African American Children & Families Conference

The African American Children and Families Conference is paused this year as the college reviews how best to continue the commitment of Dr. Gloria Kirkland Holmes, the original conference coordinator who passed away in 2022 shortly before the February 2023 event. 

The 12th African American Children and Families Conference carried the theme "Education, Justice and Equality: A Shared Responsibility." It was held as a virtual event on February 17, 2023. Nearly 400 attendees participated in the day-long series of sessions, led by keynote speaker Kenneth B. Morris Jr. who shared how he came to know, value and, in turn, share his lineage that connects the families of Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington. 

Our parallel event, the African American Read-In, is scheduled for Thursday, February 15, engaging more than 3,000 first graders from nearly 150 classrooms and 64 public and private schools across Iowa. This year's event is being coordinated by Taraneh Matloob Haghnikar, associate professor of literacy education. 

African American Childrens and Families Conference

About the Conference

The College of Education started this conference 14 years ago with hopes of promoting diversity and better understanding among all people while striving to help children attain positive goals in life through our educational mission. This conference has engaged local, state, regional, national and international stakeholders in meaningful dialogue and problem solving to serve African American children, families, communities and allies as we network to strengthen our collective perspectives on our campus community.

Honoring Gloria Kirkland-Holmes


‌Gloria Kirkland-Holmes, PhD, started with a simple idea: to address diversity on the UNI campus and in the community by bringing the National African American Read-In to the UNI campus. It began with her reading to a small group of children. 

Five years later, her passion to share and educate others about African American culture led to the first African American Children and Families Conference at UNI. It attracted community members, UNI faculty, students and staff, professional colleagues, and – of great interest to her – middle school and high school students as youth tracks were incorporated. 

Including the 2023 event, 16 more read-ins would follow, with participation growing to nearly 1,000 first grade students from the Cedar Valley visiting campus in 2019. And then, in a broadened effort as the event went virtual post-COVID, it connected with more than 2,200 students in 2022. The 2023 children and families conference is the 12th, an event which has drawn more than 1,000 attendees over the years. As always, it features a broad mix of locally to nationally recognized guest speakers to inform, educate and inspire. 

The emerita professor continued to lead these events following her retirement in 2020, once again demonstrating the dedication she had shown in her 41 years with UNI, including 25 years teaching at the Malcolm Price Laboratory School. 

We received word of Dr. Holmes’ passing in December 2022. The 2023 conference and read-in were dedicated to her in recognition of her long-lasting impact and commitment to her community and her students. 

Read more about Dr. Holmes and her legacy.