Home Minnesota Educator First-ever Uplifting Voices event connects, engages members

First-ever Uplifting Voices event connects, engages members

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Education Minnesota’s first-ever Uplifting Voices: A Racial and Social Justice Event brought members from across the state together Aug. 4 at the Wellstone Center in St. Paul.

Planning for the event started in April 2022, with the core team comprised of both MEA FIRE (Facing Inequities and Racism in Education) staff and members from our Racial Equity Advocate program. The members designed the event to look and feel different than other events, centering on interrupting whiteness, racial equity, social justice, and creating a space for folks from underinvested communities to feel welcome and able to participate and share.

“This was really member driven,” said Claire Torrey, an REA program participant and elementary media specialist in Eastern Carver County Schools. “When we talked about this with the REAs, everyone said ‘We need this.’ We wanted to make sure that people know we aren’t alone in doing equity work in schools across the state.”

The event was open to all Education Minnesota members who wanted to connect and talk about social justice unionism and racial justice in our schools, union and communities.

“We need to share our voices in a non-restrictive way,” said Valarie McWilliams Jones, an achievement specialist in Wayzata who served on the planning team. “We wanted the event to be a place where people can tell their stories and learn from each other.”

The event featured sessions and speakers, as well as open spaces for attendees to connect and share.

Session topics included multi-perspective storytelling, restorative practices, dismantling ableism and understanding community cultural wealth in the classroom.

Torrey presented a session on restorative practices. She is a trained circle facilitator and works with her district’s equity department when possible.

“The presentation was well-received,” she said. “We had a good diversity of people who have experience and were new to sitting in circle and with restorative practices. We discussed what we can do with students and how can we help carry some of this over into society as a whole.”

For McWilliams Jones, a big piece of the event was centering the voices of educators of color.

“People of color have solutions and want to be leaders in education, but we aren’t always seen in trainings, or we end up having to do the training if it’s about equity,” she said. “We want to learn from everybody, and our white allies need to step up and not be silent.”

It was important for Education Minnesota to host an event like this, said McWilliams Jones.

“Educators of color need their union, too,” she said. “We need multiple voices at the table to make sure all educators and students are heard and served.”

Members are already looking forward to planning for the next event.

“It’s really different from other events,” said Torrey. “Everyone should plan to come next year and participate, learn and grow as an educator and human.”

Thank you to the members of the planning team – Sack Banuvong (Rochester), Annette Davis (Robbinsdale), Amanda Hofer (Owatonna), Valarie McWilliams Jones (Wayzata), Shannon Kusnier Smith (South St. Paul), and Claire Torrey (Chaska) and Education Minnesota staff Jonathan Kim, Emily Mateo, Ilissa Morrow, Elizabeth Pettersen and Jessica Wilson.

If you would like to be the first to know about the next Uplifting Voices, or engaging in equity work within Education Minnesota, please reach out to Jonathan Kim at jonathan.kim@edmn.org.

What did members say about the first-ever Uplifting Voices event?

“It was so well organized and inclusive, just incredible. As I sat in the opening ceremony, I thought about how great it would be if kids in our schools felt that sort of inclusivity everyday. It’s a goal to aim for.”

“What I loved was how well we were treated, how warm everyone was and I kept thinking ‘I wish all conferences were run like this.’ It was truly a day of learning, camaraderie and belonging.”

“It was inspiring to see and how I can think of actions in a typical day to help everyone be successful!”

“This conference was a great experience! The presenters were so knowledgeable and presented their information in a way that made participants feel comfortable asking questions. The food and swag was the best I have had from any conference I have attended. The planning team clearly cared deeply about this conference and it showed. Thank you for the great learning opportunity!”

The first-ever Uplifting Voices event featured exciting artwork, food and “swag.”
The event was open to all Education Minnesota members who wanted to connect and talk about social justice unionism and racial justice in our schools, union and communities.

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