Center on Culture, Race & Equity

Black Lives Matter at School Week Early Childhood Symposium 2021

Disrupting Anti-Black Racism in Early Childhood Education: Center, Abolish, Liberate

Thursday, February 4, 2021, from 5:30 PM to 7:30 PM
Virtual (via Zoom)

  • Overview

    Black Lives Matter at School Week is an annual movement designed to promote dialogue, curricula, and community events that explore racism in educational environments and the policies and curriculum that promote equity for Black children. On Thursday, February 4, 2021, Bank Street’s Center on Culture, Race & Equity (CCRE) will host a symposium as part of Black Lives Matter at School Week that explores the following theme: Disrupting Anti-Black Racism in Early Childhood Education: Center, Abolish, Liberate.

    As we are all aware, 2020 brought major disruption to educational systems and the lives of children across the United States. Given the inequitable educational system that Black children experienced before the pandemic, it is no surprise that many questions have arisen and alarms sounded about the further marginalization of Black children during their earliest years.

    This year’s event will take an in-depth look at how anti-Black racism has impacted the early educational experiences of Black children and will provoke us to consider what it looks like to center and liberate Black children and to abolish structures, mindsets, and policies that maintain anti-Black racism in school settings, home settings, and in the early education policy field at large.

    Please note: the symposium will have Spanish and ASL interpretation as well as live closed captioning // Este año, el simposio se celebrará virtualmente en Zoom. Incluirá interpretación en ASL, interpretación en español y subtítulos.

    Interpretación en español por teléfono: 712-770-5505. Código: 905223


  • Event Recording
  • Schedule of Events

    Schedule of Events

    5:30 – 5:40 PM Opening Remarks
    5:40 – 6:50 PM Panel Discussion
    6:50 – 7:10 PM Audience Q&A
    7:10 – 7:25 PM Kukuwa Dance Activity
    7:25 – 7:30 PM Black Lives Matter Sing-a-Long and Closing

    Additional Highlights

  • Opening Remarks

    Takiema Bunche-Smith, GSE ’97
    Executive Director, Bank Street’s Center on Culture, Race & Equity (she/her)

    Takiema Bunche-Smith has worked for over two decades in support of children, families, and educational programs and systems through her work as a teacher, teacher educator, curriculum director, parent activist, and executive leader. Her life’s work has been guided by a deep commitment to racial equity, social justice, and a belief that centering the histories and perspectives of marginalized people can support individuals, institutions, and systems to become more equitable for all. Takiema has presented on education-related topics to a variety of audiences across New York, the United States, and Sweden, and has published articles and op-eds in venues such as Childhood Education Innovations, NAEYC Young Children, Al-Jazeera, and The Washington Post. She is also a doula, and is passionate about creating a culture of self-care, particularly as it relates to professional environments. Takiema holds master’s degrees in Early Childhood & Elementary Education from Bank Street College, Urban Education Policy from the CUNY Graduate Center, and non-profit leadership and management from NYU Wagner.

    Shael Polakow-Suransky, GSE ’00
    President, Bank Street College (he/him)

    Shael Polakow-Suransky, GSE ’00, is a graduate of Bank Street’s Principals Institute and the first alumnus to serve as president of the College. Under his leadership, Bank Street is building new models for teacher education, expanding its work with public schools and child care centers, and focusing on translating innovative education practices into policies that work at scale. Prior to this role, Shael was the second-in-command at the New York City Department of Education, serving as Chief Academic Officer and Senior Deputy Chancellor. In the nation’s largest school system, Shael oversaw teaching and learning across more than 1,600 district schools. In this role, he was a strong advocate for teacher and principal autonomy, balanced accountability, and reforms designed to improve learning experiences for the most vulnerable students. Earlier in his career, Shael worked as a teacher and as the founding principal of Bronx International High School. He holds a BA from Brown University, where Ted Sizer was his mentor, and a Master’s in Educational Leadership from Bank Street.

  • Panelists

    See below for more information on this year’s panelists.

    To learn more about our panelists’ work as it relates to Early Childhood Black Lives Matter at School, including the work of panelists from our past symposiums, follow this link

    Akiea (Ki) Gross, MA, MSED (moderator)

    Enigmatic and unapologetic, Akiea Gross, or Ki, as they are known creatively, is an abolitionist educator, education consultant/coach, events curator, and creative entrepreneur with a passion for equity and social justice and a penchant for telling it like it is.

    Iheoma U. Iruka, PhD
    Research Professor of Public Policy, Director of the Early Childhood Health and Racial Equity Program
    Frank Porter Graham (FPG) Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

    Iheoma U. Iruka, PhD, is a research professor of public policy and director of the Early Childhood Health and Racial Equity Program at Frank Porter Graham (FPG) Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Prior to rejoining Carolina, she served as chief research innovation officer and director of The Center for Early Education Research and Evaluation at HighScope Educational Research Foundation. Dr. Iruka was previously at the Buffett Early Childhood Institute at the University of Nebraska and the FPG Child Development Institute. Dr. Iruka is engaged in projects and initiatives focused on how evidence-informed policies, systems, and practices in early education can support the optimal development and experiences of children from low-income and ethnic minority households. She has been engaged in addressing how best to ensure excellence for young diverse learners, especially Black children. Dr. Iruka has served on numerous national boards and committees. She holds a BA in psychology from Temple University, an MA in psychology from Boston University, and a PhD in applied developmental psychology from the University of Miami, Florida.

