Education Minnesota’s first-ever EMAC Summit was held Oct. 20-21 with dozens of educators of color from around the state coming together to network, share and learn.
Organizers plan to make this an annual event, as part of the work being done by Education Minnesota’s Ethnic Minority Affairs Committee and the educators of color affinity groups.
Osseo math teacher Ternesha Burroughs brought the idea to Education Minnesota staff and fellow members of color on the Ethnic Minority Affairs Committee after seeing members of color coming together in dedicated caucus spaces at the National Education Association’s annual Representative Assembly.
“I said, ‘How come we don’t have a convening space like that?’ We wanted to have a dedicated space for any member of color to come,” she said.
A dedicated space for educators of color is important as Minnesota works to recruit and retain more educators of color to reflect our diverse student population. Currently, only 4 percent of Minnesota’s teachers identify as people of color. Research shows that students of color perform better academically when they are exposed to teachers of their race and ethnicity, and white students benefit from having teachers of color, as well.
Additional support and networking with peers from across the state can help keep educators of color in the profession, especially those who are isolated as the only person of color in their district. Educators of color are leaving education at higher rates than their white counterparts. According to a report by the RAND Corporation, Black teachers were more than twice as likely as other teachers to say they planned to leave their jobs at the end of the 2020-21 school year. That trend has been around before the pandemic. A Learning Policy Institute report in 2019 said that 19 percent of teachers of color move schools or leave the profession annually, compared to 15 percent of white teachers.
That is why the first night of the EMAC Summit focused on time for educators to connect, network and socialize with each other.
“Amazing Native American student leaders opened up our EMAC Summit with a powerful land acknowledgement, sharing their history,” said EMAC Chair and Minneapolis educator Geneva Dorsey.
President Denise Specht and Vice President Monica Byron, the union’s first Black statewide elected leader, joined the group Thursday night to welcome them and speak to the importance of the union hosting the event.
Friday featured a variety of breakout sessions, as well as a keynote session and healing circle in the morning. Breakout session topics included community organizing, member rights, running for union office, a legislative panel, local union governance, grant writing and leadership for education support professionals.
The 2022 Minnesota Teacher of the Year, the first Asian American Pacific Islander to receive the honor and the only licensed teacher of color in the Onamia School District, Sarah Lancaster also spoke and took part in the summit.
Marcia Howard, first vice president for the teacher chapter of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers and Education Support Professionals, spoke at lunch about the importance of being involved in your union.
“We are the union,” she said. “It is your local. It is your union.”
Annette Davis, a teacher in Robbinsdale who helped plan the summit, said it felt great to see the event come together.
“We are bringing in more people who look like us who don’t know the power of the union and they are going to leave wanting more,” she said. “There aren’t many opportunities that we are doing to get to do this, so our resources at Education Minnesota and the NEA and AFT can help us lead the way to make this happen and continue.”
The legislative panel featured Burroughs, who also serves as the Education Minnesota Political Action Committee chair, and Rep. Cedrick Frazier. The discussion included a robust question-and-answer section around voting and education bills at the state Legislature.
Burroughs said the first year was great and she is hopeful the event will continue to grow in future years. “Our first EMAC Summit was a powerful success,” said Dorsey.