and just world.  

Alumni of Color Conference"Being Navajo, we have a philosophy that when you climb the educational ladder, you must help those behind you," says master’s student Loyola Rankin, one of the conference’s student tri-chairs. "This is my way of giving back to the larger HGSE community. AOCC is a moment to honor and acknowledge those that came before us who may not have had the opportunities and resources we have today. It is one of the brightest parts of the HGSE experience."  

With fellow tri-chairs, master’s students Troy Lewis and Sai Somboon, Rankin believes that the torch of education has been passed on to them to lead the event's organizational efforts in its milestone year. In addition to honoring the social justice movements in education for marginalized communities, this year’s presentations will also talk about how physical movement can invigorate classrooms through kinesthetic activities and play after two strenuous and stagnant years of pandemic. Among this year's 50 diverse presentations will be explorations of current and timeless topics in education, including redlining, faith education, mental health, urban school reform, and undocumented experiences.  

On Friday, March 4, the conference will kick off with a keynote panel with members of the HGSE Alumni Council and AOCC co-founder Daren Graves, Ed.D.'06. After a full day of breakout sessions and workshops, the conference will culminate on Saturday with a "global shakeout" — an experiential mindfulness movement using dance to reduce stress and build community, followed by dinner and mingling. The detailed schedule can be found here.  

"The work of educators is heavy," Lewis says. "It's important for folks to understand that education is fragile and systematic against a lot of people's progress. If you're in this field and you want to be intentional about doing work in education, it's critical that you're able to refocus, reset, recharge, refresh so that you can be not only current about what's going on but also find new ways to invest your time, money, and energy. Events like AOCC are necessary for helping us refocus at the same time."  

AOCC will be taking place virtually and is open to all with some in-person components for current Harvard students, faculty, staff, and HGSE Class of 2021 alumni. The deadline to register for in-person events has passed; registration will remain open for virtual attendees until Thursday, March 3 at 11:59 p.m. (EST).