Earlier this fall, faculty, staff, and students traveled to San Antonio, TX, for The NAIS People of Color Conference (PoCC). Focusing on the commitment to equity and justice in teaching, learning, and organizational development, this conference has been hosted for over 30 years. And on top of having the opportunity to attend seminars and workshops, this group included three presenters from the Providence Day Community: Brian Li, James Edge, and Tyrone Jean. In part one of a two part series, we will hear about Li and Edge’s experience.
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Brian Li and James Edge teamed up to teach attendees about financial freedom and personal finance, as well as how to teach financial literacy. As Li continued to learn more and more about personal finance, he realized how inaccessible this material was to people of color. Assuming he was late to the game in this subject, he soon learned that many people of color are underserved in the financial realm. With this knowledge in mind, he and Edge pitched this workshop. For them, PoCC is just the start!
Q: What was your experience at PoCC?
Edge: This was my first trip to PoCC, and I did not know what to expect; I knew it was a very prominent conference that NAIS hosts. At PoCC, the cross-cultural workshops and sense of community were refreshing. I have never had an experience like this before, and it will dictate how I approach education moving forward, and even how I speak to colleagues from different backgrounds. The time I spent at PoCC was extremely valuable, and I sincerely hope I can go again. I could not recommend it highly enough for people of all different ethnic and racial backgrounds.
Li: I have attended PoCC three times before, and each experience was transformative in its own way, but this was the first time I have presented. It can be tough to explain PoCC to an educator who is not a person of color. The energy, inclusivity, and authenticity that shine through at this event create an incredibly unique environment like no other NAIS event. But, after a brief pause due to the pandemic, there were over 7,800 attendees, making it the largest PoCC to date. Being back together with friends and colleagues from other schools after the pandemic, the atmosphere was electric.
Presenting at this year's conference with an educator of the caliber of James Edge was the highlight of my career thus far. The love, inclusion, sense of belonging, and positive feedback that we received from the hundreds and hundreds of teachers who attended our workshop is something I'll never forget. So many people joined our workshop that the fire marshal had to come as we reached the conference room’s max capacity! I'm genuinely humbled and grateful to have been a part of something so special.
Q: What are your key takeaways from PoCC?
Edge: I have seen Brian teach before, and I've known the quality of an educator he is and how skillful he is as a communicator, but watching him in a room of other faculty of color was different. It wasn't performative; rather, it was so genuine that it seemed very much like it was what he was born to do. He was meant to change opportunities to improve the livelihoods of faculty of color. Serving in a role where I could support Brian in achieving that purpose was encouraging, so my biggest takeaway is a deeper appreciation for a colleague I already cared about.
Li: Having the opportunity to reflect with our EIB team after workshops and seminars helped me wrap my head around the things I was taking away from PoCC. James Edge and Kristen Santo were incredibly impressive and had set the standard of a white ally extremely high. It was beyond amazing to work with them.
On a more personal note, I have wrestled with belonging, self-identity, and authenticity issues throughout my whole life, but when put into this environment and witnessing how much James and I could accomplish in that room is an experience I will never forget. The love and appreciation we received from fellow educators put me on the road to personal growth for the first time. I have to believe in myself and understand that my authentic self is enough, and when surrounded by educators and allies, this growth is possible, and I am very thankful for that.
Q: What was covered in your presentation?
Li: For the past few years, I have taught our middle school students Personal Finance at PD. With the new Teaching Fellows program and the support of Marcus Smith, I spent a few hours teaching them about this subject, which made me realize that many people need a basic understanding of Personal Finance.
The state of education in America is in dire shape. Teachers of color are overworked and underpaid. Across the nation, they are leaving the profession in droves. The racial wealth gap continues to expand as too many of us struggle to save for retirement. Yet our value in the classroom has never been more critical. Financial freedom is not a dream.
I wanted to create a presentation that increased the accessibility of this knowledge to educators of color. Historically, the language of this topic has been mystifying, cluttered jargon. So, through our workshop, I wanted to make information about financial freedom and investing available. For people of color, generational wealth and retirement are not out of our reach; instead, we can learn about it and prepare ourselves for the future. My presentation and my quest boil down to this: sharing financial literacy and discussing financial freedom with educators of color.
Edge: For this presentation, I played a supporting role to Brian. As individuals aware of predatory mechanisms that have been used to disadvantage people from backgrounds that attend PoCC, we not only discussed content but also demonstrated what cross-racial collaboration looks like and how genuine it can be. So, while Brian was there to discuss personal finance and the path to financial freedom, I talked more about how people historically weaponize privilege and take advantage of some loopholes that have existed for generations. In collaboration with Brian’s material, I think it helped our listeners in various ways.
Q: What did you learn through this experience?
Edge: As far along as PD is, it was refreshing to see that there's still a lot of room to grow. It was great to be named as some of the leaders in this field and to see the accomplishments both PD and the EIB team have earned, but I learned that we are just scratching the surface, which is both validating and challenging. I think this discrepancy helps give our work a sense of purpose; we are on the right track, but we can go further.
Li: This experience was extremely enriching, both professionally and personally. On a personal level, the love and inclusivity I felt at PoCC encouraged me to reflect, helping me learn that I am worth it and I do belong. Professionally, what I learned at this year's conference is the apparent need for financial literacy amongst faculty of color. The desire is there, and the heart is there, but the accessibility is not, and we must demystify it. Due to the confusing jargon and nomenclature, the existing resources only increase generational wealth. People are ready to learn, but we need better resources.
Q: How do you plan to implement the things you learned at POCC at PD?
Li: James and I have been working nonstop since our return from PoCC. As we move forward, we're working on some exciting partnerships, future workshop ideas, course proposals, and various other initiatives while continuing to do our best to expand our finance and entrepreneurship footprint here at PD. I'm very excited about the future and how many people James and I can help.
Edge: I agree with Brian, and my goal is to work on collaborations on and off campus. Whether through businesses, organizations, or partner schools, I hope to increase the opportunities we have to learn from and teach students and faculty everywhere: continue to try to capitalize on the momentum we experienced at PoCC.
Since PoCC, Li and Edge have created an interactive Google Classroom with over 160 conference participants to keep up with curriculum updates and lesson plans making this topic more accessible for all educators!