Educolor: Elevating the Voices of Public School Advocates of Color
This is the second post in a three-part series about equity and anti-racism issues discussed in sessions at the SXSW EDU 2019 conference. Links to the other posts can be found at the end of this article.
This session featured three members of Educolor, an organization that “seeks to elevate the voices of public school advocates of color on educational equity and justice.” The presenters were Lorena German, a teacher in Austin, Texas; Julia Torres, a teacher librarian in Denver; and José Luis Vilson, a math teacher in New York City and Educolor’s executive director.
It was a wide-ranging conversation that started with describing what Educolor can offer its members—“an inclusive cooperative of informed, inspired and motivated educators, parents, students, writers and activists.” The friendly dialogue made it clear that the organization is a source of affirmation and mutual support. Educolor also has a newsletter with materials from members and a resources page that recommends dozens of educational equity and justice books, articles, movies, and websites. Their website even sells #EduColor t-shirts, hoodies, stickers, and coffee mugs.
Much of the session was spent responding to questions from audience members. One question was “How can innovation outside the system intentionally disrupt, transform, and liberate the system?” One panelist responded that district leaders find it hard to listen to voices that are already within the system, such as those of teachers. To outsiders who visit a district, she suggested “bringing the eyes of the people who gave you the money back to the people within the system who are working to make change.” Specifically, she said to identify the most marginalized people in the school and advocate for their voices to be heard.
Another question was “How can white teachers in predominantly white institutions participate while also getting out of the way to make room for voices of people of color?” One piece of advice was to speak up in response to racist actions and structures. Another was that white people should not do anti-racist work with the goal of getting “getting some shine,” such as praise or payment. A third suggestion was to support and invest in students, teachers, and principals of color disproportionately, because they have been underinvested in for a long time.
Echoing the “anti-respectability” discussion in the last post, the topic of “deconstructing professional norms” came up because one of the panelists had brought her baby, who was at the back of the room (with a caretaker) making audible baby sounds at times. The panelist said that opposing the professional norm of having children out of sight and earshot during formal presentations would benefit equity and anti-racism efforts.
Educolor strongly encourages new members to “get activated” with their group. As described on their website, they host monthly chats, encourage mutual sharing through social media using the hashtag #educolor, offer mentoring, and enlist volunteers to provide mentorship to group members in their areas of expertise. As an organization, their principles include belief in the need for everyone to critically examine their role in working toward justice, and building a more effective way to reach equity and justice in public education for everyone.
The sessions to be reviewed in the final post in this series are entitled Deep Poverty and Deeper Learning, and Let’s Get Real: A Primer for Allies. Links to the others posts in the series are:
- Amplifying Messages on Equity and Anti-Racism from SXSW EDU
- Deep Poverty, Deeper Learning, and Being an Ally
- Designing for Equity: Leveraging Competency-Based Education to Ensure All Students Succeed
- Designing Outcomes Aimed for Equity
Eliot Levine is the Aurora Institute’s Research Director and leads CompetencyWorks.