In late January 2023, nearly 200 alumni of The Broad Center programs gathered together in New Orleans, LA for the first time since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Over two days, alumni of The Broad Residency, The Broad Academy, and the Fellowship for Public Education Leadership reunited with their cohort members, made new connections, and dove into nuanced topics on the state of education, learning, urban schooling, and the importance of second chances and renewal for young people. Reflecting the moment, this year’s Forum theme was Homecoming: Resilience and Renewal.
Forum 2023, the first held in New Orleans, followed two years of virtual Forums and was the first large-scale opportunity for TBC at Yale SOM to gather the network together in-person.
“More than simply catching up”
The Forum was opened by Kerwin Charles, dean of the Yale School of Management, who spoke to the importance of continuing to bring together Broad network members regularly since The Broad Center transitioned to its current home at Yale SOM. Dean Charles reflected on the last time the Broad community was together in person – in January 2020, shortly after the move to Yale SOM was announced.
“I realized [the Forum] is so much more than people simply catching up. There is this community, a community characterized by people who have a set of shared values and commitments, a set of shared aspirations,” said Charles.
In planning the Forum, TBC at Yale SOM strove to create opportunities for reflection and engagement with some of the most pressing issues facing school systems and the students and communities they serve – including rising gun violence in many communities across the United States. The first keynote session featured a panel of leaders and participants from Chicago CRED, an anti-gun violence organization that believes that the young people most at risk of shooting someone or being shot are the solution to reducing gun violence.
The keynote panel was moderated virtually by Arne Duncan, former CEO of Chicago Public Schools and U.S. Secretary of Education from 2009 to 2015. In 2016, Mr. Duncan co-founded Chicago CRED – which stands for Create Real Economic Density – in his hometown. CRED uses a holistic approach, including street outreach, life coaching and counseling, violence prevention, and workforce development to interrupt cycles of violence.
The panel included four men involved with Chicago CRED, including Kanoya Ali, a life coach and director of housing with CRED. He was joined by Reggie, Wesley, and Chris, three participants in the program who spoke about moving from being enmeshed in violence to more stable lives and continued involvement with CRED as mentors for other young people.
The panel also shared their recommendations for the audience of education leaders, including the importance of passion and dedication on the part of teachers, and the need for educators to understand how trauma might impact how students are showing up in the classroom.
Alumni commented that the CRED panel was “hands down, one of the best ever,” and that it reconnected them to why they do the work of school system leadership. “I love where there is content that is related to education but not explicitly part of the sector,” said Sam Sanacore (TBR 2019-21).
Accepting nuance, seeking the space to grow
The Friday morning keynote session focused on the state of education in New Orleans, a wide-ranging conversation digging into nuanced questions that grappled with the past, present, and future of education in New Orleans and the legacy of changes to the city and the education system after Hurricane Katrina. The panel was moderated by J. DeLano Ford (TBR 2008-10), a partner at Charter School Growth Fund and included perspectives from Sabrina Pence, CEO of FirstLine Schools; Jerel Bryant, CEO of Collegiate Academies; and Adrinda Kelly, executive director of BE NOLA.
Panelists reflected together on their mixed feelings around seeing educational progress for students, and yet continuing to feel the urgency of reaching every student to prepare them for 21st century careers and participation in civic life. The discussion also grappled with the tensions between autonomy and collaboration in the education sector, particularly in New Orleans, which has an education system that is completely choice-based, with no centralized district school system.
Friday afternoon featured breakout sessions, all led by Broad alumni, covering topics ranging from one district’s approach to inclusive engagement to equitable strategic budgeting to a frank conversation about leadership pathways with Dean Charles and Dr. William Hite (TBA 2005), the first superintendent in residence and executive fellow at TBC at Yale SOM and former Philadelphia schools superintendent.
Over the two days, Broad alumni heard from their peers sharing their own “leadership stories,” or personal journeys toward leadership. A Broad tradition, leadership stories are an opportunity for network members to reflect on what has helped them become the leaders they are today and deepen connections with one another by understanding the diverse journeys, influences, and perspectives that have shaped each person and their leadership approach. Forum 2023 featured three leadership stories: Brian Lin (TBR 2012-14), Nella Garcia Urban (TBA 2019-20), and Aron Walker III (TBM 2022-23).
The daytime portions of the event was capped by keynote speaker Kiese Laymon, a 2022 MacArthur Fellow and the author of the novel Long Division, the essay collection How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America, and the lauded memoir Heavy: An American Memoir. Mr. Laymon sat down in a fireside chat style interview with Katina Grays (TBR 2012-14), deputy director of TBC at Yale SOM. Echoing the broader themes throughout this year’s Forum, Laymon’s talk touched on the importance of failure – and of second chances – for resilience and renewal.
For Laymon, initial difficulties are a requirement for understanding life: “[I wanted to] turn this idea of communal and familial and educational failures and understand it as a necessity for revision, and a necessity for growth,” said Laymon of his writing and his perspective on the educational system. He encouraged the audience of education leaders to think about the ways that our schools speak to and treat students, particularly students of color – the trap of both low expectations from society and the countervailing push for “excellence” from well-meaning educators and adults.
“If you can’t fail – that means you don’t get a second chance. How do you revise? How do you revise anything on earth if the nation, schools, and your parents are telling you that you have to be perfect, or ‘excellent’?” asked Laymon.
Alumni thought Laymon’s talk was “phenomenal,” – “authentic” and “raw,” pointing to the intimate, conversational format as a way to go deeper on topics that surround and influence the experience of students in classrooms.
Turning up and kicking back together
In addition to the discussions and panels, Forum offered space for moments of reconnection and celebration among a tight-knit group that had not been physically together in three years. On Thursday evening, alumni could wander through the seven rooms of “the kickback,” visiting spaces that featured a game room, a photo booth, a jazz trio, dinner and dessert buffet, relaxation rooms with massages, and karaoke.
On Friday night, in true New Orleans fashion, Broadies formed a second line with a brass band and stilt walkers marching through the streets of New Orleans from the JW Marriott Hotel to the famous House of Blues for dinner and music.
Alumni reflecting on the experience of coming back together felt it was a powerful one. “I appreciated the intentionality and thoughtfulness of what we’ve gotten at Forum,” said Bobby White (TBA 2019-20). “Being able to see one another is more important than anything, but what was planned – the sessions and celebrations – just made sense for where we are now.”
“I can’t think of another 30 hours where I’ve taken away so much richness,” said Sid Chowdri (SOM MBA '05, TBR 2014-16). “You can always take Broad with you, wherever you are.”