recap and photos by Ashley Comans, SBL Pgh Panelist and APOST HYPE Project Coordinator
Justice, equity, and excellence – were the focus of the Inaugural State of Black Learning Conference, held at Chatham University August 17th – 18th. The conference was organized to further the conversation and constant need for professional development opportunities, as well as train and equip educators to understand Black student development and improve their responsiveness to systemic inequalities impacting their everyday learning.
The conference featured keynote speakers, Dr. Chris Emdin, Associate Professor, Teachers College, Columbia University and Author of “For White Folks Who Teach in The Hood…And the Rest of Ya’ll Too,” and Dr. Valerie Kinloch, Dean, University of Pittsburgh School of Education. The conference also brought special guest, Derek Luke, the Actor from Antwone Fisher, Friday Night Lights, Catch A Fire, Miracle at St Anna, Biker Boyz, Captain America, and 13 Reasons. Along with Luke, a host of panelists and speakers headlined the conference’s two day agenda of workshop sessions, pushing the charge of improving the system in which Black students are educated.
Conference panels included, “Tracking the Data. Confronting Reality. Making the Changes”, “Royal Treatment: Bro Code”, “Royal Treatment: Girl Talk”, “Village Talk”, and “Learning & Hip Hop.”
“You got to be a people person to be a teacher. If you’re not a people person, walk out the room.”, said Tazhae Dean, a rising 10th grader at Propel Schools, and a Village Talk panelist. Centering youth voice was a central part of the State of Black Learning Conference. Often times, when discussing what is best for students, the last voice at the table is a student. SBL Pittsburgh changed this narrative by offering students a platform to speak for themselves and their experiences in education.
“Educators, I have one charge for you: help a young person find themselves,” said Kevin McNair, Jefferson Award Winner, and co-founder of 1Nation Mentoring. Moderating the “Royal Treatment: Bro Code” panel, the conversation dove deep into how providers must have genuine relationships with young people. Panelist Sam Morant Jr. said, “Kids don’t care about how much you know until they know how much you care.” This approach to thinking about relationship building is the way Sam knew he could ensure he was building authentic, real relationships with the youth he serves.
The State of Black Learning Pittsburgh conference assembled over 300 participants who gathered to in order to challenge themselves, their thinking, and approaches in relation to our education system and it’s effects on black and brown children. In its first year, the tone was clearly set on how we can and should think outside the box when it comes to educating students in 2018.