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  • So when I was a little girl,

  • a book sat on the coffee table in our living room,

  • just steps from our front door.

  • And the living room is a first impression.

  • Ours had white carpet

  • and a curio of my mother's most treasured collectibles.

  • That room represented the sacrifices of generations gone by

  • who, by poverty or by policy,

  • couldn't afford a curio of collectibles

  • let alone a middle class house to put them in.

  • That room had to stay perfect.

  • But I would risk messing up that perfect room every day

  • just to see that book.

  • On the cover sat a woman named Septima Clark.

  • She sat in perfect profile with her face raised to the sky.

  • She had perfect salt-and-pepper cornrows

  • platted down the sides of her head,

  • and pride and wisdom just emanated from her dark skin.

  • Septima Clark was an activist and an educator,

  • a woman after whom I'd eventually model my own career.

  • But more than all the words she ever spoke,

  • that single portrait of Septima Clark,

  • it defined confidence for me

  • before I ever even knew the word.

  • It may sound simple,

  • but confidence is something that we underestimate the importance of.

  • We treat it like a nice-to-have instead of a must-have.

  • We place value on knowledge and resources

  • above what we deem to be the soft skill of confidence.

  • But by most measures, we have more knowledge

  • and more resources now than at any other point in history,

  • and still injustice abounds and challenges persist.

  • If knowledge and resources were all that we needed,

  • we wouldn't still be here.

  • And I believe that confidence is one of the main things

  • missing from the equation.

  • I'm completely obsessed with confidence.

  • It's been the most important journey of my life,

  • a journey that, to be honest, I'm still on.

  • Confidence is the necessary spark before everything that follows.

  • Confidence is the difference between being inspired

  • and actually getting started,

  • between trying and doing until it's done.

  • Confidence helps us keep going even when we failed.

  • The name of the book on that coffee table was "I Dream A World,"

  • and today I dream a world where revolutionary confidence

  • helps bring about our most ambitious dreams into reality.

  • That's exactly the kind of world that I wanted to create in my classroom

  • when I was a teacher,

  • like a Willy Wonka world of pure imagination,

  • but make it scholarly.

  • All of my students were black or brown.

  • All of them were growing up in a low-income circumstance.

  • Some of them were immigrants, some of them were disabled,

  • but all of them were the very last people

  • this world invites to be confident.

  • That's why it was so important that my classroom be a place

  • where my students could build the muscle of confidence,

  • where they could learn to face each day with the confidence you need

  • to redesign the world in the image of your own dreams.

  • After all, what are academic skills without the confidence to use those skills

  • to go out and change the world.

  • Now is when I should tell you about two of my students, Jamal and Regina.

  • Now, I've changed their names, but their stories remain the same.

  • Jamal was brilliant, but unfocused.

  • He would squirm in his chair during independent work,

  • and he would never stay still for more than three or four minutes.

  • Students like Jamal can perplex brand new teachers

  • because they're not quite sure how to support young people like him.

  • I took a direct approach.

  • I negotiated with Jamal.

  • If he could give me focused work,

  • then he could do it from anywhere in the classroom,

  • from our classroom rug, from behind my desk,

  • from inside his classroom locker, which turned out to be his favorite place.

  • Jamal's least favorite subject was writing,

  • and he never wanted to read what he had written out loud in class,

  • but we were still making progress.

  • One day, I decided to host a mock 2008 presidential election

  • in my classroom.

  • My third graders had to research and write a stump speech

  • for their chosen candidate:

  • Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton or John McCain.

  • The heavy favorites were obvious,

  • but one student chose John McCain.

  • It was Jamal.

  • Jamal finally decided to read something that he had written out loud in class,

  • and sure enough, Jamal stunned all of us with his brilliance.

  • Just like Jamal's dad, John McCain was a veteran,

  • and just like Jamal's dad protected him,

  • Jamal believed that John McCain would protect the entire country.

  • And he wasn't my candidate of choice, but it didn't matter,

  • because the entire class erupted into applause,

  • a standing ovation for our brave friend Jamal

  • who finally showed up as his most confident self

  • for the first time that year.

  • And then there was Regina.

  • Regina was equally as brilliant, but active.

  • She'd inevitably finish her work early,

  • and then she'd get on about the business of distracting other students.

  • (Laughter)

  • Walking, talking,

  • passing those notes that teachers hate but kids love.

  • You look like you passed a lot of them.

  • (Laughter)

  • Despite my high ideals for our classroom,

  • I would too often default to my baser instincts,

  • and I would choose compliance over confidence.

  • Regina was a glitch in my intended system.

  • A good teacher can correct misbehavior

  • but still remain a student's champion.

  • But on one day in particular,

  • I just plain old chose control.

  • I snapped,

  • and my approach didn't communicate to Regina

  • that she was being a distraction.

  • My approach communicated to Regina that she herself was a distraction.

  • I watched the light go out from her eyes,

  • and that light sparked joy in our classroom.

  • I had just extinguished it.

