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Reflections on Transformative Experiences at the 2023 NAIS People of Color Conference

Kent School representatives attended the 2023 NAIS People of Color Conference (PoCC), a significant gathering focused on fairness and justice. Hosted by the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) for over 35 years, this conference serves as a catalyst for professional development, networking, and leadership for educators of color and their allies in independent schools.

The theme of this year's conference, "Gateways to Freedom: A Confluence of Truth, Knowledge, Joy, and Power," inspired attendees to explore the intersections of personal and professional experiences. This theme aimed to nurture a collective journey toward truth, knowledge, joy, and power, drawing inspiration from the strength of ancestors and envisioning possibilities for the future.

Among the Kent School attendees were Director of Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity (EID) Torrey Hall; Photography and Media Specialist Kay Bermudez-Pires; and Assistant Director of EID Olivia Pena. Each offered unique insights into their experiences at PoCC and its impact on the Kent School community.

Torrey Hall reflected on how the conference theme deeply connected with both his personal and professional journey at Kent School. "This year's theme echoed our ongoing commitment to cultivating an inclusive and empowering educational environment. The focus on truth and knowledge aligns with our educational goals, while joy and power reflect our community's vibrant spirit and the strength found in our diversity."

The keynote speech was delivered by Dr. Gholnecsar (Gholdy) Muhammad, an Associate Professor of Literacy, Language, and Culture. She has previously served as a classroom teacher, literacy specialist, school district administrator, curriculum director, and school board president. She studies Black historical excellence in education, intending to reframe curriculum and instruction today. Centered around the concept of "Our students are already geniuses," the speech left a lasting impression on Hall. He shared, "She defines genius in students as 'the brilliance, intellect, ability, cleverness, and artistry that have been flowing through their minds and spirits across generations.' This expression of what students innately possess deeply connected with me and others, serving as a call to action to bring that experience to students at Kent."

Kay Bermudez-Pires emphasized how the theme deeply connected with her on multiple levels, saying, "As an immigrant, a Latina, a woman, and part of the LGBTQ+ community, the theme spoke to the challenges of finding freedom when placed in different boxes. One major lesson I learned from PoCC was to never apologize for who I am and where I come from."

She also highlighted a valuable lesson learned about supporting students of color, stating, "Attending PoCC has taught me much about diversity and how our students of color might struggle differently. I have learned how to support our diverse student body in a more mindful way."

Olivia Pena, a new member of the Kent School community, found the conference exceptionally powerful in providing a space to investigate and digest how she experiences truth, knowledge, joy, and power in her new role and within her new community.

"I attended a workshop titled 'Modalities for Supporting LGBTQIA+ Identities,' which focused on equipping attendees with models, skills, and resources for supporting students with LGBTQIA+ identities both within and adjacent to the upper school humanities classroom. I left this workshop with more than just ways to support LGBTQIA+ students but with notes and materials that can help instruct and support faculty of all disciplines regarding the preparation and implementation of trauma-informed pedagogy," Pena shared.

In terms of aligning with Kent School's commitment to nurturing a diverse and inclusive learning environment, Pena emphasized how attending PoCC energizes and empowers her to continue the important work in the Office of Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity.

"Each time I attend PoCC, it energizes and empowers me to continue the important work that we do in the Office of Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity," she said. "I left the conference with new materials, new understandings, and a fresh network of people and community that I am excited to incorporate into Kent School."

The energized perspectives of Kent's representatives, along with the valuable lessons and experiences gained from PoCC, significantly strengthen the School's ongoing commitment to creating a rich and inclusive educational atmosphere at Kent School.

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