(ABOVE) The first IREL team at our institute hosted at the University of New Hampshire. Pictured: Back, L to R: Chris Hall, Aeriale Johnson, Min Pai, Cornelius Minor, Front, L to R: Sonja Cherry-Paul, Tricia Ebarvia, Anna Osborn
In the summer of 2019, more than seventy educators gathered from across the country and globe in the small New England town of Durham, New Hampshire. What brought them together was their deep commitment to justice and their understanding that as educators, literacy was an important and necessary tool for liberation.
Thus began the inaugural Institute for Racial Equity in Literacy (IREL).
When we, Dr. Sonja Cherry-Paul and Tricia Ebarvia, first began imagining what IREL could be, we knew we wanted a space where teachers could take the necessary time to reflect deeply on their practices and work for transformative change in their classrooms, schools, and communities. When the pandemic hit in 2020, we moved the IREL experience online—and more than 600 educators gathered together for two one-week institutes: 1) Interrogating Internalized Racism in Ourselves and Our Practices, and 2) Understanding Systemic Racism: Society, Schools, and Classrooms. With the murder of George Floyd and increasing awareness of anti-Asian racism, we knew it was more important than ever to recommit to the work of racial and social justice in our schools. Hundreds more educators joined us again in 2021 online for the third year of IREL. Over those two years online, we learned from special guest speakers and keynotes, including Randy Ribay, Tiffany Jewell, Dr. Debbie Reese, Dr. Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz, Dr. Sarah-Soonling Blackburn, Lorena Germán, Dr. Kim Parker and Chad Everett.
(ABOVE) Participants engage in small groups at the inaugural IREL in NH; (RIGHT) Randy Ribay as the keynote speaker for the online IREL experience in 2020.
In 2022, we were excited to bring IREL back in-person, this time at the beautiful Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library in Washington D.C., which was made possible through our partnership with the D.C. Public Library Foundation. Not only did we have an incredible group of educators gather, we also hosted a powerful author panel on “Writing about Race and Identity” with New York Times best-selling author Frederick Joseph, Newbery Medal winning author Amina Luqman-Dawson, and facilitated by Glory Edim, founder and editor of Well-Read Black Girl.
This summer, we’re returning to D.C. for the fifth summer of IREL learning, community, and joy. And as we enter our this fifth summer of IREL, we bring with us important lessons that we’ve learned as teacher-leaders in this experience. We’re excited to offer two *new* sessions, one focused on bringing an equity and antiracist lens to our teaching of reading and a second on our teaching of writing. We believe these 3-day sessions will an inviting and engaging experience, whether you are new to the IREL family or returning!
One aphorism that researchers believe is of African origin, as it embodies the spirit of many African cultures, is “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” We have always envisioned IREL as space where we go together in order to go far. This summer, we hope you’ll join us as we go far together.
Sonja and Tricia