By Reginald Barbour
Sometimes I ask myself am I doing enough? This usually happens in response to a tragic incident or after receiving disappointing news. In my everyday life, I don’t spend too much time asking myself this question or second guessing the advocacy work that I do around education and social justice. However, when I hear about another senseless killing or act of racism against us, I admit, I go to a place of asking myself “What could I have done to stop that act? What can I do now? How do I teach my sons a lesson from this?”
All of this can be overwhelming at times. It reminds me of the words to a Marvin Gaye song “sometimes I want to throw up both of my hands and holler.” I don’t want to sound like I am giving up because I’m not. But sometimes I do get tired. I look around at what’s happening in the world and wonder how much more can we take?
Just recently, Stephon Clark was gunned down in Sacramento, California by two white police officers. It. Happened. Again. They continue to hunt us down like we are animals or like our lives have no value. A week later, the decision comes down that the white police officers who killed Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana won’t be charged for his murder. Yet again, guilty parties set free and while another Black life is gone.
It’s just too much too soon. Too close together. Too many times on too many days that we all feel that sadness in our hearts after hearing bad and disappointing news. It feels like we have a target on our backs sometimes and quite frankly, I’m tired of running.
My prayer is that someday we will truly overcome and Black people will be judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin. Until then, some days will be long days filled with fear and uncertainty. On those other days, perhaps we will smile and be joyful. Or maybe we’ll need stop, take a knee, and remember why Colin started us on that journey in the first place.
Stay woke y’all. It’s rough out here.
74 Interview: Parent Activist Mary Moran on Engaging Families and Demanding Accountability in New Orleans Schools
This article was first published on www.the74million.org
As an Afro-Latina born to Salvadoran parents attending south Los Angeles schools, Mary Moran had a very different background from her Mexican-American and African-American classmates. But having roots in both communities taught Moran to be a bridge-builder from an early age.
That experience propelled Moran to a life of advocacy and organizing, which included a stint on the staff of the group Parent Revolution in Los Angeles, where she led a successful parent-driven middle school turnaround. She also headed up grassroots education lobbying campaigns in several states, including Louisiana, where Moran got to know members of several Latin American immigrant communities that had come to literally rebuild New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
Because the city’s schools operated independently at the time, there were no schools where the Latino community was concentrated, so students with language barriers and other needs were going unserved. So in December 2014, Moran and fellow organizer Henry Jones founded Our Voice Nuestra Voz, a grassroots effort to bring Latino parents together to advocate for their children’s educations.
The group’s most recent parent campaign, #30NolaEdWatch, is an attempt to draw attention to the city’s lackluster school report cards released last fall — 30 of New Orleans’ 72 schools got Ds or Fs after a decade of steady, dramatic improvement and three years of academic plateaus.
Parents, Moran says, were shocked. Most had assumed their child was the only one doing poorly, and learning that as few as 1 in 10 kids could read or do math at grade level propelled the organization’s members to act.
As state overseers return authority over New Orleans public schools to an elected local school board, Moran talked The 74 about Our Voice Nuestra Voz, the issues parents have exposed, and the opportunity posed by the ongoing reunification process.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
The 74: What led you to start Our Voice/Nuestra Voz?
Moran: Greater New Orleans has always had a lot of Latino families, whether because of the relationship between Central America and the fruit companies in southern Louisiana, or the Cuban resettlement that happened in the ’60s and ’70s, to post-Hurricane Katrina, where you had folks from Mexico and Central America, specifically Honduras, who have come to literally rebuild the city, clean up the debris, gut the houses.
We started seeing unaccompanied minors coming to the States — it wasn’t just Louisiana, but because of our unique, decentralized [school] system, if you have 20 new students at any one school that now need a specific level of service and curriculum and programming, that changes everything.
We started talking to [community groups that] had a grasp on all the services that were needed. It was clear that they weren’t going to take on education as a mission in the sense of starting to work with the public school system. And the education advocacy organizations that did exist weren’t going to start hiring Latino organizers. At that point, we knew that there was a need and we could do a lot of great work.
