The Alumni of Color Conference (AOCC) is home to me. I call it home because after attending and presenting at this conference for the last two consecutive years, it propelled me to apply and join the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) family to further my impact as a Filipinx-American Educator, Poet, and Entrepreneur.
AOCC is a convening of leaders of color and allies from all around the nation, both from HGSE and beyond. We gather for three days and share best practices in cutting edge research and social justice work focused on strengthening the diversity, equity, and inclusion competencies essential to all educational spaces that impact communities of color. In the past we’ve brought in the likes of Tina Tchen (Golden Globe Award-Winning Chinese-American Actress), Alejandra Y Castillo (National Director of Minority Business Development Agency), Dr. Christopher Emdin (Author of For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood….and the Rest of Y’all Too), Brandon Marshall (NFL Linebacker), Dr. Rhonda Y. Williams (Historian and Professor at Vanderbilt University) and more.
For both years, I had the opportunity to co-lead two sessions with my colleague Emmanuel Oppong-Yeboah (current HGSE student) entitled “Empowering Youth Voice through the Art of Spoken Word” and “Exploring Identity and Intersectionality through Poetry.” Through these sessions, we were able to share our expertise in facilitating culturally responsive and identity-rooted pedagogy with youth and practitioners in the field of arts education. Through this conference I was able to radically imagine myself into a position of collective power in solidarity.
GIVING BACK & SERVICE:
After getting my acceptance letter into HGSE, I knew I had to give back to AOCC. So I naturally applied to lead the conference as one of the Tri-Chairs. Our role is to design the vision and trajectory of a conference that pulls in 700 – 1000 participants. We also manage the steering committee to co-develop and co-execute the vision. After much deliberation with my fellow Tri-Chairs (Jen Kuang and Avriel Epps), we’ve solidified our vision to the following:
“Radicalize, Reimagine, and Reconstruct: Grappling with antiquated systems and designing alternatives to capitalism, systemic oppression, and monolithic identities.”
Chapter one of this vision is rooted in the term “Radical.” We chose this word because we recognize the need for a vision that dismantles the status quo. When we think of the term “radical,” the word “change” automatically comes to mind. In a reductionist era of Trump, radical change and coalition building are elemental to us surviving and thriving as leaders of color in white dominant spaces. Chapter two is entitled “Reimagine,” inspired by our nation’s desperate need for “radical imagination.” Radical imagination is ability to reimagine the world, life, and social institutions not as they are but as they could and should be. Our final chapter of this conference dives into “Reconstruction.” The idea to recreate and rebuild is the perfect coalescence after defining and rethinking how to approach these antiquated systems of oppression.
AOCC FAMILY & MENTORS:
I’m honored to have the ability to pay respects to my ancestors and work in solidarity with fellow students of color by bringing this conference to life in its 16th year. Through this work, I’ve been able to acquire incredibly talented, humble, and supportive family members and mentors. Among them are Tracie Jones (Assistant Director of Diversity and Inclusion Programming), Estefania Rodriguez (former AOCC Steering Committee Lead and Ethnic Studies Teaching Fellow), and Professor Christina “V” Villarreal (Professor of Ethnic Studies). These three leaders exemplify the type of leadership I want to embody and exude as I manage the Youth Empowerment, Communications, External Engagement, and Publicity committees.
MY PERSONAL AOCC VISION:
Beyond networking, part of my personal vision for AOCC this year is to co-empower youth to work alongside our steering committee. In order for this to happen, we created the inaugural “AOCC Youth Leaders Fellowship,” which will recruit two Boston High School youth leaders to co-design, co-host, and co-execute various aspects of this conference. In doing this, I invoke philosopher and educator, Paolo Freire, and his concept of perceiving students as experts to their lived experiences. We can learn so much from our youth experts, if only we give up our power and entrust it to them. Creating this fellowship was but another way of giving back and paying forward. It grounds me in why I was drawn to HGSE in the first place, and reminds me how I would not be here without my students.
*The AOCC Call for Proposals has just launched. If you would like to present on research, curate a panel, and/or have a workshop idea to facilitate, please visit the AOCC website!*
Written by Tony DelaRosa, photos provided by Tony DelaRosa
Tony DelaRosa is California by chance and Cambridge by choice. He’s a Filipinx-American Educator, Writer, Entrepreneur, and Poet. He cofounded two city-wide spoken word youth organizations: Indy Pulse (Indianapolis) and Boston Pulse Poetry (Greater Boston). At HGSE, he is a current student in the Arts in Education program. He serves as a Co-Chair of the Pan-Asian Coalition for Education, Communications Fellow for the Voice Program, and Tri-Chair for the Alumni of Color Conference. Find out more by visiting: CNN, The Hechinger Report, and NPR.