For the last two days, I’ve been at Changing the Odds, a conference co-sponsored by Harlem Children’s Zone and PolicyLink. If I had talked to you about this last week, I’d have been a bit whiny, talking about how I didn’t really feel into it, how I was only going to go for part of one day just to make an appearance and say I’d been.
Yeah, right. Tonight I’m saying how glad I am that I was able to go, that I was able to rearrange my schedule for today so that I could attend the full second day, how honored I feel to have had the chance to listen to some of the wonderful speakers who were there …
It was an inspiring couple of days. I wasn’t sure in the morning yesterday if I was going to love it. I wasn’t sure after the first workshop if I was going to love it. I started to get a clue during the lunchtime keynote from Geoffrey Canada, the founder of Harlem Children’s Zone. I wouldn’t say I’ve become one of Canada’s groupie’s — of which there are many. In fact, he tends to irk me more than a little bit. BUT … there is no denying that the work he and his staff have done in Harlem is visionary. And he’s a good speaker besides.
I had to miss the afternoon sessions because I had a meeting at work that I couldn’t change, but instead of going home after the meeting, I went back to the conference for the evening keynote because Marian Wright Edelman was giving the address. I have always admired Edelman and couldn’t pass up the chance to see her in person, to hear her in person. And I’m so glad I went back. Her address was powerful. I left for the night with so very much to think about, so much that’s still running around in my head from her speech.
Then this morning! Ok, with a 7:30 start time, I was pretty sure Canada and friends were high, but I still made myself get up and get out because the first panel of the morning was going to include Mayor Cory Booker from Newark, New Jersey and I didn’t want to miss the chance to hear what he’d have to say. That first panel included more than Booker, of course. I got to hear from Mayor Otis Johnson from Savannah, Georgia as well as Adolfo Carrión, who was Bronx Borough President until he was tapped by Obama to be Director of the White House Office of Urban Affairs Policy, and Ron Sims, the Deputy Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. All four men were great, but Booker and Sims were my favorites. Sims blew my mind at every turn. He had so much to say that was so on target, that made me feel optimistic about the kinds of things BHO’s administration could achieve.
I went to an excellent workshop in the afternoon and then the day was capped with our final keynote address from Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education. His speech was pretty inspiring, too. I was especially happy to hear him say that he wanted to move away from straight test scores as the only measure of performance. That was encouraging, though I’d like to hear more about what he’s thinking there … and I’d like to see what he’s going to do.
I think I’m a little star-struck right now. This was a pretty high-profile couple of days. But it’s more than just the cool speakers or the fact that Cory Booker is kind of cute. I left with a renewed sense of purpose and a lot of ideas for things we need to be and could be doing, both at my job and with WE LEARN. There’s more I want to talk about from these two days, but I think I need to sit with it all a while longer. Stay tuned …