Dean Spencer’s Keynote at A Black Education Network Institute

The 18th Summer Institute held by A Black Education Network (ABEN) focused on Pedagogies & Practices for Successfully Reaching African American Students. At the institute, 120 educators  from throughout the country gathered to engage with, learn from, and share best practices with the nation’s most inspiring Black educators. This year’s institute included SOE’s Dean Joi Spencer as a keynote speaker. 

During Dean Spencer’s keynote address, she shared her insights on the importance of advancing Black education and empowering the next generation of leaders. She also went over hallmarks of Black affirming spaces and gave examples of her experience running the STEAM Summer Academy in San Diego, Ca.  Her keynote address paid special attention to education liberation and equity, teaching math to Black students, and using storytelling and familial experiences to educate students. 

After Dean Spencer's address one attendee said, "The opportunity I see now is the urgency to embed Black culture and ideas into math lessons. Therefore, more Black children are excited about learning math and identify with the math being taught. Then the narrative and outcome can be changed in a positive way."


What did folks take away from Dean Spencer’s keynote? 

Below is a list of notes that highlight what resonated most with attendees after they heard Dean Spencer’s keynote, and what opportunities they thought of for applying what they heard in their spheres of influence. 

What resonated most:

  • Diversity and equity are not enough. The target goal is educational liberation and equity (self-determination, justice, actualization, resources, respectful treatment, urgency, safety).
  • Approaching math is more of a mindset than other subjects. Who is capable and how you help people access math are inherently related. Teachers see math as racialized. Recognize the pattern of achievement in math. Math is more whitewashed than any other content area.
  • Math is/was fundamental to different tribes in Africa. We were never a people of "we don't get math" but all of a sudden in this context now we don't get math. Math should be able to be accessed by every group, so why is it not?
  • Importance of embedding family experiences in educational experiences and incorporating STEM into student experiences, especially our Black and Brown students.

Opportunities seen

  • Leverage community organizations to help Black students; teachers do not have to be responsible for everything; explore community based schooling.
  • Work to create an affinity space for African American students and families and to support changing the narrative about who gets access to high level math.
  • It is important that White folks step in to do the work as well; we cannot leave the work for the very small number of Black and Brown folks at our predominantly White schools.
  • Acknowledge that mistakes are an opportunity to create time for productive struggle and affirmation that students CAN improve!


What does ABEN do?

ABEN reverses the backward slide by facilitating academic and cultural excellence wherever our children and youth are--using culturally informed research, technology, visionary parent education, and networking in our communities here and in diaspora contexts.

ABEN combines and disseminates evidence-based research findings, education strategies, and culture through offering professional development opportunities, student-focused programming, and curricula designed to empower the educators of Black students and Black students themselves. Specifically, ABEN supports and partners with educational institutions - schools, churches, non-profit organizations, educators, researchers, parents, corporations, foundations, especially those who focus on African-centered education - that work to ensure Black students reach their full potential.

To learn more about ABEN, visit, and sign up for their monthly newsletter.

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