Leslie T. Fenwick Delivers 2023 Brown Lecture
Leslie T. Fenwick Delivers 2023 Brown Lecture

October 2023

Audience at the 2023 Brown Lecture

On October 19, Leslie T. Fenwick presented the 20th Anniversary Brown Lecture in Education Research, “Otherwise Qualified: The Untold Story of Brown and Black Educators’ Professional Superiority,” to an in-person audience of well over 400 and a virtual audience of more than 1,000 from 20 countries. This year’s lecture was the first since 2019 to be held as a full-scale public event at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, D.C., where the first 16 Brown Lectures were held.

Fenwick’s riveting lecture was immediately followed by a highly engaging moderated discussion and audience Q&A. Nirvi Shah (USA Today) served as moderator with K-12 policy experts Eric Duncan (The Education Trust) and Adriane Dorrington (National Education Association) serving as commentators.  

A nationally known scholar with deep expertise in public policy, educational equity, and leadership and leadership studies, Fenwick is dean emerita of the Howard University School of Education, where she is a professor of educational policy and leadership, and dean in residence at the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.

AERA Executive Director
Felice J. Levine

AERA Executive Director Felice J. Levine introduced the event.

“We are experiencing a complex time for our nation and for our world,” said Levine. “From the Supreme Court decisions from the last term to the actions and activities of states and local school boards, we are witnessing a renewed verve that is eroding a commitment to equity and justice, politicizing education, and challenging trust in so many institutions of society, including science and research.  These issues are central to tonight’s lecture.”

Dean of Howard University's School of Education Dawn Williams

During Levine’s welcome, Dawn Williams, dean of Howard University’s School of Education, made a surprise appearance and offered special remarks. Williams acknowledged the fellow audience members from Howard University in the audience, who were celebrating their Homecoming weekend.

“This year you could not have had a better lecturer choice than Dr. Leslie Fenwick,” said Williams. “She is a leading scholar of Brown, at a time when we need to know more about the impacts of judicial and political decisions that we are all closely watching.”

AERA President Tyrone C. Howard then introduced Fenwick.

AERA President
Tyrone C. Howard

“Dr. Fenwick is widely known as a renowned scholar and a fearless voice for educational equity,” said Howard. “We are honored for the opportunity to learn from Dr. Fenwick’s knowledge and wisdom as she offers a newly excavated history of Brown and how it is still mis-defined.”


Fenwick opened her lecture by sharing memories of her childhood in which she learned from her parents about the academic and cultural excellence and strength of segregated African American schools.

“What this means is that my research comes from a place of knowing,” said Fenwick.

She defined her theory of cultural elision as “an operative lens leading to the purposeful disregard, unseeing, and incomprehension of anything consequentially positive, self-determinative, or superior about African Americans.”

She used an example of President Barack Obama’s appointment to the Harvard Law Review and the resulting erroneous conclusion that there had been no previous African American male editors, despite there being several since 1921.

“If, on the odd chance, African American excellence is acknowledged, it is usually tied to a single African American who is then exceptionalized in the research, history, and the commentary,” said Fenwick.

2023 Brown Lecture Speaker
Leslie T. Fewick

Fenwick provided historical context for her lecture by detailing how Brown led to the firings, dismissals, and demotions of 100,000 African American principals and teachers between 1952 and the late 1970s.

Fenwick asserted that displaced African American educators’ credentials were in fact superior and stand as evidence against the lie of African American intellectual inferiority.

“The underrepresentation of African Americans in the nation’s educator workforce today is tied to massive White resistance to Brown,” said Fenwick. “Despite the damage to the pipeline, African Americans remain the nation’s most academically credentialed educators.”

“This is the origin of the contemporary underrepresentation of African American educators in the workforce,” Fenwick stated.

Fenwick described the three enduring traumas with the loss of African American educators and principals. The first trauma was economic, with desegregation leaving African American educators nearly $1 billion poorer from income loss. The second trauma was the damage done to school systems because of the loss of high-caliber leadership. The third trauma was the suffering of African American students’ socialization and education.

Finally, Fenwick provided recommendations for a way forward, including items such as telling the history about African American underrepresentation and discontinuing the use of standardized tests that replicate racial disparities.

(Left to Right) Leslie T. Fenwick, Adriane Dorrington, Eric Duncan, and Nirvi Shah

“Racial equity and educational equity are conjoined goals,” Fenwick concluded. “It is unlikely that one will be achieved without the other.”

Fenwick was joined by moderator Nirvi Shah, education enterprise editor at USA Today, and the two commentators for the discussion forum. Adriane Dorrington, senior policy analyst at the National Education Association, and Eric Duncan, director for p–12 policy at The Education Trust, offered their thoughts on the issues described in the lecture.

Dorrington addressed the urgent and critical need to diversify the educator workforce, especially given the current political climate and trauma being experienced by students, especially students of color.

“Research shows that all students, especially African American students, benefit from being taught by African American educators,” Dorrington reflected. “It’s been shown that African American teachers help to close the achievement gap of African American students and help to reduce the discipline disparities.”

Duncan highlighted an example of an organization that successfully diversified their educator workforce through a simple policy solution by forcing hiring managers to justify hiring a white candidate over a qualified Black candidate.

The Audience at the 2023 Brown Lecture

“There’s so much of the systems level, the policies that have been created to intentionally take Black teachers out of the classroom, that even that small solution can have a big impact,” said Duncan.

Following the discussion, Levine adjourned the program, thanking those who attended in person and on the livestream.

“What we heard here are many actionable possibilities—things that the research community needs to do, the parent community needs to do, the school leaders and teachers need to do—and there’s a project before us that I think is doable,” Levine concluded.

The video recording of the event will be posted to the AERA website.