Gwen Samuel, a Meriden mom and the founder of the Connecticut Parents Union, shares her story, explaining why she can’t be brought by either side of the education debate:
Shirley Chisholm said “There is little place in the political scheme of things for an independent, creative personality, for a fighter. Anyone who takes that role must pay a price.”
Since losing my son in a fatal car accident last year, every day, my emotional capacity is tested; and every day, I make a vow to give up fighting this overwhelming battle for education justice. That’s because too many people, even people who look like me, are too quick to “sell out” our Black, brown, and poor babies for a price, such as a seat at the “status quo” table, a grant, or for some form of title and/or recognition.
However, as a mother, a Black woman and parent leader in the fight for equity in education, I see Shirley Chisholm moments come to life on every aspect of my advocacy journey. Thus, I continue to realize there is a price to pay when standing on the side of “doing right” by all children – not just a select few.
Many times, I am the only black person/parent at meetings about education where policies are being voted on that would disenfranchise our babies of color and the poor. Yet, because I will not negotiate when it comes to the safety, education, and overall wellbeing of our children, I have been talked about, alienated, and uninvited to certain tables, on every side of the education conversation.
Over the years, I have tried to be a team player for all sides of the education debate. But, I learned quickly that in the politics of education, it was expected that parents are supposed to choose a side–either the status quo or education reform–anything but the children! Now, the question is and will continue to be on the table for parents and guardians, especially parents of color and the poor–whose side are we really choosing – the “one size fits all” education politics in school districts, other people’s agenda in education reform or our children? And if we chose our children, then why are we sending them to schools that harm our babies?
Let me share some of my experiences on my journey as a parent leader. First, I tried to work with the status quo. This Black mom has met and broke bread with the two most powerful teacher union leaders in the country; Randi Weingarten, President of the 1.6 million-member American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and Lily Eskelsen García, President of the 3 million-member National Education Association (NEA). One thing became evident – really quick—teacher union presidents do one thing very well, they protect the rights of their members, regardless of their performance in public schools. This includes “their silence” when a 2010 and 2017 Connecticut’s Attorney General and Office of the Child Advocate reported that their own Connecticut teacher union members were seeing abuse of children in schools, at the hands of school employees, and saying nothing – even though they are mandated reporters by law. For this Black mom it is clear, if you are silent about oppression and child abuse, you are also my oppressor. The bottom line, teacher unions are willing to pay any price and sacrifice children too, especially the poor and children of color, to keep this power!
In addition, I have also met and broke bread with powerful so-called education reform leaders who say they value communities of color and the poor, yet they come into our community with their “savior mentality” agendas. Some so-called education reformers only include the voice of parents, students, and community leaders after they have set their own agendas for us. They believe true organizing means giving low income and communities of color matching tee shirts and catchy slogans. Furthermore, some so-called education reformers believe that parents of color and the poor are so desperate to ensure our children are justly educated that we will continue to tolerate being stripped of our dignity and disrespected for the sake of “school choice”! If you haven’t turned water into wine or walked on water yet- stop saying you coming to save our Black, brown and poor babies. By the way, “respect” is a non-negotiable! And for this mom, it is not about school choice only. It’s about the parents right to choose the best educational options for their babies!
Please note, this savior mentality was challenged when New Haven Black and Brown students boycotted at Achievement First Amistad High School, which is ranked the third-best school in Connecticut by U.S. News & World Report. These students boycotted, not because it wasn’t a quality school, but because they wanted diverse educators and they wanted to be treated with dignity and respect because they are more than ABC’s, 123’s and college acceptance rates. Yet, despite the protest, the students’ demands go unmet and some education reformers are still willing to pay any price to protect their “savior mentality” narrative.
Teacher unions have taken a side – they choose to only protect their member’s rights.
Various so-called education reformers have taken a side – they choose to fight to protect their own agendas as well.
So now, we as parents, must stand up and choose a side – either we choose to fight with and for our babies, whatever the price, to ensure they have equitable access to educational and life opportunities or we can sit on the sidelines, day in and day out, while continuing to allow discriminatory educational practices in schools to harm our babies. They do to OUR babies what we allow them to do! They are OUR children so it is OUR Choice!
Parents and guardians, to be clear, this fight for equity in education, for me, still can be intimidating, cause anxiety and the fear of retaliation is real.
I still feel the void left from losing my son, but our children really need us to step up and protect them.
I listen to parents and students crying as a result of the severe bullying happening in schools, and classrooms full of low expectations- for certain children.
Our babies, as young as pre-school are suspended and expelled because we have different cultures and values or they dare to dream.
Every day, I think about all the children that look in their parent’s or guardian’s eyes, trusting that when we send them to school, we are not putting them in harm’s way.
Yet, the sad and harsh reality is, we are sending our babies of color and the poor into harm’s way because many schools across America are unsafe; and many cannot, and in some cases, will not, equitably educate our babies.
As a result, I unapologetically say to parents again, especially of color and the poor, that we must make a choice to be unbossed, unbought and independent thinkers while building collective power.
Parents, our children lives depend on us to no longer blindly trust education systems to treat our babies fair. We must make a choice to rise, act, vote and be prepared to pay the “price” of being an unapologetic parent leader to ensure our babies have equitable access to educational opportunities in school and in life. Why? Because we have cried many tears, marched, and sang “we shall overcome” and they still harm our babies in public schools. History has shown us that Unapologetic, Unbossed and Unbought parents change the rules of the game because the lives of our babies are priceless!
This article was reposted with permission from Gwen Samuels, and who blogs at Real Talk Gwen Samuels.