By Amanda Morrall
Soft piano keys floated in the dark as my hand fumbled for the lamp. A steady hum of thoughts flowed since 3:40 am, only slightly interrupted by Apple’s “early riser.” What’s my first session? Workforce readiness and academics. Maybe we help someone start an internship program… Or maybe we start with speakers from different sectors… Students know what they want to explore, how do we provide those experiences? The lamp dial rolled through my fingers and light penetrated the room. My eyes adjusted after a few blinks.
My body and brain were drained; adrenaline running and sleep right on its heels. Today was going to be long, beginning with the “Power of Us,” aka the black people breakfast at 6:45 am. Words from the great philosopher Soulja Boy propelled my feet to the floor. “ ‘Hopped up out the bed, turned my swag on, took a look in the mirror, and said’ girl, those bags under your eyes look rough.” (Side note: I love remixes. See No, No, No Pt. 2, Welcome to Atlanta Remix, I Need A Girl Pt. 2, and any country song covered by Nelly.)
One minute late. I double tapped the down button.
5 seconds later. Maybe I should take the stairs. How many flights? Oh, seven. Nope.
Another 5 seconds. I played the imaginary “if only I left 5 minutes earlier” game. My batting average hovers around 55% 45%. (Side note: Between the first and final blog draft, my stats dipped.)
Ding. Step on. Ding. Step off. My first instinct was to run, but I settled on a brisk walk. I remembered as a 28 year-old, you should not run to arrive at a meeting faster. I neared Sequoia A relieved to see other people trickling in.
Scanning the tables, I noticed another Duke alum and decided to sit with her. “Non-awkward” breakfast conversation with friendly tablemate: check. Shades of chocolate, caramel, and cream continued to baptize the breakfast, and I felt honored and humbled.
Oozing with sacred beauty, people unapologetically spoke truth to power. Thaly Germain, CEO of Equity Partners, shared her story of growing up in New York and encountering teachers with high expectations for her and other students. Carmita Semaan, founder of the Surge, reminded us that “everyone is not in the education field for the same reason. Some of us are in it for liberation and others for charity.” Poetry snaps.
Can I stay forever?
The laughter wouldn’t stop. It was loud for no reason and no one asked, “Hey, could you please keep it down?” We munched on Chicago, Tulsa, education and coffee as our breakfast topics of choice. I looked around, and thought none of this feels real. It seemed like I had slept for eight hours, drank two cans of red bull, and attached a cape to my Ralph Lauren dress. I was ready to fight for my Tulsa kids with a renewed sense of urgency.
Scrolling through my summit notes two weeks later, I stumbled upon “Walk in who you are.” NewSchools Summit made this phrase second nature at the conference, but back in Tulsa I thought about how this applied to my life and to the lives of my students. Did we, as educators, ask our students to walk in their truth? Did we have high expectations for our students? Did we ask them to question and be curious? Did we believe our work was liberating?
I walk in who I am because someone encouraged me to dream big dreams, ask hard questions, and make mistakes. I am liberated because I walk in the good and the bad: my self-critiques, my urgency, my lateness, my awkwardness, and my compassion. If I am honest, 95% of the time I am not walking. I am running in who I am. Like Jackie Joyner-Kersee, but slower with highlighter yellow shoes.
We have powerful educators walking (or running) across the entire city of Tulsa. Leading companies, keeping community members safe, and caring for our future workforce. We have leaders here. Walking. Running. Liberating. And my question to our educators is, “Will you teach our students walk in who they are?”