FOCUS In Sound #32: Alfred Mays, Dr. Dudley Flood, Dr. Deanna Townsend-Smith
Welcome to FOCUS In Sound, the podcast series from the FOCUS newsletter published by the Burroughs Wellcome Fund. I’m your host, science writer Ernie Hood.
In this edition of FOCUS In Sound, we meet a civil rights and education pioneer, Dr. Dudley Flood, and learn about the center named in his honor that is working to advance educational opportunities in North Carolina. To get us started, we will first hear from Burroughs Wellcome Fund Chief Diversity Officer and Strategist, Alfred Mays. Alfred also serves as a Senior Program Officer for the Fund and oversees a variety of significant programs addressing education and diversity. He is going to provide us with some background information about the Dudley Flood Center for Educational Equity and Opportunity, which is within the Public School Forum of North Carolina. Alfred, take it away…
ALFRED: Thanks, Ernie.
I am actually a board member of the Public School Forum. In 2015, the Forum kicked off its sixteenth biennial study group, a yearlong process that involved the work of three committees focused on topics related to expanding educational opportunity in North Carolina: racial equity, low-performing schools, and trauma and resiliency in learning. I had the honor of serving as a co-chair of the racial equity committee.
In 2016, Study Group XVI, as it was known, released its final report called “Expanding Educational Opportunity in North Carolina.” It was the product of the collective efforts of more than 175 committee members, and included a detailed Action Plan and Recommendations. The report set the course for the Public School Forum and its partners to continue addressing educational opportunity in North Carolina in the years ahead. One of the important developments was the establishment of the annual Color of Education event, which every year brings together the many stakeholders to address the ongoing issues.
Now fast forward to 2019. At the Color of Education event, we announced a catalytic grant of $150,000 from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund to stand up the Dudley Flood Center for Educational Equity and Opportunity. The Conway Family Foundation joined Burroughs Wellcome Fund in making a $30,000 gift to support establishment of the center.
Dr. Flood was brought on stage for the announcement that we were naming the new center in his honor. It was designed to be a surprise for him, and he was truly delighted.
Since then, the Flood Center has become fully staffed, including Senior Director Dr. Deanna Townsend-Smith, from whom we will hear shortly. They are working on a variety of programs, including the Color of Education event, which is coming up for 2022 on Saturday, October 22nd. The theme for this year is “A Walk Through History: How the Past Informs the Present.” The hybrid event will feature keynote speaker Jelani Cobb. To further the Center’s work over the next year, it’s a pleasure to share with you that the Burroughs Wellcome Fund has just made an additional $300,000 grant award to the Center. The Conway Family Foundation has and continues to support fellowships and Color of Education within the Flood Center. Additionally, the Flood Center has received key additional support from Amgen, Kellogg, MDC, Anonymous Trust, Goodnight Foundation, along with additional funding specifically for Color of Education from Corning, Lenovo, the North Carolina Department of Natural Resources, and EPIC.
That is where we stand today, and now let’s enjoy hearing from Dr. Flood and Dr. Townsend-Smith. To introduce Dr. Flood, I’m going to pass the microphone back to Ernie…
ERNIE: Thanks, Alfred, for that terrific summary of how we got to where we find ourselves today. That history will provide a great context for our conversations with Dr. Flood and Dr. Townsend-Smith.
Dr. Dudley Flood was born in 1932 in Winton, North Carolina, a tiny town in Hertford County in the northeastern part of the state. He received his bachelor’s degree from North Carolina Central University in 1954, his master’s degree from East Carolina University in 1970, and his doctorate from Duke University in 1980.
He has had a long and distinguished career as a teacher and school principal – a lifelong educator. He worked for many years at the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, he and his Department of Public Instruction colleague, the late Dr. Gene Causby, traveled the state to unite communities that were divided, sometimes bitterly, over integrating public schools. They are largely credited today with pioneering the process of integration in North Carolina public schools.
In 2020, Dr. Flood’s achievements were recognized as he was awarded the Friday Medal from the College of Education at North Carolina State University. In 2021, he received the prestigious North Carolina Award, the state’s highest civilian honor, and most recently, the NC Justice Center Lifetime Champions of Justice Award.
Dr. Flood, thank you so much for joining us on Focus in Sound…
FLOOD: It’s my pleasure.
