Alumni Howard Fields, Darryl Diggs convene The State of Black Educators Symposium at the Touhill

The State of Black Educators Symposium

More than 100 people fill the Terrace Lobby at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center before last Friday’s The State of Black Educators Symposium. The event, which drew a crowd of more than 1,000, was organized by UMSL College of Education alumni Howard Fields and Darryl Diggs. (Photos by August Jennewein)

More than 1,000 people descended upon the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center at the University of Missouri–St. Louis last Friday evening for the inaugural State of Black Educators Symposium.

The event, which kicked off with a low-key gathering in the Terrace Lobby and moved to a formal program in the Anheuser-Busch Performance Hall, offered the chance for practitioners at different levels of the education system to network and discuss ways to improve the recruitment, development and support of black educators, particularly black men who account for only about 2 percent of the nation’s teachers.

Darryl Diggs, Howard Fields

At left, Darryl Diggs delivers opening remarks at last week’s The State of Black Educators Symposium. At right, Howard Fields plays basketball against two of his students in 2015 while serving in his former role as principal at Koch Elementary in the Riverview Gardens School District. Diggs, the assistant principal at Parkway South High School, and Fields, now the principal at Steger 6th Grade Center in Webster Groves, organized The State of Black Educators Symposium.

“I think that’s the first piece – for us to get together and have conversations not just with black educators, but allies, folks who are not black or consider themselves of color,” said Howard Fields, who created the event with fellow UMSL College of Education alumnus Darryl Diggs. “I think that’s half of it. The other half is action. Because if we meet every single year, we have to be able to move forward with some initiatives and some policy, some changes to help us increase the visibility of black educators and decrease the number of black educators who report trauma in their work or who want to leave the field.”

He wanted to use the event to begin creating proactive and collaborative strategies for addressing racism in schools, school districts and other organizations.

Fields, the principal of Steger 6th Grade Center in Webster Groves and owner of BSEd, MEd and PhDs from UMSL, met Diggs, the assistant principal at Parkway South High School, in October 2018 at Camp Lakewood near Potosi, Missouri. Fields was serving as a mentor at the Missouri Leadership and Development Systems Leadership Academy Outdoor Leadership Experience in which Diggs, a 2007 BSEd graduate, was a participant.

“We hit it off very well,” Fields said. “He was talking a lot about some of his experiences, and I had recently transitioned from a more urban school district to a suburban one – going from a principal in Riverview Gardens to a principal in Webster Groves. When he went through some of the difficulty that he was going through, it was really reminiscent of a lot of other black leaders, and black educators more specifically, that I had been fortunate enough to engage with. Looking at all of that, I knew needed a support group.”

Together, they founded Black Males in Education St. Louis. The organization held its first event – a happy hour – with more than two dozen people last May, but they soon began to think bigger.

By last October, they’d come up with the idea for the symposium and lined up Missouri Commissioner of Education Margie Vandeven as a featured speaker.

The response to the symposium was significant enough to send Fields and Diggs looking for bigger venues to hold the event, and UMSL – and specifically the Touhill – became a sentimental choice.

Art McCoy

Jennings School District Superintendent and UMSL alumnus Art McCoy stresses a point during his welcoming remarks at last week’s The State of Black Educators Symposium.

“We had a number of universities, a number of school districts as well as a number of organizations that were saying, ‘Yes, we want you to come here,’” Fields said. “But I thought about the Touhill, I thought about UMSL. My committee for my dissertation work was fantastic with Keith Miller, Lynn Beckwith Jr., Carl Hoagland and Matthew Davis. At the time, the dean was the interim, and every conversation I had with her, she was just always respectful.

“If there was an opportunity to bring an event of this caliber to any place, me being partial and biased, UMSL was the place.”

Two other UMSL graduates featured prominently in the program with Jennings Superintendent Art McCoy delivering the welcome and University City Superintendent Sharonica Hardin-Bartley among the featured speakers, along with St. Louis Public Schools Superintendent Kelvin Adams, Wentzville School District Superintendent Curtis Cain and Maplewood Richmond Heights School District Superintendent Karen Hall.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for educators across the region to come and hear about what really needs to happen in our classrooms,” Adams said in a testimonial shared on BMESTL’s website. “This is fantastic – 1,700 people coming to listen to other educators talk about the challenges of what needs to happen in our schools and our classrooms. This is over the top. There’s nothing like it. It’s the most fantastic Friday night that I’ve spent in the last year.”

Fields and Diggs have already started the planning for next year’s symposium and an associated two-day conference. They’ve scheduled both for February 4-5 at the Touhill.

Media Coverage
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
The Associated Press


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