So we quit our jobs without having funding — about six months later we got some — and have since been doing a lot of work around things that families and schools deal with every day, like translation issues. Now, we’re entering some of the more intensive parts of the work, which is about how do we build a decentralized system that can really support all students, and specifically students who are learning English as a second language.
Nuestra Voz has grown pretty quickly. Can you talk about the momentum?
Over the last 2½ years we have been able to build a base of parents who advocate for their children and for the city’s children. We have a bit over 2,500 members in our network. We have an organizing base — leaders who have gone through our program, who are active in our campaigns — of about 200 parents.
In the beginning, we did not have a base of knowledge of Latino families — who they are, where they’re from, what languages they speak, what their concerns are.
One of our very first campaigns was called 4WARD. We trained parents to survey other parents. We created a survey with 400 parents and created a community report that then helped us talk to policymakers, school leaders, and other folks in the system who wanted to learn more about this newer population of students and families.
We trained parent ambassadors to help other parents navigate the centralized enrollment system, which is unique and at times difficult. We also won differentiated funding, creating an equitable funding formula for all students in our city, including English language learners.
More recently, we had a campaign called It’s Your Right. Parents have a right for their children to be safe in schools and able to learn. We believe that the presence of police, of [Immigration and Customs Enforcement], of law enforcement interfere with that right. So we moved to have Orleans Parish and the Orleans Parish School Board adopt a resolution that protected immigrant students and their right to learn, as well as a policy that limited all law enforcement from entering into schools without a process and a signed warrant.
After that, we started meeting with some of the bigger charter management networks that had more Latino students, along with the Recovery School District and Orleans Parish School Board to create the first English language learner guidebook in the state.
When the Trump administration rescinded DACA, we mobilized. It was amazing to see: In the Deep South, from one day to the next, we could move over 300 people — teachers, families, students, DACA students — against the administration and to demand that DACA be reinstated.
Tell us about your current campaign.
When scores came out in the fall we learned that out of the 72 schools in our city, 30 of them had been graded D and F. We knew that there were over 15,000 children in these schools. We were expecting outrage from the education community. I think folks were more surprised than anything by the scores. We started talking to parents in schools that had been a C before and had dropped to a D, or had been a D and slipped to an F. We created a flyer with a ton of information. We did a number of different things, from knocking on doors to working the carpool lines. Parents were very receptive. What we kept hearing was that they didn’t know. They understood their child was having some trouble reading or with their math homework, but they didn’t know their whole school was a D or an F.
Did the grading system change or is school performance slipping?
Last year as a city, we were at a B average. This year we are at a C average. It was indeed that school performance had dropped. Parents had internalized that it was perhaps because of something that they did or didn’t do, or their own reading capacity, that their child didn’t know how to read and write and compute. That’s not true.
But when they learned the information that we were giving — that 10 percent, and in some schools 15 percent, of children were on grade level reading — they were like, “So you’re telling me that out of 400 students at our school, only 40 of them are on grade level reading?”
It was alarming to them. Frankly, parents became very angry. Parents started talking more to their schools, but also didn’t know exactly where they should go for more information, where they should go if they wanted to escalate and talk to someone else about their school’s performance.
For all these reasons, we decided to launch #30NolaEdWatch. This is a campaign that’s led by parents that calls for transparency, calls for very specific strategies at both the networks and a citywide level, at the Orleans Parish School Board, calling for them to put forward strategies that would drastically improve school performance. Essentially, it’s about putting those 30 D and F schools on watch.
What’s the response been?
People are very angry. One thing for sure is that everyone in our city cares about our children. That’s our families and our parents, people who work in education, work in innovation, people who lead our schools. But some networks, we know that every single one of their schools was a D or F. So although they care about our schools, we have to have honest conversations about why.
We got a lot of pushback. Parents started going into schools and talking to their principals about they had gotten this flyer, and was this true? Why had no one notified them? Or: “We knew this, but you said things would get better. Things have not gotten better.”
