When the email came informing me that I was being invited to Our Voice Academy, to say I was excited was an understatement. Before even reading the details, I knew anything Dee Lanier was a part of was going to be amazing. The sense of family was immediate. Within days of receiving the invitation, there was a buzzing Google Chat of other participants sharing the excitement and getting to know each other. By the time I arrived in Minneapolis, I felt as if I was gearing up for a family reunion.
Friday evening was kicked off with a powerful message by Judge Alan C. Page, who was transparent in sharing the obstacles he endured on his journey to becoming not only a judge on the Minnesota Supreme Court but the first African American judge to hold a seat. As Judge Page continued to share the mission of his philanthropic organization (the Page Education Foundation), which provides educational opportunities to students of color, and the story behind his co-authoring two children’s books with his daughter, the vision of Our Voice Academy emerged. We were here to be encouraged to give back to others and to simply tell our stories. Judge Page’s story would only be a small portion of the wisdom I would receive during this weekend.
We were instructed before arriving to prepare a two-minute dinner story to share with the group at dinner. Instantly I thought this activity would serve as a mini-audition for the team to “see what we were working with.” I was wrong. The bond that was established before we arrived was strengthened as hearts opened with personal stories of adversity, passion, and perseverance. Stories were shared that we, as educators of color, had lived or could instantly relate to. I was in a room of people who were sharing their stories but telling mine as well. Our stories and our nervousness continued to strengthen our connection.
Day One of Our Voice Academy, affectionately referred to as OV Academy, was no less impressive as the night before. Entering the headquarters of FlipGrid, we were met with a creative work environment and lots of great SWAG! A known fact in the education world that your training is only as good as your swag right? If that’s the case, the Rocketbook alone spoke volumes to what we were about to experience.
We all knew how dynamic Jennie Magiera, Ken Shelton, and Monica Martinez are as keynote speakers. Aside from their natural talent to share their stories, what was most inspiring and heartfelt for me was their willingness to share every aspect of their gift with our group to make sure we were the absolute best we could be in developing our craft. Each one of our mentors were open books. Each one took individual time with us to answer questions and provide genuine support. In addition to their expertise, the room was filled with other talented educators who provided support from a place of positivity and encouragement. Now, this was not an easy two days by any means. The moments of self-doubt and frustration were present but immediately countered by actionable feedback and encouragement from members of our OV Family.
The work of Day One was preparation. Day Two was the presentation. We were to take what we learned and share it with the group. Our stories had been clarified and polished to make our messages stand out. As each one of us presented, I heard explosive cheering and applause. There were pats on the back being given and lots of hugs. I felt confident and most of all supported in a craft I absolutely loved, sharing my stories. I had found my tribe.
As our final time together came to an end, we closed with a seemingly simple activity of taking 60 seconds each to share what we learned and our commitment moving forward. Easy enough right? As we moved around the circle, I learned that each of us was walking away with lessons that had nothing to do with how to keynote. We were happy to have learned how to tell our stories. We were happy to be in a room with beautiful, talented brown people who are often denied a voice on the “big stage”. We were happy to know we were forever part of a family committed to uplifting and amplifying the voices that are often muffled or brushed aside. I mean who cries leaving a professional learning event? I did. Quite a few times.
The Our Voice Academy was undeniably one of the most authentic experiences of my career. As a person of color in education, I’ve always been aware of the need for our students to “see” educators who look like them. Little did I know that same need was missing in my professional career. Because of that, I stand behind the same tearful commitment I shared in our culminating circle to support and amplify the stories of diversity that need and should be told around the world.
The OV Academy experience didn’t end once I left Minneapolis. Our Google Chat buzzes 24 hours a day where we continue to elevate and celebrate each other. The Our Voice Academy has left me excited about future opportunities to hear and deliver our stories with our voices.
Digital Innovation Coach
NC State University – Friday Institute