The Arts
The Arts at EHS

Empowering Change: 2023 People of Color and Student Diversity Leadership Conference

In late November, 16 Episcopal faculty and staff members attended the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) People of Color Conference (PoCC) in St. Louis, Mo. Each keynote presentation sought to enhance the understanding of diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, and equip the faculty, staff, and students with tools to advance these conversations within their respective schools. This year’s conference theme was "Gateways to Freedom: A Confluence of Truth, Knowledge, Joy, and Power." Over 8,000 attendees from hundreds of independent schools descended upon St. Louis for three days of workshops, keynote speeches, and fellowship.

Concurrently in St. Louis, Natanim Bekele ’25, Chloe Cha ’25, Chloe Chen ’26, Leo Melton ’24, Helen Milito ’26, and Ivy Tjoeng ’26 attended the NAIS Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC), a multiracial, multicultural gathering of student leaders from independent high schools across the U.S. and abroad. SDLC focuses on self-reflection, allyship, and community-building. Tjoeng described the conference as an eye-opening experience that helped her understand more concepts about diversity and inclusion: “I was deeply moved and inspired by the many emotional stories other attendees shared. Their vulnerability has encouraged me to speak up on issues in my community.”

The weekend started with a keynote by Dr. Gholdy Muhammad, an author and professor who studies Black historical excellence in education. Muhammad expanded on her books “Cultivating Genius: An Equity Framework for Culturally and Historically Responsive Literacy” and “Unearthing Joy: A Guide to Culturally and Historically Responsive Curriculum and Instruction.” Brileigh Pinkney, admissions associate and multicultural recruitment coordinator, recalled a charge from Muhammad that resonated with her: “Part of this work requires extending ourselves and stepping into uncomfortable spaces. Where we are today should not be where we are tomorrow if we know our students need something greater.” For Pinkney, PoCC “empowers and reaffirms the work we as people of color pour into our students daily.” 

Helen Milito ’26 said that her SDLC experience surpassed all expectations: “I was and still am united with over 2,000 other high school students who, like me, are working in their schools to create a more equitable space for students of all backgrounds to learn and experience joy in the classroom.”

Workshops were organized into distinct tracks, offering participants myriad options relevant to their needs.With over 150 workshops, the conference provided ample opportunities for attendees to foster growth, acquire knowledge, and engage in strategic discussions. “One of the most empowering aspects of PoCC is engaging with individuals who share a common goal to dismantle systemic barriers and foster diverse, equitable, and inclusive environments,” Warren Quirett, associate director of college counseling, said. “This collective energy was inspiring and invigorating, making PoCC a crucial platform for networking, learning, and recharging.”

During his time at PoCC, Head of School Charley Stillwell connected with nearly 150 other school heads from around the country: “We shared ideas and approaches concerning how best to build strong and caring communities for all our schools. I especially appreciate that this gathering also brought together a fascinating and impressive group of students from NAIS schools to discuss how they can lead efforts to build these strong and caring communities.”

Following the conclusion of another successful PoCC and SDLC, Leo Melton ’24 dedicated the week after to reflecting on his experience at The High School. “SDLC reminded me of how grateful I am that Episcopal has created an inclusive campus for all students. However, there is still work to be done, and the week in St. Louis showed me creative ways to continue to build upon the progress we’ve already made. Using the skills I learned, I hope to transform my ideas into action and continue to make Episcopal a campus where everyone feels welcome to be themselves.”