The words “joy,” “power” and “unity” echoed through the Dr. Effie Hall Jones Memorial Equity Lunch on Friday at AASA’s National Conference of Education in San Antonio.
The annual event honors Jones, a teacher, counselor and school administrator for 15 years and an associate executive director at AASA, promoting the interests of minority educators, women and children.
The luncheon at the convention center was once again a sellout with 240 attendees.
The 2023 winners of the Dr. Jones Humanitarian Awards were presented at the luncheon. They were bestowed upon Avis Williams, superintendent of New Orleans Public Schools, and Bren Elliott, chief of school improvement and supports with the District of Columbia Public Schools.
Williams’ work focuses on equity, excellence and joy. She talked about the need for joy in learning, in teaching and in leading. She finds joy in pouring into others through sponsorship, as Jones did. Elliott promoted the need to “plant trees under whose shade you will not have the opportunity to sit.” She then urged the audience to go plant those good seeds.
Rey Saldaña, president and CEO of Communities in Schools, gave the keynote address and spoke of knowing your power and bringing your full self to the work. He talked about his journey from South San Antonio to Stanford University and from San Antonio’s city council to the leader of a national profit that just garnered a $165 million investment from the Ballmer Group to expand their reach into 1,000 additional Title I schools.
Saldaña talked about the “moments” that make a difference in our lives — moments that help students see potential and value within themselves. Bill Milliken, founder of Communities in Schools sought to connect the disconnected, and that work continues today for CIS.
“Education is too often thought of as a way for some to escape poverty. In reality, education is the way we strengthen communities,” Saldana told the crowd after lunch. CIS currently works with 3,000 schools to ensure students aren’t disconnected and instead experience opportunity, protection and cultivation of their joy.
Bryan Joffe, director of children’s programs at AASA, presented AASA Executive Director Daniel Domenech with an equity torch (pin) for his longstanding commitment to equity at AASA. He was given a second equity torch and instructed to pass that equity torch onto the incoming executive director, David Schuler. In Domenech’s closing remarks at this annual luncheon, he stated, “We must find ourselves in a place of power in which we can make a difference, and it is incumbent upon us to do as much good as possible with that power.”
(Ashley Dawson is an AASA project coordinator.)