Conferring

I’ve been at conferences for the past two weekends. I’d hoped to blog a little about the first one before going to the second one, but that just didn’t happen. A combined post may lead me to better thoughts and insights.

The weekend of 1 & 2 April I was at the Faculty Women of Color in the Academy National Conference in Champaign, Illinois. I needed this conference. I’m 4 years into the tenure process and finally focusing on projects that will build my career. But, I am more than my career.

Dr. Sonia Nieto opened the conference stating “I am my culture.” This sentiment contracted and expanded with me throughout the day as we recounted the ups and downs of being intersectional marginalized individuals who don’t necessarily know the academy’s code, speak its language and belong to the right clubs. But, while there we had access to each other.

Most of us came from campuses or departments where we are one a few Latino, Asian American or African American women, if not the only and we aspire to positions that are difficult for any women to attain even in the 21st century. I can wallow in the mud only so long before I’m ready for a visionary and uplifting message and that message for me came from Dr. Juliane Malveaux who spoke about resisting the nonsense we’re exposed to because if we become part of that then how are we creating space for our daughters? Or we could ask, do we want a piece of the pie or do we want to change the recipe? And how then, will we, will I, change it? They say we bring our experiences, our culture to all of our encounters and in that moment, I heard her speak of our need to reach out beyond these safe spaces if we really want to make change. If we/I want to be heard, then show up and in the showing up, look beyond my corner to understand the political in higher ed that will trickle down to my corner. Build allies and be an ally. I heard her reminding me to quite focusing on tenure and focus on authentically being me. Speak my voice. Now.

Being at the Virginia Hamilton Multicultural Conference is being in a space where I could authentically be me. This was my third visit to the conference, the other two visits about 10 years ago. Muscle memory kicked in and I could remember moving into these same spaces. What is it about this conference? It’s well done. The committee that puts it together is intent on honoring Virginia Hamilton, multiculturalism and children’s literature. The atmosphere is collegial and inviting. There are more people in attendance than past years I’ve attended, but not very many. The conference is 32 years old but not on the radar of teachers, librarians and scholars who are Native American or of color. The conference presented the Rudini (honoring Rudine Sims Bishop) to Angela Johnson, Jacqueline Woodson, Margarita Engle and Melanie Crowder. Authors Helen Frost and Mariko Nagai were present as was illustrator Christian Robinson.

I’ve spoken with so many people about the need for a sustainable diversity conference and here one is. I can’t really complain about what was lacking her because the conference can’t control who attends and it can only accept from presenters who submit proposals. I do know that on this same weekend other conferences that were held included the Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival (Hattiesburg, MS) Kweli (New York City), Augusta Baker’s Dozen: A Celebration of Stories (Columbia SC) and the Public Library Association Annual Conference (Denver, CO). As Nancy Tolson says ‘Events are like cowards. They never come alone.”

If I want to be heard, then show up and in the showing up, look beyond my corner to understand the political in children’s literature will trickle down to your corner. Build allies and be an ally.

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