The “Coleman” Connection

iChange Collaborative - We offer inclusivity consulting and training workshops to businesses, schools, community organizations, and government agencies.

By Danielle Stewart

When iChange started creating spaces for educators to connect beyond their classrooms, one of our first initiatives was the Summer Diversity Institute. By the end of the first four-day intensive, strangers would be connected to each other by their stories, their challenges, and their willingness to explore new possibilities and approaches to this work. At the time, we didn’t realize how enduring some of these connections would be.

Since then, we’ve had the privilege of working with thousands of educators, and the bonus for us is that years later, these relationships are continuing to flourish.  We sometimes hear from educators that our work has changed their lives. As facilitators, we do not always have a chance to tell them how their work has changed ours too.

Suzanne Coleman is one of those teachers whose influence has shaped my life. Suzanne attended the iChange Summer Diversity Institute in the summer of 2017, and in the four days she was there, she challenged us as individuals and as an organization. She pushed everyone in attendance that year to think and lean in beyond our comfort levels. To meet and embrace Suzanne at her level of expertise, we all had to grow in this work.

After the Summer Diversity Institute ended, Suzanne joined my People of Color affinity group, and through this ongoing connection, she personally reminded me that I was visible, significant, and taught me that I had the gift of facilitation. She taught everyone in our group that we all were gifts to each other and to the world. Despite her own extraordinary accomplishments, level of experiences, natural wisdom, and knowledge, she generously shared her own stories of challenges, changes, future plans, hopes and dreams. There is something powerful about a space that connects people like Suzanne who are accomplished, professional and strong. There is something magical that happens when you bring People of Color together to share experiences of being overlooked and underappreciated because the real connection is nurtured through the experiences, tears and laughter we share.

Suzanne unexpectedly passed away earlier this year. In our meetings after her passing, we each revisited our many text exchanges and conversations and reflected on whether we told Suzanne enough how much we treasured her and how much we admired and valued her. We realized that we, in fact, did tell her, and that was our gift to Suzanne. We realized that the connections we made with her in our affinity group – a place we created to encourage and support each other – was what allowed us to give her our gift. As we continue to plan for our upcoming affinity group meetings, I catch myself sending a reminder to her to save the date. I guess it is simply because Suzanne is not someone who can ever be forgotten. When this unexpected connection happened with Suzanne, it sparked new life in all of us, and we are all so perplexed at how someone with so much life could no longer be with us.

We continue to ask ourselves and each other whether in a world that is unjust and where women of color continue to fight for equality, did anyone else know how much Suzanne was loved by us? Did anyone else know all of the aspects of this woman that we knew as Suzanne Coleman? Because like all of us, she brought her full self to our affinity group. That was the power of this connection.
The answer to that question, we may never know. What we do know is that Suzanne Coleman will always be a point of reference for us while continuing to do this work in building connections with others.

“Connections change the lives of those who are destined to change the world. Suzanne, you changed our world!”-Danielle

 

Maybe it’s the trust in the classroom, but I am able to express myself so much more freely. I feel much safer to be myself.

 
Student
Paideia School
 
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