In December 2016, six upper school students and nine faculty and staff members attended the annual People of Color/Student Diversity Leadership Conference in Atlanta. Hosted by the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), this inspiring event attracted 1,627 students and 3,631 adults from 42 states and five countries, the largest gathering in the conference’s history.
Attendees heard from a range of excellent speakers, including an opening keynote by Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy, who spoke about the inequalities in the US justice system, and how “we must have hope if we want to change things.” Richard Blanco, a poet who spoke at President Obama’s 2012 inauguration, entertained the audience while encouraging them to ponder the meaning of “home” and what it means to belong.
The conference’s closing remarks were delivered by Brittany Packnett, a national leader on educational equity and youth leadership development. As a graduate of independent schools and the current VP of National Community Alliances at Teach for America, Packnett's message was a powerful call to action in the face of racism, injustice, and systemic oppression. Through the telling of her own very personal journey, Ms. Packnett reminded the audience that this work rests not solely on the shoulders of people of color, but of all people. Speaking directly to students, Packnett emphasized the importance of resistance, persistence, and leadership.
Students and faculty who attended the conference returned to Hewitt full of renewed energy and enthusiasm for the ongoing diversity work taking place in our community.