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Black educators will party this weekend — and this year, everyone’s invited

A child jumps in front of a photo wall at BE NOLA’s summit in 2022 (left). Organizers Stevona Elem-Rogers (back) and Adrinda Kelly speaking at last year’s event.
Justen Williams
A child jumps in front of a photo wall at BE NOLA’s summit in 2022 (left). Organizers Stevona Elem-Rogers (back) and Adrinda Kelly speaking at last year’s event.

In New Orleans, Black-led education used to be common, but since Hurricane Katrina, it’s something educators here have had to work to regain.

“We’re in a majority Black city, [with] majority Black children in our schools, and the majority of the schools are not actually governed by Black people,” says Stevona Elem-Rogers, programs and partnerships manager for BE NOLA, an organization that supports Black educators across the city.

This weekend, BE NOLA — which stands for Black Education for New Orleans — is hosting its fourth annual Black is Brilliant Summit, this year on Bayou Road. It’s a celebration of Black educators and education in New Orleans, and an opportunity to support some of the city’s Black businesses.

Adrinda Kelly, BE NOLA’s executive director, says the organization focuses its work on supporting the city’s less than a dozen Black-governed and Black-led schools — as well as its Black teachers, who are spread across the district.

“For us, it's a no-brainer to be focused on, ‘How can we support Black educators in our system to do their best work and to have resiliency in their profession?’” Kelly says.

After Katrina hit, the state of Louisiana took over New Orleans’ public schools — eventually turning them over to charter operators — and fired 4,300 teachers. Many of those teachers were Black women. Research shows half of the teachers who lost their jobs never taught in Louisiana again.

Before the storm, more than 70 percent of New Orleans public school teachers were Black. By 2014, less than half of the city’s teachers were Black. The city’s ranks of Black teachers are rising — in 2018, 53% of the district’s teachers were Black, according to New Schools for New Orleans — but Kelly says there’s still work to be done.

BE NOLA, she says, offers support to Black educators across the city by taking on some of the major issues in the city’s education system, like helping to close the funding gap experienced by Black-governed schools. They’re also trying to tackle turnover rates, which tend to be higher for teachers of color, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic.

And as the school year begins, they’re supporting Black educators by throwing them a big party.

This year’s Black is Brilliant Summit will feature panels and talks, along with food, music and dancing, with performances from local musicians like Secondline Shorty and the HOT 8 Brass Band.

“Someone may say, ‘What does that have to do with education?’” Elem-Rogers says. “Well, when you’re Black in America, it has everything to do with education.”

Because, she says, Black culture is Black education.

And while, in the past, the event has been intended exclusively for educators of color, this year, she says, everyone is invited.

For white attendees, she says, the summit will be a space to observe, and listen.

“It doesn't mean because you're not a part of the conversation, that you can't learn from the conversation, because you absolutely can,” she says.

The Black is Brilliant Summit kicks off this Saturday at 11 a.m.

Aubri Juhasz covers K-12 education, focusing on charter schools, education funding, and other statewide issues. She also helps edit the station’s audio stories.

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