Teachers in the Movement, Leaders in the Making
A seminar held during UVA’s biennial Black Alumni Weekend spotlighted three education leaders and UVA EHD alumni, kicking off a wider effort to build community among the School’s alumni of color.
Every two years, more than 1,500 UVA Black alumni and friends gather in Charlottesville for a celebratory weekend packed with lectures, networking opportunities, social activities and more.
Black Alumni Weekend (BAW) dates back to 1985. This year, the UVA School of Education and Human Development hosted a seminar during BAW, the first engagement of its kind with the university tradition. The inaugural event, co-sponsored by the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and the Center for Race and Public Education in the South, also marked the start of a much larger, long-term effort to engage alumni in ongoing diversity, equity and inclusion work at the School.
Titled “Teachers in the Movement: Leaders in the Making,” the event highlighted the work of Teachers in the Movement, an oral history project housed in UVA EHD that explores how educators contributed to the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s.
Alumni and friends in attendance learned about the project’s history and purpose from director Derrick Alridge and doctoral student Alexis Johnson. Then, three UVA EHD alumni who have contributed to the project participated in a live Q&A session: LaVerne Spurlock, who served tens of thousands of school children in the Richmond area throughout her career as a school counselor, James Bryant, a lifelong resident of Charlottesville who served as a music teacher and a counselor in Charlottesville City Schools and Albemarle County Public Schools, and Deloris Campbell, who served as an educator in Albemarle, Fluvanna, and Nottoway Counties in Virginia.
All three panelists discussed their passion for education and shared stories and insights from their careers as well as their experiences attending UVA. Campbell, who spent 24 years as the only Black educator at Stony Point Elementary School in Albemarle County, recalled a realization she had in graduate school: “You’re going to have to do more than anyone else in the class. You’re going to have to work harder. You’re going to have to make yourself heard and seen.”
Remembering the day that he graduated from UVA with his degree in Counselor Education, Bryant was nearly moved to tears. “When I graduated in 2006, it was – I can’t describe,” he said. “My mother was sitting in the audience in the amphitheater. I grew up five minutes away from the University as a child, and we couldn't come into the football games because it was all white. And I said then, that one day I’m going to graduate from that school. My mother worked in buildings and grounds cleaning the buildings. And when I looked out she was sitting there just beaming with pride.”
Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Robert Berry said that partnering with Teachers in the Movement was a natural fit.
“The work of the Teachers in the Movement project features several Black alumni who know and understand the Black experience in public schools and have experiences within EHD," he said.
“It was a pleasure for the Teachers in the Movement project to collaborate with the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion on this event,” Alridge said. “We decided to feature Deloris Campbell, Dr. LaVerne Spurlock, and James Bryant because of their stellar careers as educators. Their life stories as educators are important for historical preservation but can also be useful for teachers today navigating the rocky terrain of education."
Berry sees the event as the first of many. In the summer of 2021, the UVA EHD Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion was awarded an Inclusive Excellence grant, a competitive award to advance the development and implementation of strategic equity-minded action across the University.
Ultimately, the vision is to build a sustainable and engaging network of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) alumni and friends, said Catalina Piatt-Esguerra, Director of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. The School hopes to cultivate valuable connections for BIPOC alumni – with current students, with one another, and with the School itself.
“Fostering a connection with our BIPOC alumni recognizes the power of knowing and honoring our history, where we’ve been, and even how we may have come up short when these alumni were students,” Piatt-Esguerra said. “Our alumni are an invaluable part of our story. Our office’s goal of creating and sustaining an equitable and inclusive environment for all means one where our BIPOC graduates feel they belong now.”
Berry said the initiative grew out of conversations with alumni who expressed a desire to engage more with the School. Among other goals, Berry hopes to create opportunities for alumni to develop professional and personal networks, share their expertise, and engage in critical conversations on issues impacting the School and the University.
“We recognize that BIPOC alumni and friends have been significantly underutilized for their expertise and underrepresented in activities within the School,” he said. “The School's Inclusive Excellence plan recognizes the need to improve, support, and build engagement with alumni and friends.”
The seminar was followed by a reception open to all of UVA EHD’s Black alumni and friends.
Gasa Anderson, who earned her Master of Teaching degree from UVA EHD in 1998, said she attended the event to reconnect to the School and see other Black alumni – but she was surprised by how much the panelists’ words inspired her. “I didn’t know being in that space and hearing from other Black alumni would touch my soul and reinvigorate me,” she said. “There is something about knowing you are a part of a long lineage of Black educators that have reached for excellence, had high standards, persevered through challenging times and inspired our youth.”
“It is so important to know you are part of a community,” she added.