So, I just got back from the famed SXSWedu conference in Austin, TX. My head is spinning– and I am brimming over with passion for the type of work I get to do and the people I am lucky enough to be surrounded by. Mostly. I am also equal parts concerned that I can’t bring equal pay for women, access to high quality education for all, fix the diversity gap in tech and get people to stop being racist. Cause that would be ideal. For a lot of reasons.
Here were my biggest takeaways:
1) Love does, in fact, win. I went to a panel of real, actual medical experts with many letters after their names, who shared the disturbing fact that children in poverty’s actual sweet baby brains are changed, negatively, by the adversity they encounter every day. Their cells and their DNA literally shift due to chronic, toxic stress. My mama heart. BUT. The anti-venom? The silver bullet? Love and trust. Adults can buffer the adversity– TEACHER HEROES can create safe spaces of trust, and give hugs, and children’s brains start to heal. Olaf was not wrong: warm hugs.
2) There are girls in areas of the world that are literally willing to take a bullet to get an education. I saw a talk with the young woman who helped start the Malala Fund— and she spoke about the very real, painful truth, that we are engaged in a sustained war against women and girls. It’s being waged in classrooms in Pakistan, in the fields of Nigeria– and in the boardrooms and political halls of countries like the US. It’s being waged between women– Lean In! No, Lean Out!– in families over household work, in sexual harassment allegations in major corporations, and in places where the female body is considered so shameful that little girls are not allowed to play outside, lest they be seen as a temptation. There is serious work to be done and dear God, I pray, let it start now.
3) Mothers in Detroit, when asked what they need help with, respond “save our boys.” African American boys in the US are faced with institutionalized racism on a daily basis. Their sweet mothers have to teach them how to interact with the police (don’t stick your hands in your pockets, no sudden movements, be respectful, don’t raise your voice if stopped), due to the very real danger that they’ll be shot. The pipeline from school to jail is real for AA boys, and I listened to a panel, including Kaya Henderson of DCPS, talk about changing this paradigm. Did you know that 89% of school board members in the US are white? I would assume that’s part of the reason why we now need to backtrack and form coalitions like My Brother’s Keeper. How crazy is it that we need a mandate from the President to educate AA boys. If that’s not F’d, I don’t know what is. I mean, they’re kids. Educate them. Believe in them. Why is that not a given?
4) There is an 18 month gap in developmental level between poor kids and middle-to-wealthy income kids when they get to kindergarten. That stat came from a Latino male colleague of mine in an awesome talk on diversity in the tech industry. He shared a blog post after the panel where he talks about being called “Pedro” and “Jose” along with other ethnic slurs over his career in tech. He’s a super well respected Education Evangelist for our company and he encounters that crap. I would assume (hope?) he’s not experienced anything blatant where we are, but we all know that cultural, class and racial bias are just simmering below the surface, sadly. As the mom of two half-Latino boys, this one hit way too close to home. What are we doing for our brown boys?
This seems like a fairly depressing wrap up. Yeesh. And it is- except, that I have to say that I left feeling buoyed by the passion and hard work of all of the people I was surrounded by. My head is still reeling and I don’t quite know yet what to do with all of it. I was sad that I didn’t get to see Goldie Hawn this pm, or attend the Hip-Hop history tour of China interactive session. Cause when you’re at SXScrazy, anything goes.
What’s funny about SX is that you’re in these intense sessions all day, and then you walk out into beautiful Austin and you’re all “tacos! shopping! artisanal cheese!” and people are feeling the party vibe. I, true to my introverted self, played it low key and cooool, aka curled into a ball each night just letting the day wash over me while slugging down a glass (or 2) of malbec in my jammies.
Being a feeler of all the feels- I have a hard time just putting this away into a neat box. I need to let it sink in and then decide what to do with it all. More on that to come, but I’ll leave you with a thought: what if we all, today, committed to just one small action toward changing ANY of the things above? What would you do if you knew you could not fail?