I worked on a project with a very large school district to host an event to bring together families of color for a student/parent education summit. The goals of the project were to provide a series of workshops for sharing and learning and to help break the isolation students and families feel within this school district’s local area. What is hidden in the use of the phrase ‘people of color’ is the name of the subgroup in particular. The community in particular is African-American children. These students and their parents feel disconnected, isolated and marginalized in the community and schools where they live. What and who is also hidden in the ubiquitous unnamed racial hierarchies that exist in most U.S. public school systems’ central offices. It is these groups of leaders and decision-makers who seek to maintain a system of domination over, and oppression of African Americans; a set of beliefs and practices that have sustained the subjugation of this community since colonization and slavery.
While there was very little opportunity for parents to shape the agenda themselves, representatives for those parents were welcomed to most of the planning meetings. Bi-monthly meetings were held during the school employees’ working hours, which conflicted with the parents’ working hours. The district was not willing to work outside of their workday; therefore, most of these middle-class parents could not attend the planning meetings because they were also working.
The key contribution is derived from both process and product. The students did not feel as though they belonged at the school, nor did they feel cared for. Few to no activities were planned with their cultural interests in mind, nor did the school feel a need to plan additional activities for them. The process of intentionally or unintentionally excluding students from school impacted their social as well as academic progress and resulted grades that did not reflect their abilities.
While the actual event did bring out parents and students to enjoy a day of learning and fun, new relationships need to be build between the schools and African-American families. These ongoing interations and relationships should include those between student-to-student; student-to-teachers; parents-to-teachers and families-to-families. The day was successful; however, many wondered if the outreach was just for one day or would become a regular event which would lead to a change in the culture of the school and community so that all families would feel a sense of unity, support and inclusion.
Does this project gain or suffer from scale? The answer to this question would depend on the district’s and school’s goals. If the objective is to embrace diversity, equity and inclusion, then the project would gain from scale; however, if the school culture (made up of key individuals) wanted to continue to exclude African-Americans from the life of a school, then those folks who seek separation and division would not gain from scale. The impact would depend on the intention of the leaders and, in this situation, we were the leaders: school staff and African-American educators, community advocates and consultants who had this community’s interest at the heart of the work.
While we did achieve what we set out to do, it was not sufficient. Communication channels broke down and all parents did not receive an invitation to attend. There was inclement weather on that day, which deterred some families from attending. All in all, it was a day that fostered African-American and (along with other ethnicities who showed up) student and parent participation, encouragement, fun, music, art, student leadership, community engagement, information and access to college, and so much more….and would be a benefit the larger community if taken to scale.