Sheri Doss is Texas PTA’s first black president since the merger of the white and colored congresses. She stands exactly five feet, one inch tall, speaks quietly but matter-of-factly, and juggles all things with grace. She worked in the telecommunications industry before embarking on her PTA leadership journey. With 18 years of PTA experience, Sheri has seen it all. We sat down in the conference room at the Texas PTA State Office for a conversation on diversity.
This Q+A has been condensed for brevity.
Magen: Looking back, we can see the level of influence PTA members had on schools, communities, legislation, etc. The history speaks for itself in terms of how that influence was wielded in amazing and not-so-amazing ways. Talk about your perspective as the first black president of Texas PTA.
Sheri: I have been waiting for this question. To be honest, I don’t think my experience has been different from any other president’s. I don’t think that being African American has been a pro or a con to my leadership except that it sends the message that this level of leadership is open to anyone, not just one group anymore. That’s huge!
But I didn’t want that to define my term so I didn’t focus on that. I am who I am and I focus on being a good leader.
I want to leave a message that you can’t equate who is a good leader just by how they are wrapped.
Certainly, I feel extra pressure to focus on diversity and inclusion. Being thrown into this leadership role is mostly positive, but I do feel pressure to not let anybody down. I recognize how important it is—for everyone really—but especially for people who look like me to see someone that looks like them in this position.
I just try to be me and see you as you. And I will say something about diversity and I will say something about inclusion. But it’s not because I’m African American, it’s because it is the right thing to do.
In a New York Times report about funding disparities in public school districts, Sarah Mervosh wrote: “[The report] found that more than half of the nation’s schoolchildren are in racially concentrated districts, where over 75 percent of students are either white or nonwhite.” What are the ways PTAs and Councils can combat or address segregation at their schools?
One of the ways I think they can open up that channel is to celebrate the differences. When I was installed, part of my speech was about diversity and how much we’d been working on it but also about inclusion. Inclusion is about asking, who’s missing?
Your PTA board may look like the demographics of the community. True inclusion, though, would be to not stop there but to bring in all types of people, not just one-offs. Once you bring them in, learn and celebrate the differences rather than fighting the differences.
Allowing inclusion to be a thread through all that you do is the key. It’s easy to send subliminal messages that [all people] are not included and [all people] are not wanted. To the kids and to the parents who walk the halls and don’t see anyone else like them, that could be a message they aren’t welcome.
How does diversity make PTAs better?
Diversity isn’t a whisper. This is who we are. We celebrate it!
It brings more and better ideas. Each person grows as a result of exposure to those differences. It helps bring everyone together and focuses on the community to make a real difference. There’s strength in numbers. The only way to get those numbers is to pull everybody in.
In our mission, we say we work for all children. But if you only have parents from certain demographics, it doesn’t seem that way.
What are the ways you have seen PTAs promote diversity among their membership?
They have been intentional about seeking out leaders all over the district. Some tend to have leaders only in one part of the district. Bringing all different people into the fold and asking them to step-up is one way to keep them.
As you are wrapping up your term, do you have anything else to say about this diversity and inclusion conversation?
It has been a fantastic term. I haven’t experienced any discrimination that I’m aware of. I’m excited to leave a legacy of excited and engaged future leaders. They know that if we band together, we can make a huge difference. I hope I’ve sent a message that every single person has value.