School leaders started having meetings and communication with parents. This is positive, right? Because that didn’t happen the year before, even though some of those scores were similar.
We started getting a lot of people calling us saying, “Tell us, what’s the end goal of your campaign?” Very simple: We want more transparency. We want more leadership. We want specific strategies as people are building out their school improvement plans: Have you talked to parents about that? How are parents understanding [how] they should work within those strategies? We would sort of put it back on them.
A lot of these schools have been Ds and Fs for a number of years, and everything they’ve tried has either had small success or hasn’t worked. At this point, there is a huge opportunity to do this work in partnership with organizations that are leading education advocacy in our city, and with parents and communities.
Have there been schools where people have said, “Hey, you know what? You’re right. Let’s talk”?
There were school leaders who said, “We need to do things differently.” But most low-performing networks or schools have not. The ones that have, we have helped with preparing for parent meetings and having those conversations. We’ve been supportive to them in figuring out how to make sure that the input that families give or families want is something that schools can take and plug into the strategies that they’re moving forward.
When New Orleans schools moved to reunification, at least rhetorically, one of the reasons was so that the community and families could participate in the conversation. Could you say a little about the context?
The opportunity is for the Orleans Parish School Board to step up, to lead, and hold [schools] accountable. For the community, for parents, and for everyone who is watching, to see OPSB demonstrate that it can have goals and inspiring leadership, that it can do this work of improving school performance, making sure we have the transparency and the talent and are building all the pipelines that we need in order to again grow the performance of our city.
It needs to do that in partnership with communities, and in partnership with teachers, and in partnership with everyone who is doing the work in our city. Unification is about doing that work together.
By David McGuire
Every day as educators, we have the opportunity to make a lasting impression on our students. We stand at the front of the room and we teach, but at the same time, we hope to inspire. We hope our students’ dreams come true. It is our mission provide them with the roadmap to their destination. As a male educator, I look at the young ladies in my classroom and try to be the male figure that many of them do not have. It is my hope they see the greatness that I see in them. I say to my queens:
This is your time. No more do you have to wait. Take hold of your destiny and do not let anyone tell you to wait your turn. You have waited your turn long enough. Go after all your dreams unapologetically.
In case my words do not resonate, read the words of these strong female educators.
Ashley Beverly, 4th Grade Teacher at Avondale Meadows Academy
You are magical! Whether your melanin falls on the lighter or darker complexion on the spectrum, may you never allow anyone to think one is less than. May you ALWAYS remember your pose, smile, and manner and intelligence is in all of your blackness. May you find joy and comfort in uplifting other young ladies as much as you do uplifting yourself. Remember you are strong but your tears are there to release the pain to welcome healing. You ARE magical because of your unique hair, style, and grace. Be the best you can be EVERYDAY.
Juanita Price, Kindergarten Teacher at Tindley Summit Academy
What I wish my students knew, especially young, Black girls … we are already behind. We are already counted out. Don’t allow yourself to fit into the statistics. Be bold and courageous; work that much harder to be seen and heard. Use your loud speaking voice. I can see you as a CEO, taking over boardrooms and hospitals, as jury and judge, and as leaders of STEM-focusedcareers. You are the future! Live out your dreams because as long as you believe in yourself you can be whatever you want to be. This coming from a young woman breaking the mold.
Orleta Holmes, Indianapolis K-12 Administrator
Don’t be afraid to speak your voice. Your strength, talent, innovation, and creativity are necessary for the world we live in. I challenge you to challenge, ask questions, hold others accountable, and be the change you seek. My beauties, never let your light be dimmed by others… Simply shine!
Keana Washington, Educator for Indianapolis Public School
Yes, you are a queen and you come from a long lineage of warriors. These warriors are women who were told that their goals were impossible; despite the haters, they persevered and so should you. You aren’t any different from those women. You can do all things. Do not allow haters to discourage you; allow them to motivate them. Do not allow your current circumstances to define you. Your current situation is not your final destination. Your strength is unmatched. Believe in yourself, be disciplined, and be intentional. Most importantly love yourself and encourage yourself. Realize that you have the power to speak positivity into every area of yourself. Be kind to yourself and work, plan, build, and dream.