ERNIE: I mentioned that you are a lifelong educator – teaching runs in your family, doesn’t it?
FLOOD: It does. I’m from a family of nine, six of whom were teachers, including myself. Of course, being the eighth child in that family, and having observed the others, I didn’t know there was an alternative. I just thought that was why you were put on earth, was to teach. Once having gotten into the field, I got hooked on it, and I teach now because I can’t help it. I really can’t help it. I have no choice but to teach. If I were to have my life start all over again, I would make the same decision. I do believe teaching is the best way in which I could render service. So I made that choice, and I have no regret about it.
ERNIE: That’s wonderful, thank you. You were brought up well before the height of the civil rights era…what was your schooling like in your early days?
FLOOD: My high school days were in the little town of Winton, population 698, give or take. It was a tri-racial town. And my background is that I was born into what is a tri-racial family, although at that time it was not particularly highlighted. My father was the son of a Native American woman. His father, whom he never knew, was a White man, and my mother was a Black woman. So I didn’t have anybody to hate, so I didn’t get into the cadre of, we’ve got to hate this race or that race or the other race. And that was never a discussion in my household. And I was born right on the edge of the Depression, coming out of it, but I don’t think we had come out of it at all. And the one thing I remember the most about having been brought up in that time was, strangely enough, I never heard any reference made in our house about our [status], I never heard we didn’t have this or we didn’t have that, I could only observe that some people appeared to have things I didn’t. But I always thought I had some things they didn’t, as well, and so I never got in the discussion of, poor me. It was always the discussion that you are born to serve. You have to render service. And any conversation that I brought up that would lean toward needing more, I would be told very quickly, you need to take what you have and dispense it among those people that don’t have it. And so obviously the avenue through which to do that was teaching. Not necessarily being a teacher with the job to do so, but whatever you were able to share that you might have had more of than anybody else. And that included experience. I became hooked on reading. As I sit in the subway, I read the stuff up overhead at the top, I just can’t, I have no choice but to read. So I was aware of a few things that were not in my general experience. So in the high school which I attended, which was a very old high school, preceding the state having taken it over, but its ethos was that of learning. We were an average athletic team, we were an average anything other than learning. So in that setting, I never thought beyond making a contribution. And I didn’t have any way that I thought I could make a contribution except through sharing with people whatever had been my exposure, experience, knowledge, accumulation of knowledge through reading…And I liked to be around old folk, I would always sit around the older people and listen to them wax philosophical. Because they had some genuine, not all were particularly literate necessarily, but they had some genuine perspective on life that I found to be very functional, very useful. In that little town, as I mentioned, our ethos was, you were white or you were colored. These other dimensions hadn’t even entered the discussion in an informative way. I always wondered, because the intermingling of the youth. I lived right on the riverbank, and everybody who wanted to swim, we had no pool, so they came by my house because the only passage to the riverbank was by my house. And I’d take them to the river without asking, what is your race, what is your creed, or any of that. But it’s my river, this is my river. That was the ethos. You knew whose river that was. My brother was like, and I mean that superficially, because I understood, they knew it wasn’t my river, but they also knew that it was tantamount to coming in my yard, as it were, to play. And so this notion of separation of races never dawned on me, except in school and church. Those were the only two places I ever saw that manifest itself. And it was puzzling. I didn’t understand then and I don’t understand now why the body which we thought would be most segregated, which was church, was the most segregated institution I was aware of. It still is, by the way. And we were adamant churchgoers. Not necessarily by our own proclivity, but our mother was a devout churchgoer, and after a while I got used to it and began to like it. So much so that I’m still a Sunday school teacher right now. But then in growing up outside of school, which wasn’t much, because school was most of it, in my little town there was an area called the Camp. Men who worked on the river, they had these little camps that they resided in. And when I was 8, 9, 10, I would go down there and they would have me read to them, the gentlemen that were not literate. They would send me to get comic books. And I would go and get comic books and I would read to them. They liked those that were humorous. They didn’t care so much for the action ones. Although they liked Batman, Superman, Captain Marvel, but generally speaking they liked Dagwood and Archie and people who were funny. And when I would read one that was humorous, they’d make me read it again, you know, so we could all laugh together. So I developed an appreciation for humor, and that it tended to work. So growing out of that, and having a family that appreciated a fair amount of levity, I found that humor was better than anger. It really was better than anger. And so to this day, I still practice that. And it may be annoying to some folk, but most would rather have that than have bitterness. And so those were the things that I think had the greatest impact on how developed to become the kind of teacher that I hope I was, and like to think I still am.
