The History Making Summit You've Never Heard About.
The Black School Psychology Network
For the two years that I’ve been writing this newsletter and doing deep dives into the key people who shaped psychology, I’ve noticed what everyone notices about American history—the people who shaped now-established fields were predominantly white and male.
When I met school psychologist Dr. Keba Rogers in April, I knew I had to write about her and the conference she’d just attended—the first of its kind for Black School Psychologists.
This is today’s newsletter.
Last week’s newsletter: Things Worth Sharing
PARENTS of ANXIOUS CHILDREN, I am launching The Little Panic Approach to Supporting Your Anxious Child, a digital video series accompanied by printable workbooks, including The Operating Manual of Emotions, a guide I wrote for anxious children to be kept throughout their lives. If you’d like to be kept apprised of the launch date, please let me know.
Not only was she my seatmate, but she also introduced me to the audience (perhaps the best introduction of my life—it was interactive and included a call-and-response!) She arrived straight from the airport. Unlike most people who go ANYWHERE straight from an airport, she was glowing and thrumming with contagious energy, vibrant optimism, and pure joy. As she took her seat next to me, I asked where she’d been.
Turns out, she’d spent the past two days being part of history. She’d attended the Black School Psych Summit in Atlanta, Georgia—The first conference EVER dedicated to and for Black School Psychologists.
Just one year later, BSPN held its first annual conference and made history.
While she’d been to the National School Psychology Conferences, Dr. Mclure’s summit offered an experience she’d not found anywhere else.
In addition to being the school psychologist at Corlears, Dr. Rogers is the CEO and Founder of Grace, Growth and Greatness Psychological Services. For 20 years, she’s been an enthusiastic mental health professional, assisting children, adolescents, adults, and families with mental, emotional, and social health and well-being.
She’s worked in public and private schools, residential treatment facilities, and hospitals. A leader in her community, Dr. Rogers is wise, passionate, and funny enough to be a professional comedian.
I talked to Dr. Rogers over dinner a few months ago to learn more about this historic conference. We talked about her experience at the summit, authenticity, showing up, doing the work, and being valued.
Edited for length and clarity.
KB: For a long time, psychology was about 95% white, and now I think it's 85% white.
KR: So we have more people, and not just black people, but Asians, Hispanics, and a small percentage of Native Americans. Something like the Black School Psychology Network is so important because when you are in a group where essentially every conference you go to—we have a national conference every year—feels like, even as a presenter, you can’t talk about the topic how you’d like to talk about a topic, because you're trying to make sure that everybody understands.
So, when I went to the Black Psychology Conference, I was really excited to have a different experience.
We got there on the first day—this is how it starts, just to set the scene—we go up the escalator and get to the main floor where they’re having the conference, and I see someone standing there with one of those big signs.
What does the sign say?
Hello there, history maker.
See the sign?
I was like, are you kidding, though? You guys are starting [that high up] from the door? And then everywhere we went—this is such a minor thing, but it's important—everyone says “Good morning. Hello, how are you?”
At the National Conference, you feel invisible. People are not speaking to you, like you speak to the people who know, but overall, it’s not the environment of hello, good morning, how are you, so it was just such a different experience from the get-go.
KR: When I came home from the conference, I was just like, wow, that was so amazing. It was such a great feeling and vibe, and so many incredible minds were there. So many accomplished people do great work, but they’re in silos, so it was nice to be informed of the work being done.
It was a time of celebration of, like, just existing and being. As the room filled up, I mean, you can see us all just looking around like, WOW, because oftentimes you're like THE Black Psychologist, you know, or one of two, or something like that. So it was really nice.
But it was also a real symposium, like we were talking about real issues, and people were presenting research that we really need to pay attention to and really think about how to incorporate into our work with students. It was really phenomenal.
ME: Was there any backlash from the National Conference?
KR: No. The national association supported it. My personal opinion is that the way our history works in America is that there isn’t a backlash from white America until they realize that we're serious, right? It's like, right now, you're cute.
Oh, you guys got together, wonderful! When we're five and ten years in, they'll notice more black psychologists, right? Getting more people attracted to and trained in the field is the point, and as soon as that happens, there will be backlash. Because that's just the history of our country. You know?
