December 13, 2019

Oakwood’s Historic Trip to NAIS PoCC

Last week, Oakwood School sent a delegation of 14 faculty, staff, and administrators from both the elementary and secondary campuses to the NAIS People of Color Conference (PoCC) in Seattle, Washington. Additionally, 6 high school students attended the Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC), which was held simultaneously in the adjacent conference space. All together, more than 7,000 adults and students attended these joint conferences, the largest group to date and one in which 9 different countries were represented.

The purpose of the NAIS People of Color Conference is to provide a safe space for networking, collaboration, learning, and development for people of color and allies working in independent schools. This year’s theme was 1619.2019. Before. Beyond. Amplifying Our Intelligence to Liberate, Co-Create, and Thrive. The choice of the year 1619 commemorates a key date in America’s history—400 years ago, the first British ship carrying captured Angolans arrived in North America to mark the beginning of the enslavement of black African people. The theme also highlighted the indigenous cultures and people present before 1619.

For decades, PoCC has nourished and sustained people of color in independent schools. In essence, it is an international affinity group space, one that gives voice to, protects, affirms, and dignifies the unique experiences of people of color in our schools and society at large. It is a space to learn and a space to heal. It is a space to convene, and a space to share with people who understand. It is also a place to develop frameworks and gain valuable tools and ideas for continuing the important work of Diversity and Inclusion in our schools.

The NAIS Student Diversity Leadership Conference was born out of the PoCC by a small group of students. It has since grown into a multiracial, multicultural gathering of 1600 upper school student leaders (grades 9-12) from across the U.S. and abroad. For 25 years, SDLC has provided a space for self-reflection, forming allies, and building community. This year’s SDLC theme was 1954. With All Deliberate Speed. 2019 Integrating Schools, Minds, and Hearts with the Fierce Urgency of Now. The year 1954 in the conference’s theme marks the anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education, which unanimously ruled that the racial segregation of children in public schools was unconstitutional.

Oakwood Head of School Jaime A. Dominguez addresses the crowd at NAIS PoCC.

Oakwood is unique in its relationship to both conferences for a variety of reasons. First, 2019 marks Oakwood’s 32nd year participating in PoCC and our 26th at SDLC. Additionally, this is the largest delegation to attend an out-of-state PoCC/SDLC in Oakwood’s history. It was also the most varied with not only members of our student body, faculty, and administration represented, but also, for the first time members of our Advancement, Facilities, and Security departments attended. This level of representation is unique to Oakwood.

Furthermore, this year’s group included Oakwood’s new Head of School Jaime A. Dominguez. During one session, all people of color serving as Heads of Schools were invited on stage to introduce themselves and give a few remarks. While Jaime has attended PoCC in the past, this was his first time addressing the gathering as a Head. Here are Jaime’s reflections on that moment:

“As one of the few or only Latino Heads of K-12 schools in the United States, I had mixed feelings being on stage at the People of Color Conference in Seattle. One set of emotions I felt was both pride and gratitude in recognition of the strides we have made to be part of independent school education over the past several years. On the other hand, despite the fact that independent schools have been around for over 200 years, it’s hard to get my head around the fact that there are so few individuals with my particular background in leadership roles. Ultimately, I am excited to be part of a community that has a fierce commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

The excitement noted by Jaime was felt by all of Oakwood’s representatives. Our delegation has returned to campus with a revitalized sense of self and a valuable bank of knowledge and insight to continue the important work of inclusivity and diversity all throughout the Oakwood School community.