Over the past few months I have had the privilege and opportunity to deliver keynotes in various parts of the country. Many of those travels have taken me to several states in the south (Louisiana, Alabama twice, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia). One of the most recent opportunities I had was to speak at an event in Hazelhurst, Georgia. This certainly was not "just another trip" for me; I found myself contemplating and wrestling with lots of conflicting thoughts around going. I wasn't sure if I had made the right decision in agreeing to be the keynote speaker given the recent events, current narratives, and the fact that I was headed to speak in Jeff Davis County. I know there are many speakers that are afforded certain privileges, like not having to think about these types of things prior to doing their work, but I am not one of them.
In the end there were a number of factors that gave me a high degree of piece of mind prior to this speaking engagement. One is that I reflected on my many experiences speaking in areas in which I tend to be the only educator of color or at least the only speaker in the program that is an educator of color. In pretty much all but one of these instances, I have found that I am surrounded by like minded educators who share a passion for learning as well as a sense of "family" that I thrive upon. Another factor in this decision, and perhaps the most significant, was a wonderful telephone conversation with my primary host contact, Tammy Girtman, in which she shared with me several times that "we are so excited to have YOU coming to our event." That simple phrase helped me recognize that I was not only going to be welcomed with open arms, but that I would have an opportunity to share in a very unique experience with all of the wonderful folks that work in Jeff Davis County Schools.
Upon my arrival I was warmly greeted by Tammy, many of the support staff, as well as the Superintendent Dr. Stan Rentz. Dr. Rentz and I even had a brief chat about my college football days which added to my overall comfort level and excitement for being a part of this event. What's more important about this post and the purpose in me sharing this story is that my initial reticence and hesitations of going could have denied everyone at the event, and myself, the opportunity to spend time together around a fantastic day of professional learning. The larger message is the recognition and importance of providing a diverse and inclusive learning opportunity for educators that transcends breakout sessions and keynotes. In numerous instances, I have had attendees representing many race and ethnic backgrounds share with me their happiness, excitement, and gratitude that I was selected to be the speaker to spend time with them. In quite a few of these occasions I was the very first experience they have had listening to and learning with an African-American male speaker. This event was no exception and I am truly grateful to Tammy, Dr. Rentz, and all the amazing folks in Jeff Davis County Schools that we had this opportunity to learn together. I certainly hope to return in the future and I promise to pronounce “Vidalia” and “pecan” in the local dialect. Love to you all!!!
I will conclude this post with a quote that encapsulates my sentiment of this speaking opportunity.
A lot of times perception is not the reality and if we let our perceptions be our reality then we will never open ourselves up to new experiences.