Thousands of parent advocates from across the country, including parents from Brooklyn, have banded together to elevate their voices in the national discussion over education.
The creation of the National Parents Union comes at a time when Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warrren, the leading Democratic presidential candidates, have adopted platforms that advocates believe hurt families of black and Latinx children from low-income neighborhoods.
Over a weekend in January, parents of predominantly black and Latino children from all 50 states and Puerto Rico gathered in New Orleans for the first ever Parent Power Summit hosted by the National Parents Union.
Many came to the summit not knowing what to expect but after a weekend of networking with other parents from around the country and hearing from prominent speakers, they left with a clear mission to make their voices heard when they return to their communities.
Shawina Garnett, a parent of three children who attend Uncommon Schools in Brooklyn, said attending the conference made her realize that parents all over the country are fighting the same injustices as parents in Brooklyn.
Garnett is a parent advocate for Uncommon and has met with lawmakers in Albany and City Hall, attended rallies in the city to ensure she and parents like her have a choice in their child’s education.
“The takeaway for me was to keep pushing because we are not alone and this is a fight that goes beyond Uncommon Schools,” said Garnett, who lives in East New York. “Now we have people in different states that are in alliance with us. To have that kind of strength gives me confidence that we will get a lot further than we have gotten on our own.”
Among those who spoke at the summit were Peter Cunningham, the former assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Education under the Obama Administration, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Ilyasah Shabazz, the daughter of Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz.
Summit attendees also marched down Bourbon Street in the city’s famous French Quarter best known for Mardi Gras revelry. They carried handmade signs with messages such as: “Black and brown children don’t only love sports. Some love to read and write as well as solve math problems.”
Across the country, economically disadvantaged students of color in urban areas on average score lower on standardized tests than white students in wealthier, suburban districts. The racial achievement gap is well documented and has persisted for years.
However, in New York City, schools like Uncommon and others have made strides to close the achievement gap. In New York City, 67% of Uncommon students scored proficient in math compared with 58% of white students in New York state. In English Language Arts, 54% of Uncommon students scored proficient compared with 51% of the white students in New York state.
The National Parents Union is a relatively new organization founded by two mothers, Keri Rodrigues from Boston and Alma Marquez from Los Angeles with the goal of disrupting an education agenda that is not serving economically disadvantaged students of color.
The organization includes parents from traditional district schools and charter schools as well as parents who home school their children.
“This is going to be a very intersectional movement where we are not just going to have the district parent or charter parent kind of fight,” Rodrigues told U.S. News and World Report.
Natasha Cherry-Perez, the senior associate director of Community Engagement at Uncommon Schools, said the summit was the beginning of a movement that’s breaking down the barriers between traditional and charter schools.
“It doesn’t matter where you are from or what type of school your child attends, parents and organizations that fight for the rights of parents and children are banding together to improve educational outcomes and eradicate harmful policies on a local, state and national level,” Cherry-Perez said. “The revolution is here.”