Charles H. F. Davis III began his keynote address midday Friday at the annual Effie H. Jones Memorial Luncheon in an unusual manner. He led the attendees through a rousing rendition of what’s widely considered the “black national anthem” – James Weldon Johnson’s “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
Davis, an assistant professor of clinical education at the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education, invoked the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. throughout the address to encourage the 180 members of his audience to “let us be dissatisfied” with injustice.
“Let us be dissatisfied by the failure of our institutions, by our justice system and by systems of injustice,” he said.
Davis asked audience members to let their righteous dissatisfaction guide them to find solutions and to change the policies and practices that systemically place at a disadvantage poor children, immigrant children and children of color.
He challenged the lunch audience not to allow themselves to be comforted by the lies we tell ourselves or the lies we are told about exceptions to the rule or stories of overcoming (needless) adversity but rather to face up to the harsh truths in our schools and districts about who is placed on the path to success and who is not.
Remember the power of love in education, he said. The ability to reach and teach each and every student is a powerful act of love and requires us to not to deny the lived experiences our students bring to school.
“We must invest not just in the words of diversity, equity and inclusion but in the good works and actions that make those words our new lived reality,” Davis said.
Lastly, the attendees were told that the true measure of a person is where they stand in times of controversy and challenge. He asked the audience how they will measure up to the legacy of Dr. Effie H. Jones. A tall task for all of us, indeed.
The annual conference luncheon celebrates the legacy of the late Effie Hall Jones, who served as associate executive director of AASA prior to her untimely passing in 1996. The luncheon also honors school leaders who have dedicated themselves to the pursuit of equity and to the advancement of women and people of color.
The 2019 honorees included Wanda Cook-Robinson, superintendent of Oakland Schools in Michigan; Traci Davis, superintendent of Washoe County School District in Nevada; and Karl Hertz, past president of AASA and retired superintendent of Mequon-Thiensville School District in Wisconsin. Read the official AASA press release for more about them and the award.
(Bryan Joffe is an AASA staff member in the children’s programs department.)