On that time I geeked out in Philly

posted by Leslie Leavoy, Deputy State Director of DFER-LA

Last week, I had the opportunity to travel to Philadelphia with my State Director, Eva Kemp to participate in an annual conference called Camp Philos. Hosted by our affiliated nonprofit, Education Reform Now (ERN), Camp Philos connects education and community leaders, elected officials across local, state and national positions and ERN staff members to exchange policy ideas, reflect on the last year of education reform wins and losses and prepare for what challenges lie ahead in the education landscape.

I’ll be honest, I had no idea what to expect. This was my first time to meet other DFER State Directors and their staff, as well as members of the national and policy teams. Being one of the youngest and newest DFER staffers, I wanted to be sure to soak it all in and take note of new ideas that could be incorporated back here in Louisiana.

Camp Philos was, in a word, inspiring. Philos participants heard from speakers like Delaware Senator Chris Coons, Ann O’Leary, Senior Policy Advisor for Hillary for America, Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy, U.S. Representative Bobby Scott, and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. These individuals are stellar advocates for education reform, civil rights, and working families trying to make ends meet every day. It was truly surreal to hear from such high-profile leaders one right after another. I applaud my colleagues for cultivating these relationships on behalf of students and common sense education reforms across the country.

We also experienced robust conversations among elected officials and social justice advocates who participated in two panels throughout the day. The first panel addressed the question: What are the priorities for education reform and the Democratic Party after President Obama’s administration? Louisiana BESE member Kira Orange Jones participated in this panel and offered an honest perspective about the future. She warned Democrats against diverting our attention away from those who are most disenfranchised, saying those folks are who we help the most: “That’s our party,” she said. “That’s why I’m a Democrat.” I could not have said it better myself.

Camp Philos Panel 1: Kira is pictured in the middle.

The second panel discussed the intersectionality of education with socio-economic conditions affecting children across the country. This panel locked in on criminal justice reform, wrap-around services for children at school and at home, and systemic racism and inequality as big-picture issues that must be addressed to truly improve the quality of life for every student in America. Fully addressing these issues sounds pretty insurmountable and overwhelming, but these leaders, along with staff at DFER welcome the challenge on behalf of students and families who do not have the resources to fight for themselves. I’m excited to tackle these challenges in the coming years, and I challenge you, the reader, to think about how you can contribute to the movement, too.

Shifting to my experiences at my first Democratic National Convention, I’m not quite sure where to start. Our time in Philly witnessing history as Sec. Hillary Clinton became the first female to accept a major party’s presidential nomination was an electric, frenzied whirlwind. From attending the convention, navigating the traffic of Philly and shaking too many hands to count, I had the experience of a lifetime.

DFER-Louisiana’s affiliated nonprofit, Education Reform Now, sponsored the Louisiana Delegation and had the opportunity to join the delegation for breakfast every morning, attend one night of the convention, and attend two post-gavel receptions on Monday and Tuesday night. Louisiana always has a good time, so it was no surprise that the time we spent with the delegation was full of energy. A big shout out to the Louisiana Democratic Party for working long hours leading up to and during Convention to ensure everyone had a good time!

Following President Obama’s convention speech, Sec. Clinton came out on stage!

Eva and I actually ended up attending two nights of Convention: Tuesday and Wednesday night. We heard from politically active celebrities, everyday Americans who survived or were affected by terrorist attacks, gun violence, or serve as members of law enforcement, and powerhouse leaders like Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy, former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, former DNC chair Howard Dean, and more. We also listened to headlining speakers including President Bill Clinton, VP candidate and Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama. I’m not being facetious when I say I couldn’t stop smiling or cheering for each speaker and his/her message. Each political leader that walked that stage has somehow shaped or influenced my political views. It was incredibly surreal and emotional to see them in person and hear their rousing endorsements for Sec. Clinton.

Looking back on the whole week, it still seems like a dream. Being raised in a politically engaged and active family, Convention was my ComicCon, my Bruce Springsteen concert, my cross-country roadtrip.

At a very young age, my parents instilled in me the value of public service and never once told me my dreams were limited by what was “appropriate” for my gender. I’ve found a passion in politics, public service and specifically, working toward equitable education for all. As a woman, being active in these spaces used to be rare, even condemned. Last week’s convention proved that notion is now obsolete. Last week was historic for women, no matter our individual political leanings.

Hillary said it perfectly: When there are no ceilings, the sky’s the limit.