Nigena Livingston, Founder of Urban ACT Academy
Dear Rising Young Woman,
Your destiny is waiting for you. Be bold, courageous, and unapologetic when you bring your unique gifts and talents forward in this world. Your inner light is strong and rare. Hold your head up high and only look back at the past to learn from it and understand fully how far you have come. You have everything you need to succeed in your journey forward. I know this because deep within, you are good, wise, and powerful. Go forth in this world, shine your light, and continue to be great!
Ashley Ford, Special Education Teacher at Northwest High School
Regardless of your biology, geography, and financial situation, you are amazing! You have the divine right to become whomever you choose to be. Do not look to the ‘world’ for assurance or acceptance. All of that is relative. Be encouraged! You will have days where it may look bleak and you are unsure of the next step. Be encouraged! Yes, you will have heartache and disappointment, but do not let that bad moment become a permanent resting location. Use that as a mechanism of change. For most, failure or the potential of failing is a method to do better. Uplift your fellow queens. We need each other. We are not in competition with one another. Use each other as a resource. We can learn from our mistakes and celebrate our victories as one. Stay the course, and be encouraged! I believe in you. We ALL believe in you. Prove us right!
Katrina Overby, Indiana Doctoral Candidate/Adjunct Instructor
Be courageous and bold in your thoughts and actions. Be the you that you are when no one else is watching because it is your truest self. Do not dim your light, shine bright and find your voice, even if yours is in opposition to the majority. Your thoughts, perspectives, and experiences are valuable, important, and necessary. You are an important factor to the success of those around you who have the opportunity to be in the classroom with you. You are your own competition, not others around you. World-renowned poet Nikki Giovanni once said, “Deal with yourself as an individual worthy of respect, and make everyone else deal with you the same way.” Do this and you will be successful and fierce. Last but not least, when you are in my class… I hear you. I respect you. I see you.
Sylvia Denice, 4th Grade Teacher at Crooked Creek Elementary
I have always believed that only those who can handle it are chosen to be girls. Being a girl is not easy, and it gives you this beautiful, unique strength that only girls can have. As girls, we are called to believe in our greatness, even when others don’t. We are called to notice greatness in the girls around us, and to empower them to be their amazing selves. We cannot afford to tear down our fellow girls. Look for greatness in all girls. Support, encourage,and build them up. Tell them about the greatness you see in them. You are so good. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise; and if they try, you send them to me. I see greatness in you every day.
Shawnta S. Barnes, 9th/10th Grade E/LA Multi-Classroom Leader at Crispus Attucks High School
Life can be tough. You need to know this up front and many of you may already know this, but don’t be discouraged. Find your path and follow it to your dreams. As you continue on your life’s journey join in and support other women and allow other women to support you. We are in this together.
Chrystal Westerhaus, Founding Principal of Avondale Meadows Middle School
What I hope to see out of each of you is hunger, grit, and advocacy. You must have goals and you must attack those goals like you are starving for their nourishment. You must have grit because the moment you start to attack your goals, you will face some adversity and you will need strength to be victorious. Lastly, once you make your mark, advocate for those who are just starting to set their goals. Give back to others and show up for others.
Diamond Malone, 4th Grade Teacher at Crooked Creek Elementary
You are powerful. You have a platform and voice to make a difference in this world. Society sometimes attempts to diminish our value by making us feel ashamed or inferior for being a girl. It is important for you to remember that girls have been shaking things up for the better since the beginning of time. As girls, we are the movers and shakers that help shape the destiny of civilization. Continue to dream big, work hard, be better, and do more to make a dent in the world. Leave a positive and indelible footprint with every step you take. Smile, stand tall and proud with your head held high. Be proud to be YOU. Being you is enough. You are exactly what this world needs.
Note: Quotes were edited for clarity.
