Stop this Illusion of Inclusion and Elevate Black parent voices in Parent and Family Engagement Councils

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Imagine what it feels like for a teacher to listen and respond to you, for a school leader to listen deeply to you, and to be receptive to you as you tell them about the brilliance of Black children. Imagine what that space would feel like when a teacher turns to you as a Black parent and tells you “I believe you, I value your wisdom and your vision for your children. I see your child and I see their brilliance.” I have never had this experience as a Black parent and mother of 3 Black children. In fact, I can only remember three teachers ever telling me something great about my children and can count the number of times I heard such affirming words on my two hands. You can imagine the initial excitement I felt when I heard about the U.S. Department of Education’s newly created National Parents and Family Engagement Council. It seems this council aims to strengthen home-school partnerships by positioning parents as an essential voice in shaping how school leaders and teachers respond to the socioemotional, academic, and psychological needs of children.

As a Black parent and researcher, I immediately went to the press release and was curious to know the types of parents who comprised the council. As it stands, the council includes some Black parent representation, both Mocha Moms and Fathers Incorporated are two organizations recognized nationally for their work with Black mothers and Black fathers. It was at that moment that my excitement turned into skepticism. I want to embrace the possibility that schools will respond to the needs of Black children, yet as a Black parent and researcher, I know first-hand what it is like to navigate the troubled waters of K-12 schools when advocating for Black children in this country.

I immediately began to reflect on how this country has a long history of drowning and ignoring Black parents’ voices. Violence marks this country’s history against Black parents and children, the mobs, and the protests that took place for decades after the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling. I know of the political tactics across this country used to keep racially segregated schools intact and to funnel resources and money into schools predominately white. I know the actions of people in this country and the violent anti-CRT movement that swept across this country and its suffocating hands still lingering in our classrooms. We cannot hide from decades of history where Black parents have asked this country and its K-12 schools to provide their children with quality education, to stop punishing them and pushing them out of schools, and to believe their children are brilliant. We know the response of politicians and majority white communities to these requests.

Just earlier this year, as school boards responded to white parents’ desire to remove discussions of racism and supposed “critical race theory” from instruction, a Black mother and father were told to “Shut the f — — up” when they decided to advocate for their children to learn the truth about this country’s history.

Schools that increase Black parent engagement where teachers and leaders sit with Black parents and use our wisdom to inform how they respond to the socioemotional and academic needs of our children often exist in our imagination. Right now, the representation of Black parents on the Council seems more like an “illusion of inclusion” when we examine the history of this country.

The council, for me, brings forward more distrust when I think about how K-12 schools have never elevated the voices of Black parents. While evidence continues to show the impact of Black parent engagement on the positive academic and socioemotional outcomes of Black children and, more broadly, a school’s climate, too often, Black parents are mistreated by teachers and school personnel, disrespected, and interrogated.

I know this story as a Black parent. I have had to learn how to suppress my anger and rage in a room with a teacher who tells me something is wrong with my Black son because they cannot see his brilliance. I know what it feels like to advocate for a Black daughter and her giftedness in math only to witness her light diminished in an AP math course with a teacher who ignores and diminishes her abilities. I know the “illusion of inclusion” when a teacher or principal pretends to listen and, in the end, as a Black parent I was not heard.

We have to reconcile the entangled realities of a belief system in a hierarchy of human value based on race, where white parent voices are elevated, and Black parent voices are not. We have to call in this inherent truth and stop pretending that the evidence we see is false. These beliefs are entrenched in the education system and show up in the opportunity gap, the school-to-prison pipeline, and the racial trauma schools enact against Black children. When Black parents advocate for their child’s diverse socioemotional and academic needs, it is more common for Black parents to experience barriers to services and further exclusion. The development of these Parent and Family Engagement Councils and statewide commissions may score political points but this country will have to show me that they are willing to listen to Black parents. I need to see an unapologetic and uncompromised commitment from school districts, school leaders, and teachers who really want to embrace this difficult work — working to build stronger home-school partnerships with Black parents, families, and schools.

I no longer want to imagine something, but I want it to be real, I want my Black children to exist in a space that allows them to thrive.

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