By Khalilah Long
Parents play critical roles in their child’s achievement from kindergarten through high school graduation. Parent advocacy has proven to have positive implications on student educational success. But who advocates for and supports parents and caregivers? In African American households, oftentimes, clergy or other prominent community leaders are the galvanizing force behind motivating community involvement.
In the ‘50s and ’60s, during the Civil Rights Movement, critical voices for change came through influential leaders. Dorothy Height, for example, was instrumental in bringing together women of different races to create a dialogue of understanding. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. motivated the Birmingham, Alabama community to nonviolently protest segregation. And in more recent history, organizers Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi inspired millions to support #BlackLivesMatter; bringing light to systematic racism. But what about education reform? Who is standing with parents as they call for access to better educational opportunities in their communities?
In a report produced by the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), Done to Us, Not With Us, African American parents said that they felt a number of obstacles prevent them from advocating more for education reform. Too many African American communities experience low-quality, under resourced K-12 schools and are staffed by educators who are less experienced than those in high-income neighborhoods. This disparity hinders economic growth. It also causes a gap in student college preparation.
Research findings help us better understand how to best reach parents; despite these challenges.
Not only do we have to support parents as they navigate the college-going process, but we also have to highlight the larger educational crisis that exists within the African American community. We need to let parents know that they can make a difference and that their children can achieve higher outcomes than what some might expect for them.
The UNCF report also acknowledges that the messenger matters. In Malcom Gladwell’s The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, he states “In epidemics, the messenger matters: messengers are what makes something spread. But the content of the message matters. And the specific quality that a message needs to be successful is the quality of ‘stickiness’”.
In other words, people relate to relatable people! It’s extremely important that messengers who understand the current educational climate and who understand the African American community – are carrying these messages of how to advocate for their child in school and what actions they can take to bring about change in their local jurisdictions. This is one reason why the UNCF boots-on-the-ground, K-12 Advocacy group exists. In an effort to focus on increasing college-readiness in the black community, UNCF has partnered with local leaders and changemakers to address the importance of educational success in fresh, contemporary ways and to hold schools and educators accountable for providing high-quality education in under-performing districts.
Parents– take a look at the UNCF parent checklist to understand what you can ask and do to help your children thrive in school.
Community leaders– download The Lift Every Voice and Lead Toolkit: A Community Leader’s Advocacy Resource for K-12 Education on effective ways you can motivate your church, community, or nonprofit to change the conversation about K-12 education reform.
In the blog post titled Rethinking America’s K-12 Debate, Darrell Bradford, executive vice president of 50CAN sums it up perfectly, “When it comes to how to best educate children, we don’t know all of the answers, but we should commit to empowering new voices, fostering innovative ideas, and asking lots of questions.”