ERNIE: It sounds like those were some wonderful years, Dr. Flood. If you would, paint a picture for us of the years when you and Dr. Causby traveled the state working on meeting the challenges around integrating schools…it was far from easy, wasn’t it?
FLOOD: It was challenging. I don’t know if I would determine that it was not easy, because we didn’t know enough about what we were getting into to have any fear of it. Gene’s mentality was very similar to mine, in that Gene didn’t manifest hatred for anybody. He was able to respect any- and everybody, not agree with, necessarily, but respect. I don’t need to agree with you to respect you. I respect your opinion and I really respect your circumstances that might have led to that opinion. That commonality made it very easy for Gene and me to work together with others. But very quickly we developed one or two strategies that we thought would get us into places that tended might have been disinvited. Number one, we were nobody’s enemy, we declared that right out. I don’t come here as your enemy. In most cases we had been invited to be there, may not by the people whom we were working with, but we were invited. So we didn’t trod our way in here, and made it clear that if you don’t find what we’re here to do useful for you, the minute you let us know that, we will discontinue this and move on, because there was always somewhere else who wanted us to be. We didn’t say that, but we had that attitude. If you find this isn’t something you need, you don’t have to chase me off, just let me know you don’t think you need this. So it happened many times that Gene and I enjoyed what we did, even to the point of talking about what challenge we might expect upon going this place or that place or the other place. And then we always had – almost always had some person on the inside who could give some sense of the culture in which we were going. We realized that was one narrative. We realized that we may not have a full scope of the culture. But at least it was a door opener. And generally we really identified with that person or those persons. Very often it would be a superintendent or a principal, sometimes a community member. But it would ensure that we didn’t break in here where somebody wanted us to come, and here is what we’re here to do. And then we always determined for them what we’re not here to do, and that is, whatever we do here has to have three dimensions. One, it has to be legal. We’re not here to help you break the law, or break the law ourselves. Second, whatever we do has to be educationally sound. We will not endorse or recommend something that we can’t demonstrate through knowledge or research that it will be educationally sound, because we’re here about children. The only person that has a right to be at school is children. Everybody else is here by privilege. The law doesn’t grant me a job. It grants children the right to education. So anything we ever did is education. And thirdly, whatever we do, it has to be mutually consensual. That is to say, we don’t all have to like and agree on it, but consensus to us meant that everybody had had an opportunity to have his or her perspective injected, and then we draw some conclusions and whatever we resolve here is consensus. So we might have to stay a little longer to get to that consensus point. We’re not going to take a vote, we’re not going to say all who raise your hand, we’re going to determine that we are in consensus, that what we have determined is good for your children here is what we will do. And so we really didn’t have time to be bitter, we didn’t think about ourselves to be honest with you. It was fairly challenging in some instances because you were starting with polarization. You were starting with people at different ends of the perspective about how they felt and thought. And then we understood as well, people don’t remember so much what you say, but they do remember how you make them feel. And we were able to cause people to feel differently about what they were doing, saying, thinking. You need language to do that. But I’m not sure that every single word that comes out of my mouth is golden. But I am sure for a fact that the way you perceive that I see you as a human being is golden. I’m certain of that. And so we were both fairly skilled but we didn’t need a skill, because of our nature to see the good in people, to see the positivity in people. And therefore, we never talked about what you’re doing wrong, we talked about how there might be some improvement to, which is very different from telling you how dumb you are. We never used that kind of terminology. It was always, have you given any thought to maybe this would work if? That sort of thing. And so it wasn’t because it was less, because it was natural for us. I think for somebody who didn’t have that natural tendency, it would have been an untenable job. But I couldn’t tell you what my hours were, I would be done on a Sunday and somebody calls and says, “We need you in Asheville at 8 o’clock tomorrow morning.” I’m having dinner at 5 o’clock in Raleigh! At that time, it was five hours best you could drive it. We didn’t I-40 at that time. So you couldn’t give a lot of thought to yourself. We were both very fortunate to have wives that understood what we did and understood why we were doing it, and they knew that it would never replace them, but it would replace everything else, because everything else would come second than what we were doing. So that commitment showed, people knew, we’re not here because this is a job, we’re here because we’re committed to what we’re doing. So I think that atmosphere makes it less than difficult. But we really had fun, and it was a challenge.
