Jamal Shipman, Lincoln School's Associate Director of Admission, reflects on a recent visit to Anaheim, California for the 30th National Association of Independent School's People of Color Conference.
As the buzzing and bustling simmered down in choreography with the dimming lights, Drew Ishii, co-chair of the of the PoCC local committee, began, “Is this a Beyonce moment or what? Alright! Let’s get in formation!” Appreciating the nod to pop culture, the audience offered up a wave of laughter and applause. He continued, “We welcome you to the 30th convening of the People of Color Conference!”
During my long flight and long taxi cab ride to the hotel the night before the conference, I felt increasingly excited for what was about to happen. The feelings I have about PoCC are similar to how you might feel about your family reunion (assuming that you enjoy being around your extended family). I’ve been working in and around independent schools since 1999 when I enrolled at Milton Academy as a freshmen. I worked as a post-placement counselor for the Prep for Prep program in New York City for three years after college. I spent five years in the admission office at The Lawrenceville School, and I’m now in the middle of my third year here at Lincoln School. Over that time, I’ve developed long, deep relationships with colleagues from all around the country. The PoCC is our chance to come together, commune, commiserate, and celebrate each other.
Walking into the convention hall for the opening ceremony was awe-inspiring. Students and faculty together made up close to 6,000 attendees ready to share, learn, and support one another. After Kimberle Crenshaw gave a amazing talk about intersectionality—the interaction of multiple identifiers and the particular challenges it presents—we were off to amazing workshops like “The Quandaries of Teaching about the Black Experience in America,” “Self Care of Professional Men of Color,” “Supporting Safety and Inclusion for LGPQ-TI Students, Families, and Colleagues,” and so much more. I learned a lot and felt reenergized to do my work in the admission office and to the support the work of diversity and inclusion.
Another gift that the conference provided was the chance to connect with some of the other faculty of color who work at Lincoln. During a dinner with Barret Fabris, director of the Center for Justice, Peace, and Global Citizenship, Theresa Crum, pre-kindergarten teacher, and Rannelle McCoy, history department teacher, we learned more about each other, more about the challenges of being a person of color in a predominantly white space, and were able to offer support to each other in new ways.
I’m tempted to say that the icing on the cake was getting to sit in the audience while Ta-Nehisi Coates, the author of “Between the World and Me” and national correspondent for the Atlantic, was on stage having a moderated discussion about his work. His book was assigned as faculty reading at Lincoln a couple of years ago, and it was a real treat to hear him talk about his journey and defend some of his work against criticism. In response to a New York Times opinion piece that calls him out for perpetuating white supremacy by writing about it the way he does, he simply responded by saying that he doesn’t understand how someone could believe that naming something is the same as creating it. He just considers himself to be reporting on the state of America from his vantage point.
I was particularly inspired by his response to the moderator’s question about how other cultures and races in America are affected by racism, discrimination, and prejudice. He said, “That’s a great question, and I’d love to read that article when someone writes it.” He went on to explain that he speaks from his own experience as a Black man in America; to attempt to speak for other people and represent their perspectives would be inauthentic. There are so many talented writers of all backgrounds who are perfectly capable of telling their stories—and they should.
The true icing on the cake, however, was when, at the end of the conference, there was a joint session with faculty and students where the students were in charge of facilitating discussions around discrimination and prejudice involving all of the identifiers. We were grouped with other schools in the region and the faculty were asked by the students to talk about how to handle real scenarios that happen in our schools. To see our girls step up and stand out as leaders amongst their peers at other schools was truly rewarding and reaffirmed that something special happens at Lincoln for all the girls, but particularly for girls of color.
At the airport on the way back, it was gratifying to see people wearing conference merchandise and overhear people’s conversations about the conference. There was a comforting solidarity amongst us who went and are now spread out all across the country at our respective schools sharing our stories with our communities. We truly embodied the mission of this year’s conference: “Lead, Learn, Rededicate, and Deliver: Voices for Equity and Justice Now and for Every Generation.” This is how we change the world.