By Gary Hardie
I love when I find inspiration in unexpected places as I go through my day. Yesterday, I watched a video that moved me to tears and put education and leadership in perspective for me. If you haven’t seen Marcio Donaldson’s American Idol audition, you can watch it here.
Often, life gives us a set of circumstances we did not choose. Our goal is to make the most of what we are given. Whether or not those circumstances are helpful or harmful depends on our perspective on struggle and our grit or resilience. Growing up in underserved communities affords young people incredible willpower in the face of adversity. Specifically, young people who fall victim to generational curses like drug addiction often find themselves at a crossroads when confronted with some of the same temptations that plagued prior generations.
Marcio Donaldson grew up in Compton, California. He lived there with his mother and sister until he was thrust into the system as a foster child when his mother’s drug addiction tore his family apart. He and his sister struggled, but reached adulthood. But like his mother, his sister also suffered from drug addiction. Six months ago, his sister gave birth to his nephew. When she could not care for him, Marcio made a tough decision as police and social workers showed up at his home with a week-old baby. He decided to adopt his nephew for one simple reason; he did not want him to go through what he went through when he was placed in the system as a foster child.
He said, “I don’t want him to go through what I went through.” What would happen if more of us met the barriers and obstacles young people face in and outside of school with that type of conviction? Like Marcio, we can all adopt the children in our care. If not, in the literal sense, as educators and leaders, we can adopt the hopes and dreams of young people and serve as adoptive parents who are committed to ensuring young people don’t suffer through what we did.
Marcio’s story and audition are amazing, and I will be rooting for the hometown hero on American Idol and in his new role as an adoptive parent.
Opening doors and blazing trails that enabled others to benefit from her dedication, Ms. Janet Collins deserves a wealth of our gratitude. Her unwavering commitment to dance, placed many who came after her on their feet. A ballet dancer, choreographer, and teacher of dance, Ms. Janet Collins was a ballet pioneer of her time. She appeared on Broadway as well as in films and on television. Rejection inspired her. Prejudice and bigotry spurred her own. We celebrate Ms. Janet Collins for her professional endurance and for the opportunity that her ballerina endeavors provided. Your history is our history Ms. Collins and we are forever grateful to you for your fierce actions and steadfast accomplishments.
By Erica Copeland
A two-year old toddler made headlines last month when a photograph of her gazing transfixed at the portrait of former First Lady Michelle Obama in Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery went viral.
Days later, Michelle Obama would invite the young tot, Parker Curry, and her mother Jessica Curry to her office in Washington D.C. to meet.
What was originally supposed to be a simple cordial meeting turned into a dance party where both Mrs. Obama and Parker showed off their dance moves.
That video too went viral.
44-year old artist Amy Sherald painted the six-by-five-foot portrait that transfixed Parker Curry. On February 12th, Sherald revealed her now famous portraiture. Michelle Obama commissioned the relatively obscure Baltimore native to create the painting that has introduced a new artistic style among presidential portraits in a grayscale veil that memorializes the former First Lady.
For both women, the portrait offers both a chance for reflection and celebration in triumph over the struggles they have overcome.
For Obama, this unveiling marked a happy end to her era as the first African-American First Lady of the United States. The painting celebrates her strength, grace, intelligence, and beauty and outshines the critical remarks she endured by media detractors during her tenure as First Lady.
For Sherard, the journey to national prominence meant overcoming serious health conditions that required a heart transplant, deaths in the family, and the economic woes of a struggling artist.
Their persistence has paid off. They are now role models for young girls like Parker Curry who may not even fully grasp the significance of this moment, but who still feel proud to see women of color achieving excellence.
Parker’s mother – Jessica – who deserves praise for instilling in her daughter an appreciation for the art and culture found in museums said during an interview on March 6th with CNN’s Don Lemon that “She knows Michelle is married, but she doesn’t really know that it’s to Barack. And she doesn’t know that Barack is our former president.”
But Parker knows that the Mrs. Obama can throw down on the dance floor. According to her mom, she actually discovered Michelle when she saw her dancing on the Ellen DeGeneres Show.