ERNIE: Dr. Flood, from your perspective, what is the state of public education in North Carolina today? I’m sure you’ve seen substantial progress over the years, but do you think there remains a great deal of work to be done?
FLOOD: I think there has been progress, and I think there has been retrogression in certain arenas. We’ve recapitulated about race relations, there is no question about that. I don’t even want to be glib about it. Race relations are not where they were in 1970, 75. One of those reasons is we don’t have anybody whose full-time job it is to tend to that, and that’s not to self-aggrandize, but when we quit nobody took up the management, no official. There were people running around in pockets doing this or that or the other, but didn’t have the weight of the government behind them. We had the weight of the government. We represented the State of North Carolina, and no matter how good you are representing something other than that, you do not carry the clout that the state carries. So when we were speaking for the state, even though many times the state may not know what we were saying, it had much more of an impact than we were ever going to have again. And until we get back to where the state sees the importance in that, which now it hasn’t demonstrated to me that it does. Now otherwise that polarization was an accumulated polarization growing out of what they had experienced heretofore. We didn’t all experience the same thing they had heretofore. We weren’t starting at, we were starting at ground level, but not beneath that. Now, we have a different kind of society in which polarization is political. I never knew any instance in which we asked somebody what is your political persuasion. We didn’t even guess it, because we didn’t care. That isn’t what we’re here for. We’re here for your children. And if we needed to bring it back to the point, children would always do that. I’ve never met anybody who didn’t think children ought to have something. Maybe not all agree what that was and how they ought to get it, but something. So we would always stay away from that. Right now, there are instances in which I feel that we feel prohibited to say what we know to be the right thing, the best thing. We’re prohibited from doing the thing we know that would be better. We don’t go and do something worse, but that means that we’re idle. We’ve failed to do those things that we know would work well. I think there is less appreciation for the historical perspective of the progress we’ve made and have known there to be heretofore. So much so that except in an interview like this, I rarely talk about my past. I rarely talk about it. Because nobody, not many people want to know anything about what was. And certainly they don’t want to get beyond my past, they don’t want to go all the way back to the 16s and 17s, and that’s a difficulty, because that is what our culture stands on. Our culture stands on what was and how we matriculated from that to what we are. I always like that old saying that today was tomorrow yesterday. And I act on that. Today was tomorrow yesterday. If I didn’t know there was a tomorrow, how would I think there was going to be progress in front of us? So I can demonstrate that there will be a tomorrow, because today is that tomorrow that we were talking about. So when we can focus and get people to look out front of them, not so much through the back window but through the windshield, about what is a possibility, and it is built on what has happened, we’re better off. But when we begin to limit what we can have in discussion, when we begin to politicize discussions that ought to be educational in their nature. Nothing political about, I taught Karl Marx, I taught Mein Kampf when I taught history. That didn’t make me a Nazi. I taught Karl Marx, that didn’t make me a communist. It was teaching. And it didn’t make any of my students communists, either. And if I were teaching today, yes sir, I would teach enslaved people had this and all the rest, they’d just have to put me out. Because I don’t think you can be enlightened to the progress we have made, I don’t think you’re being inspired as a Black person without realizing things over which we have come, and that tells me that it’s possible; the great motivator is possibility. And if I don’t know it’s possible, how can I be motivated to do it? So if anybody knows how you get off that riverbank on which I grew and wind up in the state superintendent’s office, nobody knows that. They think that’s a myth. They think, OK, you lucked out, or somebody favored you. Or you kissed up to somebody. So unless we are able to teach our history in genuine fashion, then we are never going to be able to get what we need to get out of our youth, because the inspiration factor is missing. So I think we’re doing many things much better. We have more opportunities, we have more material things with which to work. We have this meeting, which we didn’t have when we grew up. But the personhood still needs the work. That person just still needs the work. And I say still needs because I’ll just tell you, I believe it’s doable. I wouldn’t be at it if I didn’t believe it was doable. I should have been retired 40 years ago, but I believe every day I’ve lived I’ve done some good, some for a lot of people, some for one or two people. But that’s what we have to believe. If we are going to be a good society, we have to keep on believing in the possibility. And we all have to be willing to put in his or her two cents in whatever we can. So I think education is at a point where we have to make some really serious decisions about what we want America to look like. Because education is going to look like what we want America to look like. And right now I’m not sure that’s clear.
