On Wednesday, December 2, the NAIS People of Color Conference (POCC) officially opened with a virtual performance of Brian Tate’s “Connected” sung by the PoCC choir and directed by Charlie Owens, chair of Maret’s Performing Arts Department. The song took four months to plan and prepare with singers from all across the United States. Carolyn Bottelier ’08 and Admission Associate Murugi Njoroge were part of the choir.
Njoroge described her first experience at the conference as “uplifting and enlightening.” Speakers Dr. Khati Joshi, Dr. Bettina L. Love, and Lezley McSpadden-Head inspired her: “They reminded me how important it is to speak up for justice—even when it’s the most difficult.” Nicholas Michalopoulos, chair of the Humanities Department, and Geetha Ingram, lower school science teacher, also attended.
This year’s theme for the online conference was New Decade, New Destinies: Challenging Self, Changing Systems, and Choosing Justice. The week was packed with workshops, master classes, affinity groups, wellness activities, and speakers. Several sessions stood out to Michalopoulos, including one on equitable grading, a second on teaching about slavery, and a third addressing the erasure of multi-racial students and teachers at independent schools. Ingram highlighted Rosetta Lee’s presentation on cross-cultural communication and Dr. Eddie Glaude Jr.’s keynote address in which he invoked James Baldwin and spoke about society’s unfulfilled promises to black children. Njoroge noted, among other resources, the power of two videos—The Most Searched: A Celebration of Black History Makers and Jesse Williams’s speech upon receiving the BET’s Humanitarian Award in 2016.
Although the virtual nature of the conference didn’t allow for the same moments of spontaneous connection usually experienced during the in-person event, Ingram said her second year attending still felt like “a homecoming.” She emphasized how important it has been for her to connect with other South Asian and Indian American educators in the independent school community. Michalopoulos also valued his time spent in affinity: “It was great to be able to connect with Middle Eastern teachers from around the country and discuss issues that we face as Middle Eastern educators, how we can support our Middle Eastern students, and also our role in supporting our other colleagues of color…I felt very much alive and heard.”
All of the faculty members in attendance are returning to Maret with much to share. Michalopoulos hopes to spread the word about Joe Feldman’s equitable grading techniques, and Ingram says that the conference has built her “confidence in addressing racial equity work in a more authentic and honest way.” Njoroge reflects,
I left PoCC feeling so encouraged to speak my truth and so empowered as a black female, a native Kenyan, a bisexual, and an immigrant. And, my main thing is being true to myself so I can lead by example and students can trust me. I care so much for their well-being. They will know without a shadow of a doubt by my actions—my Ruby Bridges kind of actions.
The NAIS People of Color Conference is the flagship of the National Association of Independent Schools' commitment to equity and justice in teaching and learning. The mission of the conference is to provide a space for leadership and professional development and networking for people of color and allies of all backgrounds in independent schools. PoCC equips educators at every level, from teachers to trustees, with knowledge, skills, and experiences to improve and enhance the interracial, interethnic, and intercultural climate in their schools, as well as the attending academic, social-emotional, and workplace performance outcomes for students and adults alike.