Guest Blog By Penny Christian – Prichard Committee Member, Vice President Leadership Outreach, KYPTA – Lexington, KY
In 2021 I was asked to co-present at the Amplify Conference in Kansas City, Missouri. Having never heard of it, I did a little research. “Empowering KC’s Educators of Color for Student Success”, is what I read on the website. Wow; a conference dedicated specifically to educators of color…and an opportunity to talk about parent voice for Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC)
My response to Amplify was a visceral one. For me, this was a truly safe space. There were Black and Brown teachers, administrators and superintendents, all there to speak on behalf of our babies. Without question these people felt they could share thoughts and opinions without fear of repercussion or retaliation. We were insulated, yet free.
Before I even left Kansas City I knew I wanted to present again at Amplify. Why? A captive audience like no other. I wanted to speak to educators of color about families of color. I wanted them to share experiences that would confirm what we already know: family engagement can look different in certain neighborhoods and zip codes. We need to acknowledge and accept that. Our marginalized families are sometimes overlooked; implicit bias, access, language barriers, etc. can all prevent successful partnerships. That was the topic of my presentation. So, this past weekend I returned to that safe space.
One of the most important points I needed attendees to understand was that traditional communication and mainstream family engagement strategies are not always effective with Black and Brown families. While possibly not the intent, it is clear that embedded in these strategies is the notion of “unreachable” families. No matter how honest your motives, Dr. Mapp says you do not genuinely believe every parent cares about their child’s education. To no one’s surprise, every person in that room had either heard-or said- those very words. It is exactly that mindset which requires us to have this conversation.
As many of you may know, when I present I always share my “why”, my girls. As proud as I am of my children, I attempted to share a strong truth with my attendees. ACADEMICALLY SUCCESSFUL BIPOC CHILDREN ARE NOT UNICORNS. After the audible gasps in the room subsided, I clarified my statement. My children are not anomalies or outliers; every Brown baby in every classroom has the potential to be successful. Moreover, every Brown family has the capacity to support its children. Unfortunately several teachers in the room shared stories where they had seen lowered expectations and limited opportunities due to biases and preconceived notions. If educators do not believe this, partnerships will not be a priority.
As we celebrate Family Engagement In Education Week, I share this to remind you that, although we have made great strides, we have not arrived. As one of the conference attendees stated, “I can do more. And in my current role, I can challenge our schools to do more”. It is my hope that we all desire to do more, for every child.