ERNIE: So what about the state of racial equity in our schools today? Where do you think we stand at this point?
FLOOD: I think we’re at the point where we ought to be making more effort than we might have made in a time when it would have been more timely to have done so. But we can’t go back and undo any of that. Had the continuity been there, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. If we had that continuity and we capitalized on what we knew already in the mid-70s and continued that, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. But we had a lapse, and then we had a recapitulation. And now what we’re doing is taking out of the recapitulation factor. So, the degree to which we’re getting enough people who are comfortable even discussing these issues, and who have the knowledge and the skills to discuss them, and who have the language to do so. Language is an incredibly important thing in having these kinds of discussions. Not everybody has that language, and who have the temperament to do so. That’s another ingredient. And it’s hard to transport that temperament from somebody else, unless you have a lot of time around them. If you’re around them enough, it rubs off. But you can’t go in 30 minutes. Many of the invitations I get are 30 minutes. You’re wasting my time if you’re asking me to come somewhere and take 50 people or 60 people and modify them in 30 minutes. You’re just paying me too high a compliment, I can’t do that! Now I can make them think about a couple of things, but that won’t work. There has to be an opportunity to be more than what people are willing to put into these things. Now the excuses they give me is they don’t have time, they’ve got to get this done, they’ve got to get the other done, and I understand that. But the end result is what you’re getting is, you didn’t have an effective opportunity for your people to modify their paradigm about how they address diversity. And we might have opened their thinking so that they may be then better off, but they’re not where they need to be at. So I hope we can develop enough patience again. There was a time when everybody knew we had a problem. Everybody knew that. You might not have liked it, but everybody knew it. Most people don’t know that now. Most people look at how they’re doing. I’m doing well, so what is the problem? And I don’t want us to have to have another instance in which everybody knows there is a problem, necessarily, but I’m fearful that that is what it will take for us to say, we need to modify our direction here. And we need to understand we’re in the people business. And if you’re trying to put something into an empty mind, an empty body, an empty soul, you’re swimming upstream. If you can revive the mind, revive the soul, revive the spirit, teaching is a piece of cake. I’ve never found it hard to teach, never. When you came to my classroom the first day, everybody got an A. I had kids that had never had an A in their life. Everybody got A. today your grade is A. Now, you want to know how to keep that? We’ll have a discussion tomorrow about how you can keep that A. I’ve already got them motivated. “Mom, I got an A!” She’d be, “What?! Son, you never had more than a C!” And if you had categorized somebody as a C student, that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. You’ve already determined what his or her progress will be if they buy that. Now if they know enough to say, “I hear what you’re saying, but give me that book over there, not the math, but give me that science book.” They know enough to say that. And that’s why the work that you’re doing is so significant. It’s that we’re trying to get people to not start believing when somebody told you you can’t do it. Not to start with that. But even that takes an effort. The most important thing about it is focus, attention. Anybody whose attention I can get, I teach. Everybody doesn’t know how you get attention. You can’t demand attention, you earn attention. You earn that. And there are various ways that we can teach people how to get attention. You don’t have that avenue of ways to do it any more, so I’m hoping that the Dudley Flood Center will have that avenue, and that we will be involved in doing that kind of thing, open to that kind of thought, that kind of discussion, and we take every opportunity we can to wedge our thought into whatever discussion we’re having. I don’t care if I’m standing on a streetcorner. You stop and have a conversation to wedge some of that into the conversation. We have not had what we now have before, in the last 30 years, and that is a symbol that said this is something we ought to be doing. You’ve got to have a symbol that says that. It says that somebody thought that this was worthy of spending time and money. We’re doing it. That’s one of the greatest things that has happened in my adult life, that somebody has endorsed that this is worth doing. Somebody outside of me. It isn’t about me at all, it’s about Burroughs Wellcome and others have said, this is worth doing, and somebody is going to listen. Because it has been said by people who are thought to be capable of making good decisions. So that’s where I think we are now, and I’m happy about it. I’m happy. Not finished, but just happy. I’m going to be happy yet. But I’m happy about where we are, because we have an opportunity, and I haven’t had that opportunity for the last 30 years, so I’m partially happy.
