This summer’s inaugural LEAD Conference tackled race and equity in education, systemic change in schools, and the challenges of healing from hate.
In a highly interconnected world, future leaders will need a deep understanding and appreciation of cultural difference. This means society, and educators in particular, must nurture ethical leaders who embrace discussions of race and equity—and who do not retreat into ideological comfort zones. This was the thesis behind this summer’s Leadership in Equity, Action, and Discourse (LEAD) Conference—the latest feature of a partnership between Sidwell Friends School and Howard University that focuses on elevating conversations about race and equity in education.
For one keynote speaker, activist and Smith College professor Loretta J. Ross, that means changing how we educate children and “calling in” people instead of calling them out—that is, broadening the conversation even when it is uncomfortable rather than publicly shaming, or “calling out,” people for having the “wrong” take, opinion, or stance. It’s a challenge Ross recognizes not everyone is ready for. “We are not all on the same time lines,” Ross told participants at the LEAD Conference, held on Sidwell Friends’ Wisconsin Avenue campus. “Many Black people haven’t healed from the trauma of white supremacy.” For her part, Ross had to confront her own anger when working with ex-Klansmen (whom she called the “boyz in the hoods”) in the 1990s. “When people give up hate, you have to be there for them when they do,” she explained. These men “were in pain—but they landed on the wrong reason for that pain. So if a Black woman can’t hate the Klan, the list of people to hate gets pretty short.”
Ross understands that these insights were formative for her, and that other people haven’t had the same experiences. “It’s a journey, not an event,” she said, adding: “I really do see the necessity of organizing white people against white supremacy. If white supremacy could have been defeated by its victims, it would have been long gone. It’s going to take all of us.” She urged conference attendees to think about how to “encourage white courage” and asked them, “How do you teach children differently?”
The LEAD Conference addressed that question head-on by bringing together collegiate, public, charter, and independent school educators as well as workforce leaders from around the Washington metro area to explore race, equity, and justice in school communities. The two-day event featured experts like Ross, as well as author and Alexandria City Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Gregory Hutchings Jr., equity instructional specialist Daryl Howard, race-in-education expert and Howard University Professor Shannon R. Waite, and journalist and Howard University Professor Stacey Patton, among others. The conference comprised small group discussions, keynote addresses, and time for participants to get to know one another. “The conference opened a meaningful dialogue between educators who rarely have opportunities to speak with one another,” says Head of School Bryan Garman. “I was especially encouraged individuals from community-based nonprofits joined us.”
Garman also noted that the Sidwell Friends–Howard University partnership has “truly met the mission of LEAD, by calling on schools to create more equitable educational environments.” For Natalie Randolph ’98, the Equity, Justice, and Community director at Sidwell Friends and a primary organizer of the conference, that is precisely the aim: “Hosting this conference not only aligns with our commitment to equity and justice; it is part of our goal to lift up ethical leadership. It’s also an opportunity to learn and grow as an institution.” To that end, the conference explored themes that directly impact Sidwell Friends, including empowering different kinds of learners, working with parents, taking microaggressions (and microaffirmations) seriously, teaching counter-narratives for critical thinking, providing anti-racist curriculums, and preparing young people for a diverse workforce. “The presentations were provocative,” says Garman, “the conversations moving, and the experience infused a sense of hope and possibility in everyone who attended.”