The Gathering: Educational Equality in the Community
The Gathering 2015 brought together more than 400 of Teach For America’s black staff members from across the United States. Although I’ve been on staff for a number of years, this was my first time attending the event, and it was a deeply powerful experience to connect with professionals within TFA’s Black community from many parts of the organization. The conference was uniquely impactful for several reasons – it provided opportunities for meaningful self-reflection, leadership development, enhanced networking and collaboration amongst our national TFA community, and enabled authentic interactions with kids and communities in St. Louis. Additionally, the conference was unique in its ability to bring together seasoned leaders in education, community organizing, and philanthropy to share their voices and experiences.
Rather than a mere “networking” or “community building” oriented conference, the Gathering served as a nourishing and empowering chance for personal exploration while also sharpening Teach For America’s strategy and efforts directed towards partnership with the African American community. One of the conference highlights was being able to teach a lesson related to Black History Month in St. Louis public school classrooms. My “cohort”, or small group of conference attendees that I spent much of the conference with, traveled to Shaw Elementary School, where we had the chance to teach a first grade classroom a lesson about brave young Ruby Bridges, one of the first students to attend de-segregated schools.
During the lesson, we discussed a book the students had read about Ruby, and then invited students to think critically about the context of de-segregation and the personal challenges Ruby Bridges faced as a young child. Following this, students had the chance to reflect on their personal experiences and sense of justice and equity, and were asked to compose a letter to Ruby Bridges responding to her experience. Even on the surface level, this was a special experience for students within the context of Black History Month – but also for the teachers, as many of us had never been taught about Ruby in our own first grade classrooms. On a deeper level, the first grade students were able to meet a diverse set of talented Black professionals from all over the United States who had come to spend the morning with them. While they were a little nervous and shy at the beginning of the lesson, by the end of our time together they were asking us to stay and to come again soon! As someone who did not have a single Black teacher in my K-12 education, the chance to be a role model for kids and engage with them authentically was very special to me.
I am very grateful for having had the chance to attend The Gathering 2015, and want to express my deepest thanks and appreciation to FedEx for helping to make this impactful event a reality. Thank you!