ERNIE: You may have already just addressed the next question, but I’m going to go ahead and ask it anyway, to see if we can get a different perspective. How do you feel about the center named in your honor, the Dudley Flood Center for Educational Equity and Opportunity? Do you think it is fulfilling its mission to serve as a hub for the various stakeholders to implement the recommendations of Study Group XVI?
FLOOD: I think the Center is in its infancy, so it’s prejudging to say what it is going to be. Insofar as where it is right now, its mission has been clear in that regard, its effort has been clear in that regard, its staffing has been clear in that regard, its thrust has been clear in that regard, and it has gained respect so quickly. Now one would have thought it would take several years just to get respect for its existence, because keep in mind, we’re moving in a direction that has been moved in for a few years in an efficient way. And we spend some part of almost every day, some of us, in thinking about how we can strengthen those elements that we have in our mission statement. But I’m delighted at the progress we’ve made at this point. We have an amazing advisory board, we have amazing support from the Public School Forum per se, we have astonishing support from funders. Those are things that one could not anticipate going on here. You just have to say, if this would have happened, this is where we’d be. Who ever thought it would? And when it happened, there were still some people who said, this is going to last six months. We went through a little while, it’s what, two, three years old? We got everything else in the report except this. And I don’t want to blow Alfred’s head up, but had it not been for him stepping in when he did, this would never have happened. And I know he had to be at the right place, at the right time, at the right support around him. But now it belongs to everybody. Alfred doesn’t claim this, it’s everybody. And I don’t claim it, Deanna doesn’t claim it, it’s everybody’s. The key has to be that this is your center, it’s here for you. You tell us what you need from it. We know some things that we’ll provide you with, but you tell us what you need from it. And we haven’t said no to anybody yet. And that is what I view. I view it as being a catalyst to compelling us somewhere. But I also view it as being the reservoir of things that many of us know and haven’t had anywhere to store. And nobody has asked us in a profound way that historically continued it to use it. So, of my goodness, where the Center is now is so far beyond anything I’ve seen heretofore in education in this state, and I’ve been in education now since 1954, and I haven’t seen the like, even when we were at DPI, our job was this, but we worked for the state of North Carolina. We knew that we had one core vision, we knew how far we couldn’t go. The Center doesn’t have those limitations. I couldn’t have had this interview with you when I worked for the state of North Carolina. It would have belonged to it, they would have told me what I could say and when. That’s not pejorative, that’s a fact, that’s the way institutions work. I respected that. They gave me a great opportunity. Gene and I had very little surveillance over what we did and didn’t do, but we know constraints that were imposed by virtue of you having to work within the confines of what public education does and stands for. The Center is wide open. I’m working right now with churches. If I had worked with churches when I was at DPI, that would have been a conflict of interest. By the way, they are white churches, I should mention that. Although I would work with a black church if they asked me, so far none have. Maybe one day they will, but right now I’m working with various churches in the name of the Center. I wouldn’t have known I would do this had it not been for the Center, because I don’t advertise. Churches don’t pay, I don’t advertise things that don’t pay. In fact, it costs you to work with churches. If they give you a couple of dollars, you put that in collection. But we do that because it’s a way to get what we need to have done done. We can’t have just educators talking about this thing. Most of the problem here is having an educator come to you from somewhere else, and if the faith-based community is not involved, we’re not going to be successful. So every opportunity I get to gather the faith-based community’s attention to what we’re about, how we’re about it, and for them to need us and know that we need them, I just gravitate to such an opportunity. So I still think we’re onto something here, I really do. I think we’re onto something. It may not show, but I’m happy about that. I blown away by the opportunity that it presents for us to do what I’ve always known that we need to.
Alfred, your name has been invoked, so please jump in here…do you have any questions for Dr. Flood?
ALFRED: I do, thank you Ernie… Dr. Flood, your entire life has been devoted to addressing “systemic wrongs”, in summary, how do you see a future with true “systemic rights” that include equity, access, and opportunity?
