Dream Deferred Conference Prioritizes Achievement for African American Students

April Eberhardt The Black Lens

The College Board Dream Deferred/HBCU Conference has been happening for two decades. It started out as a small conference in Los Angeles, CA that focused on eliminating disparities within the education system for Black youth. Today, this conference has become a think tank for educational professionals to identify and understand systemic issues, while developing strategies and interventions to mitigate the conditions that cause disparities. Driven by Black leaders from across the United States, this conference is deliberate in centering Black excellence; professionals with expertise and insight facilitated workshops that ranged from examining modern day redlining practices to unpacking how mental health support for students is critical to their success within the school system and beyond. Consultants, principals, district directors, deans, higher education administrators, professors, counselors, and equity leaders were among those who, like a magnifying glass, zoomed in on critical needs shaping education for Black students, nationwide. Jaime Stacy is a School Community Specialist at Rogers High School, and she attended the conference this year in New York City. Stacy says that being in a space with other educators whose passion is centered around Black and Brown students made her feel validated as a Black educator. This was her second time attending. “It created an awareness of how important representation is in the space where I work, which is predominantly White. I felt empowered, but I also felt the wake of accountability to show up and demonstrate to Black and Brown children here in Spokane that success is obtainable, and their dreams do not have to be deferred.”

The opening night featured a screening of the documentary “The Right To Read” which follows how the 2nd Vice President and Education Committee Chair of the Oakland, CA NAACP, Kareem Weaver, is championing illiteracy as a civil rights issue. One of the executive producers of this documentary is LeVar Burton from the nostalgic PBS children’s program “Reading Rainbow.” BIPOC students are substantially behind in reading scores, and this documentary analyzes the failure of balanced literacy, which focuses on whole language literacy development. It expounds upon how the absence of phonics in reading instruction is crippling the academic success of students across the U.S., particularly those who have been historically marginalized. This is why advocates such as Weaver and Dr. Kymyona Burk, the Senior Policy Fellow for Early Literacy at the Foundation for Excellence in Education and former K–12 state literacy director for the Mississippi Department of Education push for phonics-based instruction. Dr. Burk was a part of the shift in Mississippi that took the state from 49 to 21 in the National Assessment of Educational Progress Report. Weaver and Burke were panelists at the conference after the screening, and further discussed the urgency of returning to phonics. It was emphasized that students cannot guess or memorize their way through reading, there must be skill employed to decode words by letters and the sounds they make.

The fight for literacy as a civil right resonated with Stacy. “In New York, the city that never sleeps, literacy is an issue that we cannot afford to sleep on. We have already suffered from policies and laws that made it impossible for Black people to obtain the right to read. It has been said that if you want to hide something from Black people, put it in a book. The only reason this has worked as long as it has is because books were unlawful for Black people to possess. After these laws were abolished and Black people were able to acquire books, the content did not reflect their contribution or their excellence. This is simply because the creators of the content control the narrative. Support for literacy is an opportunity for Black people to write their own stories. For this reason, we must wake up.”

Also, during the conference, Chancellor of New York City Public Schools, David Banks, and Sharif El-Mekki, the Founding Director and Chief Executive Officer for The Center for Black Educator Development, received the Dr. Asa G. Hilliard Model of Excellence Award. El-Mekki aims to diversify the teacher pipeline by providing support, coaching, and funding through the center’s Black Teacher Pipeline Fellowship. His goal is to “retain, recruit, and develop Black male teachers.” Other highlights of the 2024 College Board Dream Deferred/HBCU Conference included a discussion with Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett-Helaire, whose expertise in immunology propelled vaccine development for mRNA-1273, a leading vaccine for SAR-CoV-2 and an interview with historian Dr. Erica Armstrong, who wrote the 2017 novel “Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge.” This year marked the 20th anniversary of the College Board Dream Deferred/HBCU Conference and there was record attendance.