• Brearley

What I Got from Attending the People of Color Conference (POCC)--Gabe Sanchez, History Department

Several things come to mind. 
First off, my affinity group at the recent NAIS (National Association of independent Schools) People of Color Conference was incredibly empowering and affirming of my existence.  For most of my life, navigating the binaries of black/white or person of color/not person of  color has been a challenge. It is something that is a consistent source of frustration in doing diversity work in many different settings. I was intrigued by the presence of a multiracial affinity group at the Nashville conference and I very much looked forward to experiencing it. 
For the first time in a formal professional development setting (that I did not lead myself), I felt seen and heard in ways I have always desired.  Here I did not have to choose between mom and dad. I got this sense of relief and gratitude from others in the group and it was contagious.  Questions I have struggled with and micro-aggressions I experience related to being of mixed heritage were discussed and shared in ways that cultivated a genuine solidarity I have never experienced before. Now I feel as if I have hundreds of new sisters and brothers across the country that understand me.  I am so grateful for that experience and I will carry some of the exercises and discussions of that time into my work with students, and it will be with me forever.
Furthermore, the workshop sessions were enlightening and refreshing.  From colorism in the Latinx community, to supporting multiracial students, there were great questions being raised and food for thought that were nutritious for the mind and the soul. 
In many of these sessions (similar to the affinity group) there were participants who would share an idea or circumstance they experienced and I would think to myself, “Wow, they had to deal with that too!”  This is something I learned long ago is sometimes more powerful and influential than a clear cut answer: the sense that I am not alone in the struggle.  I felt inspired by the workshops and speakers to present next year at POCC and continue to partake in activates and spaces that I sometimes felt were outside my domain.  I have felt this way (in the past) because of my white heritage, but I left feeling a sense of belonging and belief that I have something to contribute to these conversations.
In all the above ways the conference was very fulfilling and rewarding, however I believe one of the more significant takeaways for me is the bonds I developed with colleagues.  My usual strategy at conferences is to make a select few substantive connections rather than getting to know large sums of people because my introverted nature leads me to not be a social butterfly.  I would often see some recurring faces from my affinity group at other sessions and I would talk and share ideas with those people and that was very nice. 
However, what I am most grateful for in terms of ‘networking’ was the time I spent with my friends who work at Brearley.  And I do mean friends.  It was so nice to get to know members of the Brearley community who I rarely get the chance to interact with or those who I had only met on a more superficial professional level.  Then there were others who I have interacted with much more often and it was nice to get to know them even better.  I feel so lucky to be surrounded by brilliant and beautiful people who are on the same wavelengths about so many important issues.  It was valuable to be able to discuss ideas presented in workshops and general sessions with colleagues and ground those ideas in the experiences of adults and students in the Brearley building.  
I feel a renewed sense of purpose in teaching at Brearley and know that I am part of a force of people who are committed to tackling some critical issues at our school. There is a quote from the Sioux chief Sitting Bull that says how as individual fingers we can be broken, but together we make a mighty fist.  That is how I feel in this moment in the aftermath of the conference, part of a fist that will remain raised in the air. 
The good work continues.  
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