By Nuala Cabral
Last Thursday, over two thousand people from across the country came together in Atlanta for Facing Race, a national conference on racial justice. Organized by the NY-based nonprofit Race Forward, the conference embodies the organization’s mission to “build awareness, solutions, and leadership for racial justice.” The timing of this conference couldn’t have been more perfect; only one day earlier Donald Trump was announced president elect of the United States. The conference, thus, became a space where folks could grieve and process the implications of this destructive election and strategize around ways we can respond.
Malkia Cyril, Director of the Center for Media Justice, asserted that the convening helped folks move from a feeling of shock and position of victimization to a position of strength and unity. “There’s only two places I would want to be after hearing about the election of Donald Trump: on the front lines with my people or in the backroom with my people. And this is more like being in the backroom, strategizing, building and connecting.” Cyril, who was a speaker at the conference, spoke about the intersections of digital technology, surveillance and mass incarceration– an industry that will certainly escalate along with the expansion of private prisons in the next four years.
As an educator, I arrived at the conference hurting and eager to build with others who teach and work with youth. I did not leave disappointed.
On the first day, I attended the workshop “Building Anti-Racist Schools: Strategies to Talk about Race and Racism” facilitated by Bianca Anderson and Laura Shmishkiss, where participants explored ways of confronting racism in our schools and organizations. We deepened our analysis of interpersonal, internalized, and systemic racism, and how these forms of racism manifest in our daily work. The next day I joined educators for a conversation titled “How are the children?” We posed questions and reflected on our role as educators. DC-based educator and artist Jess Valoris, reflected:
I am holding space for students to react, talk, process, vent, be fully self-expressed. I am supporting students who choose to resist through protest, and also students who choose to build through creating projects and initiatives. I am also committed to working with school administrators to explore how the school can be a sanctuary for students and their families, and a resource for further political engagement and training.
Like me, the demographic that Valoris works with are black high school students in an urban city. We acknowledged during this discussion that our experiences and concerns look a bit different from our counterparts who joined us from other parts of the country — rural, white America or more culturally diverse school districts. Many of these teachers discussed the challenges and alienation they experience when confronting racism in conservative white school districts. Some of them are the only teachers in their schools willing to openly address racism in the classroom. Together we brainstormed creative ways of interrupting white supremacy and racist micro-aggressions at school while navigating toxic administrations and the real threat of being fired.
At Facing Race I witnessed a multi-racial community committed to dismantling white supremacy in towns and cities across the country. I left the conference with a larger network, new strategies and shift in energy. When I re-entered the classroom this week, I felt a bit more equipped to be the educator I need to be: affirming, bold and unapologetic in the struggle for racial justice.
Nuala Cabral is a Philly based educator and filmmaker and national member of BYP100. She currently oversees youth media programs at the University Community Collaborative at Temple University.
Photo Credit: Race Forward, Facing Race National Conference