ME: Can you tell me how the presentations felt different from those at the National Conference?
KR: Yeah, if I'm being honest, I think most of them were memorable because of the speakers' authenticity. One of the keynotes, for instance, was from a professor about working at a college where they're trying to incorporate more diversity, equity, and inclusion, and she was talking about how she works a lot with her white colleagues to be the people that push the work so that it gets done. Even though she’s the brainchild of it. We’d have to be mindful of how we presented that type of information at the National Conference so that people don’t get up in arms about it.
Scenes from the BSPS
ME: Did you feel like more got accomplished because you didn’t have to explain things to a white audience?
KR: Yes, but It was also like, let's do the work. That was the main thing that many people mentioned. It was nice to be in workshops where we just cut to a shared space where we didn’t have to explain or give a lot of background. Yeah, that was actually really nice. We had this one presentation about black males in the field that, first of all, it was overwhelming to see how many black men were in the room because, obviously, there are many presentations happening simultaneously, right?
It was really interesting thinking about how to encourage black men in the field and those who were there; how do we retain them? And what do they need? So, it was like a brainstorming session. The facilitator had slides and a deck, but it was like a brainstorming session at the end of the day. What can we do today that is going to help black men in the field show up and be able to stay engaged? At the end of that presentation, all the black males in the room created a group chat to stay in touch and keep the conversation going.
I would never think at a conference that I could come away with like 100 other black male school psychologists’ phone numbers to send them information.
KR: By the way, a couple of white people were at the conference. They’re allies. I felt good about the white people I knew were there because I knew they were doing the work, so I felt really good about it.
ME: Did you have specific ideas for what you wanted to learn?
KR: I was really open, and since I don’t do research, I'm always interested to know the current research about black and brown populations and what ideas people have to help underserved students. So that's what I was looking for. What I got, even in addition to that, was a conversation about black males and about helping your colleagues move the DEI needle forward in a way that feels sustainable.
There’s a shortage of school psychologists overall, but watching black psychologists in conversation is rare.
Dr. Keba Rogers photo by ShotByMK.Studio
So, I think what I took away from it was a reminder of my role and the importance of showing up. Being in that environment is interesting because it helps me remember that I am an example many people will see. At Corlears, for instance, I was the first school psychologist. There were a couple of counselors but never a psychologist. So I'm the first one, and I'm Black, so you know…. It’s important for Black students to see someone like me in a leadership position, you know, a picture of who they could be, right? And not just people who are taking orders. So it’s important to listen, show up, and allow people to see you and your authenticity.
AS: Authenticity seems to be a theme.
KR: Authenticity comes up a lot with Black people. Because there's a lot of mask-wearing, right? There’s a lot of feeling like you can’t be your whole self, and so at this conference, that came up a lot because there was so much authenticity involved. People were able to arrive as themselves. It was a bold change. And you know, it was lovely to be in spaces with people like that. So it did come up a lot at the conference, but it came up like, we noticed that everybody could be truly authentic.
At the end of every session, every person who spoke would say: So this is what we want you to take back from this presentation. There was a lot of emphasis on just showing up and being present and authentic. I was reminded not to underestimate my value because of the cultural knowledge I have, you know, just how I interact with parents of color and black parents and being able to help translate for people. So there was a lot of, you know, stand in your power, know who you are, all the things that I kind of like preach anyway. It was a great reminder.
Celebrations at BSPS
KB: Speaking of authenticity, we could name our conference sessions what we wanted. So, for instance, “Welcome to the cookout where everyone gets a plate…” “You won’t break my soul…” “Don’t test me…”
I felt like I had come from a family cookout. Like the group of cousins, you sit in the corner and talk about all the crazy family. It felt restorative to my soul. In my everyday life, there’s a lot of I don’t see you. I don’t recognize your value, and I don’t pay attention to what it is that you do.
And then I go to this space where everyone’s like, You’re amazing, and they’re all amazing, right? We had these legends there, and no one was walking around like they were better than anyone. Everybody was talking to each other, just regular, you know.
So it felt like a very restorative time. It was essentially two days of getting validated just for existing.
And you? Have you ever been part of a historic event? What was it? Tell me in the comments!
Until next week, I remain…
Cover art illustration by Edwina White
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