It's taken me awhile to process Viola Davis' stirring opening keynote. I've always respected her as a powerful actress, beautiful orator, and incredible representation of what happens when we allow folks of color to have complex roles and stories in tv and media and yet I still did not expect that I would be so moved by her talk. It was yet another example of the power of storytelling and what happens when we make room for narratives that are counter to what we hear about notions of success and heroism.
When folks trust you enough to hold their stories, it is an incredible gift and the reason why I will be forever grateful for Ms. Davis. That she allowed a group of educators that work in independent and private schools, that each are working through their own commitment to equity and inclusion and the ways that privilege shows up in our schools, to receive a story that holds so many truths and contradictions and complexities about a young black girl who loved school, had a fierce imagination, and an inclination towards acting and theater, who wanted to be and do better than what others imagined for her, who willed herself to escape the invisibility of poverty and the realities of a home where domestic violence and alcoholism reared their ugly heads, where she emerges a hero and has claimed that term for herself, is a true sign of how she has committed to speaking truth to power and her willingness to bare it all in the event we hear in her story the story of one of our young people.
And, I did. Listening to her, I thought about the many young people I have worked with these past few years and the messages they have received explicitly and implicitly about their value and worth in ways that were so dehumanizing and how I’ve seen them internalize these messages in harmful and damaging ways. I thought about the role of schools, and mentors, and affinity groups to be spaces that empower young people to be their authentic selves, especially those who feel they are regulated to the margins. It’s a message that has been ringing quite loudly for me in the past few weeks. Not too long ago, in celebration of Black History Month, our school hosted a talk by Darnell Moore, author of No Ashes in the Fire, who challenged us to think about radical love as our practice and our framework for keeping school. I’m actively trying to hone my own practice everyday so that I can perhaps be someone who helps our young people along their own journey to actualize their potential and be their own wonderful selves.
And then there’s the part that hit me the hardest. Not that I had identified myself in parts of her story but that I was still working through parts of my own. That as far as I’ve come in my journey and as excited as I am about what’s to come, that as a women of color, specifically a Black women, who has had great success in the schools I’ve attended and worked in, that even for me, imposter syndrome and doubt still rear their ugly heads and that perhaps I’ve internalized some messages myself that I need to continue working through so I too can show up as my full self at school and be a mirror/window for our young people who want to do the same. There’s more to say...but that will take time. Ms. Davis gave us permission to take the time to work through our stories and showed me what it looks like when you do. To be continued....