Several AISR staff members had the opportunity to attend the Facing Race conference sponsored by Race Forward, which took place in Atlanta from November 10 to 12. Here, two of these attendees share their reflections about the powerful experience of being at the conference just after the presidential election.  

Alethea Frazier Raynor, Co-director, District & Systems Transformation

1423 Last week was the week that was. But I had the incredible fortune of having my week bookended by two powerful experiences to let me know that this week, there is a way forward. It started with two days of training in facilitative leadership for racial justice as part of AISR’s diversity and inclusion action plan, and it ended with three days at the Facing Race conference in Atlanta – surrounded by a sea of 2,300 leaders and foot soldiers for equity and justice who smiled at me, hugged me, embraced me, and shared their knowledge with me.

I was left full at every bend and turn, starting with the opening plenary led by Michelle Alexander and leaders from Black Lives Matter, Standing Rock, and other movements for justice. They dropped knowledge not just about their movements, but reinforced how movements build movement. As Alicia Garza said, Black Lives Matter created networks to take action, spaces to have “radical imagination,” and she urged us to create more space for people to have a voice. She and others reminded us that our fate and our destinies are connected. All of the movement leaders encouraged us to move past shallow solidarity models and to form deep relationships and alliances for “mutual defense support” – not “singlefying” ourselves or our issue, but finding other efforts that we can connect to.

"Multiracial Movements for Black Lives" plenary panel chaired by Michelle Alexander, 2016 Facing Race Conference

In the sessions that followed, presenters dropped so much knowledge, I could barely keep up – words of wisdom about storytelling and the need for us to understand how to tell a story, not give a description. They challenged us by asking, “Are we telling each other the same broken narratives?” They gave us new ways to think about storytelling by investing in the “art space” and using fiction and comic books. And they left us answering the critical question: “Given what you just heard, what is one big story that needs to be told in this next period?” 

I have so much more that I could share from the conference - things I learned through both content and process. Stay encouraged.

Keith Catone, Associate Director, Community Organizing & Engagement

1424 The day following the election, AISR held a staff meeting to hold space for the grief, despair, anger, disbelief, anxiety, and disorientation most were experiencing. Then, a group of us were fortunate enough to travel to Atlanta to attend the Facing Race conference hosted by Race Forward with over 2,000 other participants committed to racial justice. For me, the conference was the exact place I needed to be, among people who shared not only a collective emotional state, but also a strong sense of solidarity and commitment to re-centering ourselves, our communities, and our work for a just world. It helped that so many visionaries and movement leaders were present in Atlanta. In the opening ceremony, Rinku Sen reminded us that as much as we might feel a need to retreat, we need to “look up” so that we can see each other and address the world and work ahead with “radical imagination.” The next day, Alicia Garza called upon us to “double down on what deep solidarity in practice looks like.” Manju Rajendran later assured us that “the path to freedom is through” and that often “conditions get the hardest before we overcome.”

At AISR, we believe that sustainable and equitable education change stems from the knowledge and expertise of everyone in our communities, from the “bottom” to the “top.” I challenge us, in this moment, to use our voices – voices of clarity, voices that ground us, voices that help us see each other and a way forward, voices that powerfully invoke love and solidarity, and voices that center our communities and what is important to them – to speak back to the ugliness of white supremacy, misogyny, transphobia, homophobia, Islamophobia, and xenophobia that plague our country, and to continue working for educational justice.