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JULY 2019 4th ANNUAL BER CONFERENCE- The Power of Collaboration

'Black Educators Rock is the BEST conference I have ever attended! It’s like all star weekend, a family reunion and homecoming all rolled in one! Thank you Dr. Melissa Noland-Chester for your vision and inviting me to your platform.' - Ronnie Thomas

The moment I heard Science educator and entrepreneur Mr. Ronnie Thomas from Atlanta, Georgia, by way of Birmingham, Alabama, express his thoughts about being at the Black Educators Rock Conference in Charlotte, North Carolina, I explained my interest in wanting to use his quote as part of my article. I could not only hear the enjoyment expressed from the words chosen to explain his thoughts about the conference, but I could feel it in the passionate manner in which it was communicated from his heart. The camaraderie, networking, and ongoing celebrations and expressions of enthusiasm as each greeted the other with fist bumps, hugs, high fives, laughter, and affirmations could be felt throughout the duration of the 4-day event.

The sentiment of the BER Conference being like a family reunion is understood as you take the time to listen to how quickly attendees are quick to connect, share social media accounts, engage in spirited dialogue about what's been happening since the last time each was seen by the other, and so on. You never get the feeling titles, accomplishments, stature, or status matters being in the company of individuals highly sought after, celebrated, and successful in who they are and what they've achieved. Yet, there is a genuine mutual respect towards one another as people that allows you to feel as significant, accepted, and valued at the same time, much like a loving family.

At the same time, there is a sincere recognition and respect for who each person is and the value of their presence at the conference extended to anyone who has a genuine interest in sharing their knowledge, skills, and abilities to support the vision and mission of BER. Being able to meet someone as revered in the field of education as Principal Baruti Kafele, but feel as if he has as much respect for you and your voice, as others values his, speaks volumes to his person. The quality of the experience of being in attendance at this conference cannot be felt from reading or hearing about it.

Sitting shoulder to shoulder with distinguished African-American men in the field of education like Principal James Pressley and entrepreneur Fitch Larue while listening to them share openly and honestly about the work they put in to be successful and impactful creates a sincere endearment and respect for them as men and respect for what they do. You feel your chin rise a little higher and the need to straighten your back and square those shoulders, feeling a little more proud of who you are, exchanging thoughts with or listening to Dr. Marcus Jackson, Dr. Chike Akua, Carlos Johnson, J.R. Rivera, Dr. Shuan Woodly, Eric Cork and others. You feel more empowered and proud of your association with this diverse distinguished family of educators you may not see that often, but always look forward to the reunion just to connect and enjoy their company, even if only for a little while.

I can relate to that all-star weekend feeling expressed by Ronnie Thomas, whose infectious smile and personality makes you feel like family, being in the company of so many people as educators, authors, entrepreneurs, edupreneurs, speakers, and school/community leaders. Listening to them share their accomplishments and how they passionately involve and invest themselves to their craft, purpose, and people reinforces the principle of letting your light shine that others may see your good works and glorify God. Sitting amongst them I felt that sense of God's glory expressed through the lives of this great company of men and women who believe in the calling of serving and supporting youth.

'Are you walking in your why?' A question posed by Principal Kafele during an open candid discussion challenging us to consider why the talk associated with burnout occurs. His inquiry reinforces the understanding of why we need to take what we do personally and be passionate about what we do so when the storms rage, the winds blow, and the waters rise we can maintain course, direction, and press through in our role as educators arriving at our destination of triumph in helping youth thrive. The feeling and need to advance, achieve, and succeed can't help but be felt being in the company of all-stars and the great cloud of witnesses assembled that, by their presence, command you to run your race. When you take the time to really listen to what these celebrated men and women have accomplished, you should walk away motivated ready to inspire, influence, and impact the youth you serve.

The celebratory atmosphere of the conference is infectious and genuine that includes evening activities each night Thursday-Saturday, concluding with an awards scholarship banquet Saturday evening. Author, educator, entrepreneur, speaker, and annual attendee, Kwame Sarfo-Mensah, was recognized and awarded as the member of the year for 2019. Kwame has faithfully attended all four conferences validating the efforts of the organization to make the attendees feel like they are a part of the organization. Dr. Melissa Noland-Chester, CEO of Black Educators Rock, Inc., emphasizes the importance of playing hard while working hard in life, as well as at the conference. Content from each day of the conference, including keynote presentations in the morning or during lunch consistently includes tips and strategies for personal/professional self-care maintenance. Her passion and energy seems boundless and you can see the 'family' that surrounds and supports her ensuring the work of BER continues to advance. Faith, love, and being invested are consistent principles that come to mind reflecting on the person of Dr. Chester. You appreciate even more, her ability to be open, honest, and fun-loving, too, carrying the mantle of leadership for education gracefully, the way she does, while still enjoying the journey inviting others to join her along the way.

Stephanie, an attendee and presenter Sunday morning on the final day of the conference, shared her thoughts, 'The conference was organized with high quality speakers and facilitators.' She added desiring to see more content presented on technology and STEM. She enjoyed the round table discussion involving the females that took place early Saturday evening before the scholarship banquet, appreciating the diverse scope of women in attendance who led the discussion feeling it made the moment relatable to all ages and fields within education. Her hope is BER can continue to broaden its influence involving policy and invite the presence of decision makers to engage them in conversations about those who have influence on a national, state, local level regarding schools and students. She also inquired about how could communication improve to ensure that school districts could assist in promoting the conference to educators to increase attendance at the event believing the conference is valuable in content for more presence from educators.

The power of collaboration is evident by the diverse group of professionals who come together annually in celebration of what it means to be a black educator. It is evident the emphasis on being positive minded, progressive, and proactive are at the core of what is presented. The mantra and refrain of 'If not us, who? If not now, when?' Was repetitiously repeated with the understanding we are no longer in a position where we can remain passive waiting idly by for others to help us do the work for us, but that we are, at this point in time, capable and able to bring about reform, change, and revival for our own, now. There is a momentum building, a wave, a revolution, a revival of activism within the community of the African-American, much like the Civil Rights Movement of the 60's, that is calling out to more individuals to rally together on behalf of our youth, schools, and communities. Black Educators Rock, Inc. is more than a Facebook group and invites you to join in being a champion and hero for our youth, schools, and communities.

Cortland Jones is an educator in Prince George's County Public Schools in Maryland. Going into his 27th year as a writing enrichment teacher, Cortland has taught art and graphic design, served ten years outside of the classroom as a Peer Mediation Coordinator and has over 15 years experience as a classroom management workshop facilitator. Cortland is now a published author of two books, empowerment coach, and speaker and serves as CEO and co-founder of The Better Place, Inc.

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