Recap of DPS ED Talk: Conversations on Identity and Belonging

On October 17, over 100 DPS employees, parents and community members gathered together to talk about identity and belonging at the first of a three-part ED Talk speaker series focused on belonging. The night began with a spoken word performance by Denver-based slam poet, Jose Guerrero.


Moderator Bill De La Cruz then started the conversation with a question to the audience, asking them to share their own identity and its importance.


Audience participation

Denver community member shares what identity means to her.

audience participation 2

DPS teacher shares his thoughts on identity.

The question was then opened up to the main speakers of the night, a panel of individuals representing different cultures and backgrounds from the Hispanix, Lantix and Chicanx communities. The panel included Nancy Palacios, DPS high school student; Dr. David Conde, Chamber of the Americas; Jesus Escarcega, Aurora Public Schools; Ingrid Porras-Gonzalez, DPS Multicultural Services; Marisol Villagomez, Denver Broncos Football Club; and Ricardo LaFore, activist, former FEMA public affairs specialist and Senate aide.
ED Talk panelists

Panelists from left to right: Ricardo LaFore, Nancy Palacios, Marisol Villagomez, Jesus Escarcega, Ingrid Porras-Gonzalez, Dr. David Conde.

As they discussed the importance of their own identities, the panelists also touched on ways an identity can be dismissed or assumed- and what they have done in response.

“People make assumptions that I am not smart enough or capable of doing something because of the color of my skin or because I am a woman. I am constantly telling people, ‘I am a strong, independent woman!’ ” –Nancy P.


“When I started working in a male-dominated industry [sports], I was told, ‘you have two strikes against you.’ From this, I have learned that I am the only one who can dictate whether I belong or not (…) one thing I want to leave you with tonight is to first convince yourself that you belong there. Don’t let others make that decision for you.” Marisol V.


The panel offered recommendations to the administration and teachers on what they can do to build a culture where identity is valued.


From learning more about our students…

“Get to know your students for who they are, not just in the classroom but outside- where do they come from? Take the time to educate yourself and the other students. Gain knowledge from each other… listen don’t just hear.” –Nancy P.


“Look in your classroom, who is sitting in the back? Who are those kids? What is your relationship with those students? As you walk around your campus, pay attention to who is not involved and engaged…they need to get involved. They have already figured out how the system views them– they’ve already accepted their role. It’s important that you change that role and that thinking for them. Develop those relationships. Get to know who those kids are. Get to know their stories, and then be a role model, be that caring adult.” –Jesus E.


“Be cognizant of the message that you are setting forward, because these kids are listening 24/7 whether they appear to be or not. Be that example in everything that you do and be aware- ask yourself, is that what I would want my child or the next generation to be acting upon?”–Marisol V.

Nancy and Jesus

Panelists Nancy P. and Jesus E.


…to teaching students about their history…


“[Students] need to know their history within the context of the greater American history, how they feed into that and what they have done to improve and contribute to the greatness of our country. If they don’t know that and they are not taught that- then they are strangers in someone else’s house. They will always be guests in an unwelcoming home. When they really feel like they are a part of it, they will improve their country, they will fight for their country, they will defend their country. This has to happen. As educators, that is one of the first things you have to do.” –Ricardo L.


…and creating a space for students to thrive.


“Create a safe space to talk about race, don’t make it a big deal- make it the norm. We are much more than the color of our skin and where we were born.” –Ingrid P.


“Something that is becoming more and more important, especially in Latino education- is the notion of leadership. How do you incorporate leadership skills within your students? We need leaders in this country. It’s up to you- our teachers, to [grow] these leaders.” –Dr. Conde

At the end of the night, the recommendations were discussed in further detail amongst the audience, encouraging many to turn them into actionable items within their schools. Quoting Cesar Chavez, Ricardo LaFore left the audience with some powerful words,

“Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot un-educate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore.”
In his own words, LaFore added,


“We as human beings have a primal instinct to belong. You have to recognize that in our students. When they belong, they are no longer afraid.”