    Thomas Williams Jr., PhD
    Policy Advisor, Office of Special Education and Early Learning, Kentucky Department of Education

    Thomas Williams Jr., PhD, is currently a policy advisor with the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) Office of Special Education and Early Learning (OSEEL) in Frankfort, Kentucky. Prior to his appointment, Dr. Williams served as an early learning principal with Oakland Unified School District in Oakland, California. Dr. Williams started his career in Jackson, Mississippi where he served as a credentialed pre-K­–4 and kindergarten teacher, pre­–K–2 instructional coach, and school readiness coordinator. His work as an early childhood leader continued while he was employed at DC Public Schools as the supervisor of Early Childhood Lab Schools. He has served as a mentor for the California Consortium for Equity in Early Childhood Education Fellowship Program and is currently an adjunct professor with the College of Education at Spalding University. He is also currently in progress to co-author the book, Principals’ Guide to Leading Early Childhood with the Commitment to Equity: Effective Instructional Leadership to Support Our Youngest Learners. Dr. Williams’ education includes a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education, a master’s degree in early childhood education and education administration, an educational specialist in psychometry, and a doctorate of philosophy in educational administration, all from Jackson State University. He currently holds a Kentucky Rank 1 educator credential in early childhood, supervisor of instruction, principal, and superintendent.

    Denisha Jones, PhD, JD
    Director, Art of Teaching Program, Sarah Lawrence College

    Denisha Jones, PhD, JD, is the director of the Art of Teaching Program at Sarah Lawrence College. After earning her bachelor’s degree in early childhood education from the University of the District of Columbia, Denisha worked as a kindergarten and preschool teacher and a preschool director.

    Denisha is an education justice advocate and activist. She serves as the co-director for Defending the Early Years, Inc., and is the assistant executive director for the Badass Teachers Association. Since 2017, she served on the steering committee for the national Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action. She is a true play advocate and recently completed an Anji Play Fellowship program. Her first co-edited book, Black Lives Matter at School: An Uprising for Educational Justice, was published in December 2020 by Haymarket Books. She earned her PhD in Curriculum and Instruction from Indiana University in 2013. In 2018, she earned her juris doctor from the David A. Clarke School of Law at the University of the District of Columbia.

    Nikolai Pizarro de Jesus, MBA
    Consultant, Author, Parenting Coach

    For over 10 years, Nikolai Pizarro has worked to empower predominantly Black and Brown parents and caregivers with science-based frameworks of early brain development, literacy instruction, non-violent discipline, and self-directed education. Her book, Ring the Alarm, has been used by programs sponsored by Brooklyn Kindergarten Society and the Department of Health. She has facilitated workshops at hundreds of preschools and private early childhood centers, including over 300 Early Start and Head Start Centers.

    Over the past eight years, as her own unschooling journey with her son has unfolded, her work has increasingly included private and small group coaching and collaboration with families looking to transition from conventional schooling to self-directed models. As a response to COVID-19, she started the Facebook group “BIPOC-led pandemic pods and microschools,” launched an early literacy system, and has initiated a project to turn her own home into a self-directed forest school and permaculture mixed-age coop. Nikolai is currently enrolled in a Forest School Director Certification Program.

  • Partners

    We are excited to share that this year’s symposium allows CCRE to expand the offerings of its Re-Imagining Black Childhood portfolio by partnering with a national group of community collaborators who will host additional early childhood focused events during Black Lives Matter at School Week and beyond:

    • Mills College, School of Education
    • Center for Equity in Early Childhood Education (CEECE)
    • Tandem Partners in Early Learning
    • Oakland Starting Smart and Strong
    • Children’s Equity Project, Arizona State University
    • Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility
    • Maple Street School

    Partner Resources

    CCRE BLM At School Week symposium partners

  • Partner Events

    Enhancing Caregiver-Child Relationships Using African-Centered Approaches
    Saturday, June 26 from 1:00 PM – 2:30 PM ET
    Hosted by the Children’s Equity Project
    Watch Event Recording

    Virtual Curriculum Fair: Black Lives Matter at School
    Saturday, January 30 from 11:00 AM–1:30 PM EST
    Hosted by Teaching for Change and the Howard University School of Education

    Afia The Ashanti Princess: A Reading and Journey with Author Crystal Boateng
    Friday, February 5 from 11:00 AM–12:00 PM EST
    Hosted by Maple Street School

    Tandem Author Panel: Celebrating Black Voices in Children’s Literature
    Hosted by Tandem Partners in Early Learning
    Wednesday, February 24 from 9:00 – 10:00 PM EST
    Watch Event Recording

    Centering Young Black Children in Oakland: Incorporating Anti-Racist Principles into Early Learning Practice
    Tuesday, March 16 from 2:00 PM–3:30 PM PST
    Hosted by Oakland Starting Strong and Smart
    View the event flyer

    Enhancing Caregiver-Child Relationships Using African-Centered Approaches
    Children’s Equity Project
    Watch Event Recording

Child looking at mushroom through magnifying glass

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