An entertaining introduction brings us to our first major speaker, Samuel Betances.   His work, we are told, revolves around the idea “there are many reasons, but there are few excuses.”   A biography of him is here.  As we were told, he has a doctorate from Harvard, yet is a high school drop-out.

Born in Harlem, but then he was raised, he tells us with quite the rolled “r” in Puerto Rico, and we learn more about his family and upbringing, and even his facial genetic heritage– “that is why I look Arab,” he says to rollicking laughter.  Betances urges us to give him some call and response, and after several options are suggested for response, he asks us to use the Emeril “Bam” when we hear something we support and admire.

“How do we make our differences count, how do we ensure we can create the inclusive, diverse teams that are essential to making our society more productive, more innovative, more successful?”

“This is the first nation (ever) to elect a black President by a majority of non-black people! This says something of what we are capable of doing, symbolically.”

Dr. Betances is passionate,  and he cares deeply, calling for a new identity, a new way for children of mixed races and backgrounds: he calls the identity a “Proud Blended Heritage American.”  “Teach the Children!” As a fellow attendee writing on Twitter reports “Depth/wisdom of Dr Betances manages to bring up challenging cultural/political issues here in a way that empowers all that hear him.”

Contact our speaker at, or at his site,; his firm is diversity consulting, and his motto is “strengthening the world of work through diversity.” He assures the audience he will return all emails.

Dr. Betances recalls being told: “You don’t have enough words to graduate; you have intelligence, but middle class people have 3500 words or more, but you and others have only 2000 or fewer.  You don’t lack intelligence, you lack words!”

What to do to gain words: 1. You have to read. 2. You have to read. 3. You have to read.

Dr. Betances recalls the books he was urged to read: The Autobiography of Frederick Douglass.   He was told to read stories of challenges, hardships, misery— read these books so you don’t get the idea that this country owes you a living: it only owes you an opportunity.

Dr. Betances tells us, very movingly, of his own childhood hardships– very painful, but tells us too of the strength he drew from these harships, strength to prevail.    He also tells of his time in boarding school, and his great expressive speaking, his grand gestures and resounding tones, brought him to the attention of a preacher’s son.    “If you have students who come to you from different backgrounds, from different places, team them up to partner to overcome obstacles and achieve great goals, and you will help them overcome prejudices and differences.”   Betances refers to “Remember the Titans” as a film effectively showing this.

Very funny stories of learning to preach in a Scottish accent, and of preaching to cows for practice.   Betances has amazing, wonderful vocal range and is able to do brilliant things with his vocal instrument– hugely inspirational.

“You cannot be transforming until you have been transformed. ”

“To be educated in the second decade of the 21st century at a time of great cultural and demographic shifts requires you to develop new cultural competencies.”

Dr. Betances urges us to read and review a historical report from the 1930s and 40s, of private and progressive school educators, called the 8 Year Study, to see how NAIS schools have long looked at the subject of how to better educate for equity and for success in ways that are authentically engaging and integrative of curriculum.

“Your success in jobs in the future will depend on your ability not only to employ people in India, but also how to reach the children of Hispanic middle class people– and to do so, you must develop diversity intelligence.”

The Rub is, our speaker explains with great concern and compassion, that “not all students are middle class, but all assessments are.”

He recalls a mentor telling him, “If you are a true educator, you are an option provider.”

Steps to Success is the chapter of his book that he wants to share with us, and is available if we email him, but disappointingly it seems there is not enought time.   Here as time winds down, it feels very rushed, a bit disappointingly.

More quotes: “If you can’t read, you can’t lead.”

Dr. Betances offers some very quick shoutouts for some great books, but hard to keep up with:

  • Lightfoot Lawrence’s Essential Conversation.
  • Meaningful Differences and Learning to Talk by Hart and Risley
  • Outliers by Gladwell
  • Odd Girl Out by Simmons
  • Bullying by Garrett
  • FaithWorks by Wallis
  • School Experiences of Gay and Lesbian Youth by Harris
  • What Makes Racial Diversity Work in Higher Ed by Hale
  • Making the Impossible Possible by Strickland
  • Hot, Flat and Crowded by Friedman
  • and again, the 8 Year Study

A passionate speaker, a wonderful life story,  a thoughtful and caring educator:  Dr.  Betances is all these things, and I am happy to have heard him.  The talk itself, though, was to this listener a bit too sprawling, covering many topics widely but few with the depth of consideration and analysis and recommendation that I tend to seek out and prefer.  But he was genuinely an inspiration, and that is also a crucial value a keynote can provide.