Asiyah: Redefining What It Means to Be a Concerned Parent and Citizen
Asiyah’s wide-ranging experiences in education and activism can help us broaden our own views about school choice and activism. Her story demonstrates that the way we think about education and activism is often much too narrow. She helps us believe that finding the best school for our children is not limited to what’s right in front of us, and that being an activist can also be a matter of choice.
In education, we often speak about private, charter, and traditional public schools, but for Asiyah, there was another option, the one her parents took in providing her education: homeschool. Asiyah divided her time between homeschool with her parents as well as a madrasa, a formal Islamic school. She attended a number of madrasas in New Orleans, which was a shared homeschool experience with a small group of students. Later, she received her high school equivalency diploma. Reflecting on the difference between her homeschool experience and that of her younger siblings, who attended public school, Asiyah stated, “Listening to them talk about their experiences that I never had, dances and things like that, I knew my school experience was not typical.”
But Asiyah didn’t think much about education systems until she had her own child. When her son was ready to attend school, Asiyah and her husband at the time had a discussion. They didn’t have much confidence in the New Orleans school system. He had attended Catholic schools his whole life and felt strongly that his children should be given the same opportunity. Asiyah had no objections, so they enrolled their son in a Catholic school. But the education expenses didn’t feel reasonable, so they decided to move. Asiyah, who is a social worker in the mental health field, looked for a job on the Northshore and was able to find one in Slidell.
“More resources amounts to more choices,” Asiyah acknowledged. “There is the question of what happens to the people and the children whose resources and choices are limited.”
Once in Slidell, Asiyah visited the public school and noticed there wasn’t much difference in class sizes between the private and public schools. She began to rethink the decision to continue to send her son to private school, and eventually she enrolled her son in the public school. Later, she enrolled her other children, a son and daughter, in public school as well. She was an involved parent. “I had a track for them from the time they were enrolled all the way through high school. I wasn’t going to leave their education up to the school system. I’d plan their classes each year.” At one point, she thought about moving back to New Orleans, but after talking with friends about “the lottery system,” she decided she didn’t want to face that kind of uncertainty about her children’s education.
Asiyah is also involved in the community. Though her family still lives in Slidell, she is still active in New Orleans. In the last couple of years, she has attended a number of demonstrations and marches for various social justice issues. “I care about the fair treatment of people, especially issues of police brutality and how people of color are treated by the criminal justice system, by police… I have two sons. One that drives.”
Reflecting on when she first became involved in social justice issues, she thinks about the legacy of her parents, who participated in different socially minded groups, but her activism developed over time. The first actions she remembers taking part in were sit-ins at Louisiana State University after incidents of racism occurred on campus. When asked about her role in activist spaces, she hesitates.
“Sometimes I don’t feel like I fit into activist spaces. I’m not always sure of my role. I hope that my presence will affect something, that maybe something will come from it, and from showing support. But I just think of myself as someone who wants to be involved, a concerned citizen. When I see something that needs addressed, I try to take the initiative to speak up, and to be involved in activities that might affect some outcome. I don’t feel like I can’t just sit back, that makes me feel antsy. It doesn’t quite sit right.”
Asiyah’s courage is subtle, but powerful. It’s an important narrative for when we lose sight of our own power to choose in the face of relentless and unforgiving systems of social conditioning and oppression. Though we must also acknowledge, as Asiyah did, that she has had enough resources and support to make those choices. When we see this success, we are encouraged to give others the resources and support they need to also have options. Just as important, we have to have a reason to believe it is possible to find freedom within these systems. Asiyah gives us that reason to believe by broadening our view of choice and redefining what it means to be a concerned parent and citizen. It’s not a matter of heroism, and for each parent and person it will look different. Yet, Asiyah helps us see that it is also as simple as being involved.