The Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Panel and
Question & Answer Session:
A Discussion on Systemic Racism within the Disability Community
Future Topic Areas:
The Role Implicit Bias Plays in Education specifically related to African American Males and People of Color
African American Males - Discipline in K-12
Criminalizing the Behaviors of African American Males
Over-Representation of Black Men in the Juvenile Justice System
Dr. Janice Underwood
Chief Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Officer, Commonwealth of Virginia
Dr. Janice Underwood was appointed by Governor Ralph Northam as the Commonwealth of Virginia’s first cabinet-level Chief Diversity Officer (CDO). This position is also the first of its kind in the nation. As the Commonwealth’s CDO, she is committed to addressing racial, ethnic, disability, gender-based, and other cultural inequities in formal and informal policies and practices in Virginia state government. As a result, Dr. Underwood is working tirelessly to build the ONE Virginia statewide strategic plan for Inclusive Excellence across over 100 state agencies and with other public and private sectors. In her short tenure, she has been named one of “20 Women of Change” in 2020 by the Virginia Museum of History and Culture for the accomplishments and impact she has already had on the Commonwealth. Her goal is to make Virginia an exemplar for the nation, regarding diversity, equity, and inclusive excellence.
Presentation Focus: With the creation of the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (ODEI), Virginia is becoming a national exemplar in addressing the historical injustices and inequities that have existed for the last 400 years within all systems across our Commonwealth. Therefore, Dr. Underwood will talk about the purpose and shared goals of the ODEI, as well as summarize the work of the Equity Leadership Task Force as part of the COVID-19 Unified Command, which is under her leadership. Specifically, Dr. Underwood will provide an update on the following goals:
Create a statewide assessment to evaluate inequities with formal and informal systems, processes, leaders, legislation, and overall logistics;
Develop a sustainable framework for the continued promotion of inclusive practices across state government;
Collaborate with 105+ state agencies within the Commonwealth to ensure equity and inclusion within the areas of employee engagement, hiring and retention practices, and the implementation of a diversity strategic plan; and
Engage with diverse stakeholders around the Commonwealth to establish and increase inclusive excellence across the Commonwealth
Director for Equity & Community Engagement, Virginia Dept. of Education
Resolute in her commitment to community impact, Leah Dozier-Walker has more than twenty years of public sector experience. Possessing a diverse record of service throughout the Commonwealth, Leah has worked for Mayor Dwight C. Jones’ Administration in the City of Richmond, Governor Timothy M. Kaine at the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services, the Virginia Democratic Caucus in the House of Delegates, the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus and its Foundation, Richmond City Council, and Congressman Robert C. “Bobby” Scott.
She currently serves as the Director for Equity and Community Engagement at the Virginia Department of Education where she leads external relations and statewide efforts aimed at advancing education equity, closing the achievement gap, and decreasing disproportionality in student outcomes. Leah serves on the Virginia Indian Advisory Board and the Governor’s Advisory Board for Service and Volunteerism and devotes her time to mentoring young women in Richmond. In 2018, Style Weekly named herto its annual “Power List” as one of the most influential people in education in the Richmond region.
Dedicated to disrupting structural racism, Leah utilizes communications savvy, public relations expertise, and innovative outreach tactics to galvanize support for social justice and to advance inclusive learning environments for all students. Leah earned her Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Hampton University, and a Master’s of Public Administration from Virginia Commonwealth University. She is the proud mother of two teenage daughters, Alexandra and Adriana.
Presenter Topic Focus: An overview of the Commonwealth’s Education Equity Framework, Navigating EdEquityVA - Virginia’s Road Map to Equity will be presented. This comprehensive framework outlines the Commonwealth’s shared education equity priorities and advances tools and resources that support local school divisions. With a focus on centering equity through cultural competency and the elimination of opportunity gaps, the framework affirms the Virginia Department of Education’s commitment to dismantle any and all forms of inequity in Virginia’s public education system. Remarks will include Virginia' definition of education equity, Virginia's EdEquityVA Compass (the competencies necessary to advance equity), and an overview of VA's education equity data.
Attorney, Special Education and Education Law
Grace Kim is the principal attorney with The Law Office of Grace E. Kim, P.C. She focuses her practice on Special Education and Education Law, to include issues involving the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), restraint and seclusion, school discipline, and higher education issues. Ms. Kim has been working on behalf of children with Special Needs since 2002 as a mother of a Special Needs child. This led her to become an attorney dedicating her practice to representing families of Special Needs children with legal and education-related issues. She earned her B.A. degree from Nyack College, her M.A. degree from Alliance Theological Seminary, and her J.D. degree from the George Mason University School of Law and is a founding member of Partners in Promise, an education and advocacy group working on behalf of military special needs children, and lectures on Special Education and related topics for various local and national organizations. Ms. Kim lives in Virginia with her husband, Joshua, her daughter, Karis (12) and her son, Josiah (18) who is on the Autism Spectrum with co-morbid conditions and other neurological and physical disabilities.
Presentation Focus: Identifying and addressing systemic racism in Special Education (“SPED”) is difficult. SPED cases focus on individual claims of whether the student was afforded a Free and Appropriate Public Education (“FAPE”) and claims of racism are often disregarded unless they are obvious, and even then are typically set aside. However the overall data reveals that race has played a role in the disparate identification and treatment of students of color. In terms of students with disabilities whose parents’ first language is other than English, the categorization and oftentimes marginalization of the student’s needs according to their disabilities as secondary to a presumed “English Language Learner” status can result in negative educational impact. There are solutions to the issue of systemic racism, and acknowledging the issue is a step towards providing the students with disabilities within these communities a Free and Appropriate Public Education.
Ronnie Sidney II
Best-selling author, speaker, consultant, and licensed therapist
Ronnie Sidney, II, LCSW, a Virginia native, is an award-winning author, professional speaker, consultant, entrepreneur, and licensed therapist. Creative Medicine: Healing Through Words, LLC (CMHTW) was founded by Sidney in 2015. Creative Medicine: Healing Through Words began as an expressive writing group for adult male offenders at the Northern Neck Regional Jail in Warsaw, Virginia. The company’s mission is to improve participants’ social, emotional and physical health outcomes through therapeutic writing and dialogue.
In third grade, Sidney was diagnosed with a learning disability (dysgraphia and ADHD) and spent seven years in special education. Sidney’s early academic challenges ignited a passion within him to pursue social justice and to work with the youth. After graduating Virginia Commonwealth University in 2014, Sidney went on to self-publish Nelson Beats the Odds, Tameka's New Dress, Nelson Beats the Odds: Compendium One, Rest in Peace RaShawn and Rest in Peace RaShawn Reloaded. In 2015, Sidney helped develop the Nelson Beats the Odds Comic Creator self-esteem app.
Presentation Focus: This presentation will give you a glimpse into the real-life experiences of Ronnie Sidney, II, LCSW. Sidney is a husband and father of three beautiful girls. In 2015, Sidney released Amazon best-seller "Nelson Beats the Odds", a semiautobiographical comic book about a young man who struggles with the shame of being placed in special education. The presenter will share how resiliency and championing helped him beat the odds. During the presentation he’ll explore how race, gender and ability impact student outcomes.
Ms Catherine Childers
Mr. Josh "Bishop" Parker
Ms. Angel Barnhill
Ms. Sonja Lassister
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) Subcommittee
Dr. Nicci Dowd, Chair
Ms. Cheryl Lloyd, Co-Chair
Ms. Christine Germeyer
Ms. Amanda Forry Fino