  • The entire class became irritable,

  • and we didn't recover for the rest of the day.

  • I think about the day often,

  • and I have literally prayed that I did not do irreparable harm,

  • because as a woman who used to be a little girl just like Regina,

  • I know that I could have started the process of killing her confidence

  • forever.

  • A lack of confidence pulls us down from the bottom

  • and weighs us down from the top,

  • crushing us between a flurry of can'ts, won'ts and impossibles.

  • Without confidence, we get stuck,

  • and when we get stuck, we can't even get started.

  • Instead of getting mired in what can get in our way,

  • confidence invites us to perform with certainty.

  • We all operate a little differently when we're sure we can win

  • versus if we just hope we will.

  • Now, this can be a helpful check.

  • If you don't have enough confidence,

  • it could be because you need to readjust your goal.

  • If you have too much confidence,

  • it could be because you're not rooted in something real.

  • Not everyone lacks confidence.

  • We make it easier in this society for some people to gain confidence

  • because they fit our preferred archetype of leadership.

  • We reward confidence in some people

  • and we punish confidence in others,

  • and all the while far too many people

  • are walking around every single day without it.

  • For some of us,

  • confidence is a revolutionary choice,

  • and it would be our greatest shame

  • to see our best ideas go unrealized

  • and our brightest dreams go unreached

  • all because we lacked the engine of confidence.

  • That's not a risk I'm willing to take.

  • So how do we crack the code on confidence?

  • In my estimation, it takes at least three things:

  • permission, community and curiosity.

  • Permission births confidence,

  • community nurtures it

  • and curiosity affirms it.

  • In education, we've got a saying,

  • that you can't be what you can't see.

  • When I was a little girl, I couldn't show confidence

  • until someone showed me.

  • My family used to do everything together,

  • including the mundane things, like buying a new car,

  • and every time we did this,

  • I'd watch my parents put on the exact same performance.

  • We'd enter the dealership,

  • and my dad would sit

  • while my mom shopped.

  • When my mom found a car that she liked,

  • they'd go in and meet with the dealer,

  • and inevitably, every time the dealer would turn his attention

  • and his body to my dad,

  • assuming that he controlled the purse strings

  • and therefore this negotiation.

  • "Rev. Packnett," they'd say, "how do we get you into this car today?"

  • My dad would inevitably respond the same way.

  • He'd slowly and silently gesture toward my mother

  • and then put his hands right back in his lap.

  • It might have been the complete shock

  • of negotiating finances with a black woman in the '80s,

  • but whatever it was,

  • I'd watch my mother work these car dealers over

  • until they were basically giving the car away for free.

  • (Laughter)

  • She would never crack a smile.

  • She would never be afraid to walk away.

  • I know my mom just thought she was getting a good deal on a minivan,

  • but what she was actually doing

  • was giving me permission to defy expectations

  • and to show up confidently in my skill no matter who doubts me.

  • Confidence needs permission to exist

  • and community is the safest place to try confidence on.

  • I traveled to Kenya this year to learn about women's empowerment

  • among Maasai women.

  • There I met a group of young women

  • called Team Lioness,

  • among Kenya's first all-female community ranger groups.

  • These eight brave young women were making history

  • in just their teenage years,

  • and I asked Purity, the most verbose young ranger among them,

  • "Do you ever get scared?"

  • I swear to you, I want to tattoo her response all over my entire body.

  • She said, "Of course I do,

  • but I call on my sisters.

  • They remind me that we will be better than these men

  • and that we will not fail."

  • Purity's confidence to chase down lions and catch poachers,

  • it didn't come from her athletic ability or even just her faith.

  • Her confidence was propped up by sisterhood,

  • by community.

  • What she was basically saying was that if I am ever in doubt,

  • I need you to be there

  • to restore my hope

  • and to rebuild my certainty.

  • In community, I can find my confidence

  • and your curiosity can affirm it.

  • Early in my career, I led a large-scale event

  • that did not go exactly as planned.

  • I'm lying to you. It was terrible.

  • And when I debriefed the event with my manager,

  • I just knew that she was going to run down the list

  • of every mistake I had ever made,

  • probably from birth.

  • But instead, she opened with a question:

  • What was your intention?

  • I was surprised but relieved.

  • She knew that I was already beating myself up,

  • and that question invited me to learn from my own mistakes

  • instead of damage my already fragile confidence.

  • Curiosity invites people to be in charge of their own learning.

  • That exchange, it helped me approach my next project

  • with the expectation of success.

  • Permission, community, curiosity:

  • all of these are the things that we will need to breed the confidence

  • that we'll absolutely need to solve our greatest challenges

  • and to build the world we dream,

  • a world where inequity is ended and where justice is real,

  • a world where we can be free on the outside and free on the inside

  • because we know that none of us are free until all of us are free.

  • A world that isn't intimidated by confidence

  • when it shows up as a woman

  • or in black skin

  • or in anything other than our preferred archetypes of leadership.

  • A world that knows that that kind of confidence

  • is exactly the key we