Now, Parker believes that Michelle Obama is queen. And she wants to grow up to be just like Mrs. Obama.
When Don Lemon asked Parker, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” she answered, “I want to be a queen.”
Parker’s awe-struck reaction to the former First Lady is reminiscent of Jacob Philadelphia, 6, who became famous in the iconic 2009 photo where he touched the hair of a bending former President Barack Obama.
Parker joins a list of young children that have captured the hearts of public through their candid reactions of awe and admiration for some of our country’s most influential people.
For Women’s History Month the word “intersectionality” comes to mind along with the myriad of signs I’ve seen at recent demonstrations. At the Women’s March in 2017 in Washington D.C., I saw numerous brightly decorated signs that demanded “intersectional feminism.” This past January in New Orleans, I saw one that read, “Feminism without intersectionality is not feminism.” But I’m also afraid this is simply a catch phrase for many people. I wonder how we might go beyond symbolism, to truly begin understanding something as complicated as intersectionality. Because if we don’t understand the concept, then we can’t use it as it is intended to be used: as a practical tool. We should be using a framework of intersectionality whenever we analyze history, when we look at statistics, and even when we are relating to one another in a room. Thus, one can see that it’s especially important for teachers to understand so that we begin teaching children from an intersectional lens.
Kimberle Crenshaw coined the term intersectionality thirty years ago. Essentially, intersectionality is the recognition of the interconnected nature of multiple identities that create overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination, disadvantage, oppression, and privilege. It is a relationship between identity and power. It’s also important to understand how Crenshaw developed the concept of intersectionality in order to understand the definition itself.
As a young law professor, Crenshaw was reading about a case where a woman wanted to file an employment discrimination case against her employer. This woman, a Black woman, noticed her employer was not hiring Black women for certain jobs in the company. The court denied her claim saying this would be like double dipping into two class action suits. She had to choose one, either a case based on race or gender. But the claim couldn’t stand on its own when separated because there were both Black men and White women being hired. What the court was not seeing was how one woman’s body, both Black and female, was situated at the intersection of these two collectives, each of which had different forms of discrimination. Crenshaw, both a critical race theorist and attorney, recognized this and coined the term.
Yet this intersection, or “intersectionality” of being both a woman and a woman of color is often ignored in many analyses and history. The discussion often centers around Black and White or Male and Female, and as a result, the impact of being part of these two marginalized groups isn’t fully recognized. But when this information is available, we see the impact. For example, looking at wage gaps, we clearly see intersectionality at play. As a whole, White women earn more than Black men. But White men, as well as Black and Hispanic men earn more than Black women. Hispanic women earn the least.
When we teach from an intersectional lens, it is also important to avoid the pyramid of oppression, or oppression Olympics, where we compare the suffering of different marginalized identities. Instead, we must practice non-dualistic thinking, recognizing that groups experience different forms of racialization, oppression, and discrimination without trying to compare experiences or create a hierarchy of suffering. For a person of color who is closer to concepts of whiteness, it is also important to not use intersectionality as a means to distance oneself from privileges gained by being closer to whiteness. In an intersectional analysis, we have to acknowledge the deeply rooted nature of anti-Blackness, especially on a global scale.
Most important, we have to practice this way of thinking, to use this information as a practical tool. In groups, I often see an intersectional dynamic play out. White men speak first, and then White women or Black men, and women of color are the last to speak. Without awareness of this, we will continue to perpetuate the dynamic. On the contrary, if we begin to notice the dynamic, we can begin to change it. Educators can begin to use an intersectional framework to teach history and to review statistics to build this habit until it is second nature. Organizational leaders can look at their work from an intersectional lens to ensure that the needs of females of color are specifically addressed. When reviewing history, one must think about how women of color were and are impacted. In statistical analyses of race, such as in education, housing, and unemployment, we must look for and demand a gender analysis as well. We must incorporate an intersectional framework into our thinking and acting so that we are not just talking about intersectionality or holding up a sign with the word. We must practice intersectionality.