Community Events at Chicago’s Parker Broaden Diversity Initiatives

When the community gathers at Francis W. Parker School in Chicago, sharing and storytelling enriches all

At Chicago’s Francis W. Parker School, an independent PreK-12 school in Lincoln Park, efforts to foster an environment of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) extend well beyond the student level.

In fact, in addition to the regular DEIB initiatives incorporated in the curriculum, the school often hosts events that invite administrators, parents and even community members outside of the school.

“We have several programs specific to students, but it’s also important that we mirror those programs or mirror that language and education with faculty, staff, parents and other members of the community,” explained Erika Prahl, Director of DEIB for the school. “We want everyone to have a clear idea of what conversations are happening in the school so they’re able to keep that work happening at home.”

At Parker, equity demonstrates success accessible to all

In January, the school hosted Chef de Cuisine Damarr Brown for its Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Speaker Series. Brown talked about his professional journey as a Black chef in Chicago and his experiences on the TV program Top Chef in a public event at the school.

Damarr Brown at conference
In January, Damarr Brown joined Francis W. Parker School for its Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Speaker Series. Brown highlighted his time on the TV program “Top Chef” and also his experience as a Black chef from Chicago. Photo provided by: Francis W. Parker School

“Damarr’s story was really about the way food created opportunities for him, but at the same time, still all connected back to his parents,” Prahl said. “Inspired by his mother and grandmother and their recipes, Damarr worked his way through culinary school and learned these amazing French techniques. He never thought for a second that the food he grew up eating would fall into the category of fine dining today.”

But at the end of the day, the James Beard Award winner still approaches cooking and teaching others about cooking like he was in his grandmother’s kitchen.

“Chef shared his experience learning the language and techniques used in a traditional French kitchen. In time, he began to observe and realize that his mother and grandmother were employing the same methods in the kitchen around him when he was a child,” Prahl explained.

Sharing and learning through immersive storytelling

Speakers like Brown hit on exactly what the DEIB programs are aimed to do — either provide a window or a mirror to someone else’s life.

“Over time, we want to bring in even more representative voices and stories that build on our curriculum through windows and mirrors,” Prahl explained. “Sometimes when we show up to these events, we see a window into someone else’s life and experience. Other times, we show up and it’s a mirror that reflects your own background or experience.”

The school also hosts an annual Administrators of Color in Independent Schools Conference, for example. Last year’s event welcomed 83 senior administrators of color from more than 40 schools spanning 12 states for a day and a half of connection. 

2023 Administrators of Color in Independent Schools Conference
More than 83 senior administrators of color joined Francis W. Parker School for its annual Administrators of Color in Independent Schools Conference. Photo provided by: Francis W. Parker School

The event also includes inspiring keynote speakers. Last year’s event featured actor, writer and activist Brandon Kyle Goodman, as well as author, lawyer and podcast host Gyasi Ross, a member of the Blackfeet Nation.

“Really at this moment, we’re trying to bring in different people with different stories and experiences as a crucial part of DEIB,” Prahl said. “Learning about other people through their experiences and storytelling is a way to move forward.”

2024 marks the seventh year for the annual event, which will be held Oct. 24-25, 2024. 

Additionally, the Young Women of Color Symposium and Cullen J. Davis Young Men of Color Symposium will also return in 2024.

Annual programming held by Francis W. Parker School in Chicago

  • Young Women of Color Symposium 

The Young Women of Color Symposium is a leadership conference for sixth to 12th grade, self-identified young women of color in the Chicagoland area. To protect, support and empower young women of color, Francis W. Parker School and Loyola Academy have partnered to create a space for conversation, connection and community. More here.

  • Administrators of Color in Independent Schools Conference

This conference offers administrators of color opportunities for connection, mentoring and sharing. Contact info@fwparker.org for more. This year’s event is scheduled for Oct. 24-25, 2024.

  • Cullen J. Davis Young Men of Color Symposium for Middle and Upper School Students of Color in Independent Schools

This symposium provides participants with opportunities to explore their multiple identities and learn skills geared towards self-advocacy and community building through workshops and facilitator-led conversations. Contact info@fwparker.org for more. This year’s event is scheduled for Nov. 2, 2024

Content sponsored by Francis W. Parker School. Find a full list of Francis W. Parker School’s public events online at www.fwparker.org/news-and-events/public-events.

Chicago Parent Editorial Team
Chicago Parent Editorial Team
Since 1984, the Chicago Parent editorial team is trained to be the go-to source for Chicagoland families, offering a rich blend of expert advice, compelling stories, and the top local activities for kids. Renowned for their award-winning content, the team of editors and writers are dedicated to enriching family life by connecting parents with the finest resources and experiences our community has to offer.

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