Walker tells faculty, students: “Believe, empathize, learn, love”

VCU alumna shares experience, advice at annual race, ethnicity event

Leah Walker of the VDOE at the 2019 SOE Teach-In Kickoff.
Leah Walker, director of VDOE's Office of Equity and Community Engagement, speaks at the kickoff event of SOE's Race, Ethnicity and Education Teach-In Week.

Leah Walker began her presentation at the kickoff event for the VCU School of Education’s Race, Ethnicity and Education Teach-In Week by recalling her childhood growing up in Orange County, California.

“I attended public schools in Orange County from kindergarten through 12th grade. We had no teachers of color and no school personnel of color at my school,” she recalled. “In fact, there were fewer than five black students at my school from kindergarten through the 5th grade.”

Walker, who is director of the Office of Equity and Community Engagement for the Virginia Department of Education and a VCU alumna, shared many examples from her public school years where she encountered cultural insensitivity, bias and outright racism from teachers and in the curriculum. She concluded her presentation, “The MisEducation of a Black Girl Rising: Bias, Racism and Culturally Responsive Educators,” by listing four things that all culturally responsive educators must do:

  • Believe: believe in rigor for all students and be willing to challenge your personal beliefs and bias
  • Empathize: empathize with student experiences and commit to meeting all students' needs
  • Learn: commit to lifelong learning and understanding of differences
  • Love: love all students

“By loving all students, I mean to love black students, to love LatinX students, and to want to see brown and black families win in life,” she said.

This year’s kickoff event was presented by the School of Education’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee in conjunction with its Office of Strategic Engagement. Walker’s presentation was followed by a Q&A session with attendees and a reception.

View the Flickr album of photos from the event.