Never underestimate the power of a parent’s voice who fights for education.
I believe that when we speak it first comes from a place of personal necessity, one that says my child is hurting, has been mistreated, or does not have what he or she needs. Once you know this, you can address the situation with the right people and advocate for change.
That same voice can quickly evolve to a place of, “if my child has been subjected to such treatment, what about their peers?”
That’s when we are dangerous! We find ways to call other parents to action. Every time we use our voice to make change we show others the power they also have. As activators of parents, we don’t empower them but give them courage to use what was already there to move mountains.
For my child, I can change how a teacher sees her. I can make plans with the school to assure they meet her needs. But as a group of activated parents who plan to address the needs of all student, we can change hearts.
October 17, 2017 was Lobby Day in Lansing, Michigan. Parents from Detroit and the surrounding areas rode busses to speak to their local state representatives. We convened in a small conference room right outside one of their offices and discussed the day’s action plan. Parents divided into groups of 4-6 and each one took a role.
Within each group, roles included a spokesperson, an interviewer, a testimonial, a note taker, an asker, and a gift bearer. (No bribery, just cute packages of lifesavers with a note attached that read, “you are a lifesaver for children from Detroit.”)
Each team met with two state Representatives or their assistants. State Rep. Rose Mary Robinson was very open and candid from the time we entered.
“I will be clear right now, I am for public schools. If you are pushing charter schools, you’re talking to the wrong person.”
When asked what her priorities were around education as a whole, she explained that her focus was changing laws that affect men of color in prisons. This stern but sweet woman spoke of her passionate beginnings working as an attorney. Watching the disparity of laws that unjustly locked up more blacks than whites provoked her to run for state representative. Now in her last term, she looks forward to returning to the courtroom. Passionate about her goals, she gave names of other reps she thought of as more passionate about education.
We let her know other teams were with those same reps as we spoke. She seemed a bit impressed.
Kenyatta, the interviewer of the group, switched gears and deviated from the questions in the agenda. He painted a picture of three generations of men in his family impacted by incarceration. Had they had access to quality schools, they would have made better choices. Kenyatta and Rep. Robinson discussed how most of the men in prisons are highly intelligent but lacked opportunities afforded their white constituents while in school. He shared how one cousin soon to receive a sentence was a genius at running an illegal drug business but failed miserably in school.
She concurred. Her experiences have allowed her to meet thousands of men like that. He posed another question to Representative Robinson: “Do you see the pipeline to prison as a reason to push for better education?”
He seemed to show her a clear path of connecting education to her agenda. A lightbulb went on, her face lit up, and before we could do the ask she did it herself. “Okay, what do you all want from me?”
Jamilla Martin, the co-founder of 482Forward, replied, “We would love for you to attend our State of the School Address and help Detroit students by being a spokesperson to assure schools don’t close.”
The meeting took a turn. State Representative Robinson was sold. She was never a hard sell, just more focused on her agenda. She never voted against Detroit Public Schools but now she has a more personal reason to fight specifically for us.
One parent joined together with a group of goal-oriented parents, and now we are making change.
What’s your voice? What change do you need to make? Who can you connect with to make your voice more powerful and what do you want to make happen? You will never know until you stop underestimating your own power.
By the way…we used to be silent too.