FLOOD: I believe that we can develop a pathway to that. I may not live to see it concluded, but we can develop a pathway to that. I believe we already know way more than we need to know to do that. I think the question is whether we determine that that is what we are committed to doing, and I believe I’m surrounded now by people who are so determined. And being surrounded by that is motivation for those of us who think we know a little about that to scratch more deeply into ourselves and say, let’s make that pathway clear, let’s make it inviting, let’s make it not endangered and not dangerous, and I’m on the team that says we can do this. We can get it done. And I feel really, really optimistic about that. I think it’ll take us a while, but I’ll probably be around. I’m only 90 years old. And I’ve enjoyed the first half of my life, but I’m planning to use the other half in the same manner as I used the first half. We’re going to keep plowing until that pathway is so attractive that more people will say it’s safe to get on this, I can speak about this, I can acknowledge my goodness, I can acknowledge my respect for all human beings, I can acknowledge the dignity that is the driver that make America the democracy that it is. If we can just get that far in the next few years with a large number of people that maybe begin to spread that, we’re going to have very, very good results of our efforts.
ERNIE: Thank you, Alfred, and thank you, Dr. Flood…Now let’s bring in the Senior Director of the Flood Center, Dr. Deanna Townsend-Smith. Thanks for joining our discussion…
TOWNSEND-SMITH: Thanks so much for having us today, Ernie, it’s great to be here with you.
ERNIE: We wanted to mine your thoughts about the Flood Center. It’s been up and running for a while now, you’re fully staffed and operational. How do you think it’s going so far?
TOWNSEND-SMITH: I think that’s a great question. And to your point, yes, we are fully staffed right now, and as we continue to expand our programs to be that consistent resource to our diverse stakeholder group, we will need additional staff. So as I reflect on our programming and what those programs are doing to eradicate inequities in education, we are meeting a significant portion of our core strategic priorities and making progress to meet our mission. So I’m pleased with our progress, and we always aim to push to do more, because ultimately at the end of the day, it’s about having the greatest impact to improve educational outcomes for students. So that’s the reason we continue to do this work each and every day.
ERNIE: So what would you cite as the Center’s most important accomplishments thus far?
TOWNSEND-SMITH: That question always causes me to reflect a little bit, Ernie. I think the Center has accomplished much in our short tenure. Two areas of great accomplishment are directly related to our capacity-building and convening of stakeholders through a number of programs, but most importantly through our largest event, which is Color of Education, which brings together hundreds of key stakeholders focused on achieving racial equity and dismantling systemic racism in education across the state. Another area of accomplishment would be in the area of partnership. Each and every day, because of the model that we have in Dr. Flood, we are growing more skilled at developing our sustained and meaningful collaborative partnerships with organizations, philanthropy, and schools to maximize academic impacts across our state. Most recently, we released a Framework for Change, because earlier you heard from Dr. Flood that language is important. So this Framework for Change helps to solidify common practices to address those recommendations that were in the Study Group 16 report. Because common understanding, language, and practices help to guide everyone on what need to be done, and get us to the goal of achieving educational equity. Dr. Flood often says, and I’m a firm believer, that we don’t need another report, we need to act on what we know, and our framework is a start for us. It’s our commitment to act and to ground others on how we move forward to meet the needs of each and every child.
ERNIE: You mentioned moving forward, and I’m sure a significant part of your position with the Center is looking forward…what is your vision for the future of the Center?
TOWNSEND-SMITH: My vision for the Center is that this center becomes the consistent resource it was visioned to be. So we must continue to expand our programming and to support our stakeholder groups to eradicate systemic issues. The Center should and will be the constant resource to support others in this work, now and in the future. That’s my vision for the Center.
ERNIE: And finally, Dr. Townsend-Smith, what has the support from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund meant to the Center?
TOWNSEND-SMITH: It’s humbling, number one. But the support from Burroughs Wellcome Fund has meant that we can exist in a time when others have not wanted to take a stand to address equity. Their support has been and continues to be integral to our existence. Because of Burroughs Wellcome Fund, others are now willing to come to the table to support our work, and you see more organizations feeling empowered to lead in this equity space. One of the core competencies of our Framework for Change is modeling. Because of Burroughs Wellcome Fund, we are able to model how to achieve educational equity by allowing others to see what they can aspire to be.
ERNIE: Dr. Flood and Dr. Townsend-Smith, thank you so much for joining us on FOCUS in Sound.
FLOOD: Thank you, Ernie, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you very much.
TOWNSEND-SMITH: Yes, thank you so much for having us today.
ERNIE: I want to thank Dr. Townsend-Smith, Dr. Flood, and Alfred Mays for participating in this Focus in Sound podcast. This is Ernie Hood. Thanks for listening!