Monday September 4, 2023
Sometimes conference keynote speakers are good and sometimes they are average. Many are even sub-par. And sometimes the speaker delivers exactly the message the audience needs, in just the way they need it. That is what happened last week at the Oklahoma State School Board Association/Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administrators Annual Education Leadership Conference.
Dr. Adolph Brown brought a motivational message filled with humor, positivity and truth. He had a career as an educator, so when he said he would’ve walked from his home in Virginia to speak to this audience, the crowd was his. His own journey began in poverty. His father left when he was a baby and his single mother raised him and his siblings. The older brother he idolized was murdered at the age of 11. He credits Head Start and public education for making him the person he is today.
Public education and teachers who believed in him gave him the tools and the confidence to further his education and build a life where he has served as a teacher, clinical psychologist, author, speaker and servant leader. He and his wife are also the parents of eight, one with special needs, and they are now grandparents as well.
His philosophy and advice about education also works for life and he had many meaningful quotes interspersed with colorful stories: “Ignore the noise; Look for the gold in people, not the dirt.; Protect our mouths from our brains. If you think it’s going to be offensive, don’t say it.; Rules don’t govern behavior, relationships govern behavior.”
He spoke a lot about his experience in public schools and the challenges his family faced that resonated in our urban environment. He pointed out that Title I schools do not dictate the way a child learns. They dictate the way a child eats. He also spoke of the need for our educators and school board members to remember their own self -care, just as they care for every child who comes to their school buildings.
He equated educators with super heroes. Super heroes are seen as having courage, but is it really courageous when you are indestructible? Real courage is doing the work when everyone is watching (and too many are criticizing and refusing to look at root causes, collaborate or find common ground.)
Doc Brown’s theme of building more bridges and fewer walls seemed so possible last week. He made anything seem possible. As he said, “The ship doesn’t sink because of the water it is in. It sinks because of the water that gets in it.” Public education is too important to the majority of families in our state. It will take all of us to not let the water get in.
–Mary Mélon-Tully, President and CEO of the Oklahoma City Public Schools Foundation.