I, like many, was sucked into the zeitgeist of Hamilton. So when I first read about Our Voice Academy on Twitter I immediately thought “I have to be in the room where it happens.”
I emailed a friend that attended and learned that this event was Jennie Magiera’s capstone project for her Pahara NextGen Fellowship. I patiently waited and hoped another cohort would be announced. As luck would have it, I was nominated to apply for cohort two and was invited to attend.
As the days got closer to the beginning of Our Voice Academy, I kept telling myself to not be nervous but I couldn’t help it. Going into the event, I knew we were going to learn about the art of crafting a keynote message, begin writing one, and then give a short version of the keynote at the Our Voice Academy event. While I knew all of this would be a challenge, something else worried me more.
I have always viewed myself as an advocate for students and educators of diverse backgrounds but knowing I was going to be surrounded by other educators of color intimidated me. Normally when I walk into a conference, it’s hard to find other educators of color; especially those on keynote stages. When I reflect on my day-to-day interactions in education, I’m lucky if I’m one of two people of color in the room. This number is even smaller when I think about the educators of color in policy or decision making positions. While I was excited for the opportunity to be in a space completely different than what I’m used to, I was afraid. I was afraid I was going to say something insensitive. I was afraid I’d make an assumption, or worse yet, I’d discover an implicit bias that was lurking in my mind.
When I walked into the room for the welcome dinner, I was quiet. I said hello to the people I recognized and hid behind a glass of water but I couldn’t hide for long. We had to go around the room and introduce ourselves and I couldn’t hide it. I declared to the room, “I’m hella nervous.” Acknowledging my fears in front of my cohort was the perfect way to start the experience.
I took a leap and my cohort was there to catch me. By being honest with my cohort, and with myself, I was able to open myself to the Our Voice Academy experience and to those around me. This is something I made a point of bringing home with me to Chicago. Since the event, I’ve tried to be more open and vulnerable with colleagues and friends. As difficult as it is, I encourage you to do the same. When we go back to school there are so many emotions our students and colleagues are feeling. Imagine how school climate could be positively affected if we could foster an environment where we all felt we could be this honest. For me at Our Voice Academy, this vulnerability allowed me to learn so much from the coaches and from the others in the cohort.
One of the most poignant moments of learning was when we were at dinner playing a card game about historical figures. A majority of the cards featured historical/famous African Americans. I didn’t say much until someone asked me what I thought of the game. I told the table I was angry, confused and ashamed that I couldn’t speak to the accomplishments of the men and women on the cards in front of me. Once again, my cohort embraced me. Being honest with what I was feeling gave me the opportunity to learn more about African American history in that dinner than I have in the many Black History months I have lived through. The environment that was built allowed for this to happen, and for that, I’m forever grateful.
There is magic in the room where it happens. Over the course of three days not only did we work together to create meaningful messages to share but we created bonds and memories that will last a lifetime. We were told that the word “voice” was chosen rather than “voices” because our individual voices are stronger when they are brought together. I am so excited to finish my keynote and one day share my message, but I am also invigorated by the messages being shared by others from my cohort. Best of all, the room isn’t just a physical space, it can be anywhere any of the cohort members are. Whenever we get to share our messages with others, we get to allow others into the room to grow and share.
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