by Gwen Samuel

With back-to-school time in full swing I’m reading article after article about the important role of parent and family involvement.  

Folks from traditional school districts and non-traditional schools are talking about everything  us parents must do at home to ensure our children’s success. They talk about “magical” parent teacher partnerships. They tell us about the PTA/PTO that parents can join to support the needs of the schools.  

The message puts us in our non-academic place and tells us to leave the policies, practices, and procedures to teachers and principals – the certified “experts”

All these articles in 2015 use the same language as the 2014 articles, which is the same as too many years before .

Heck, it was the same language when my first child was born in 1989. Back then it felt like I was being conditioned as a parent to be a compliant parent of color. I was supposed to support the status quo without much questioning and do as I was told.

I was supposed to ignore unjust and discriminatory education policies and practices that distribute academic opportunity on the basis of parent zip-codes.  The prize for my compliance? If I conformed as a good bake sale volunteer, I may just get a “co-opted” seat at the table and enjoy the minor benefits of “cosmetic diversity.”  

A Panther Mom

I am not that mom of 1989 anymore. Forget all that noise about the “tiger moms,” you need to recognize the next edition in tough mothers are  black moms who won’t be sidelined anymore by white or any other color educators or other decision makers. You will put the needs of children, especially the children most in need, first.

You can call me a panther mom.

Sure, I value every role parents play to support their child’s school, including that infamous bake sale.  But my time as an education activist connecting with other parents and community leaders on the front lines has taught me how important it is to fight for equity in education.

Black parents can no longer sit on the sidelines and be silent about things that matter. We can’t be meek in the face of racist institutions that put more of our kids on the track for prison than for careers.

Without our children many schools would vanish. So would the jobs that go with them.

So don’t get it twisted: As a parent, I have a right to make demands of the system. I have a right to have competent teachers, knowledgeable about the subject they are hired to teach, in my children’s classrooms. I have a right to timely information about how my children are doing academically. I deserve the respect afforded to middle-class white mothers who say jump and schools say “how high.”

I am owning my power as a parent. I want school reform, school choice, and remedies to all of the institutional barriers to the success of black children. This includes low expectations, poor quality instruction, uneven resources, suspensions as a default practice, and curriculum that whitewashes history or strips my kids of their culture.

Hear us now!

People were silent in 2010 when Kelley Williams Bolar caught a case in Ohio using her fathers address to send her daughters to a school in a safer neighborhood. She got a felony for “stealing” a public education.

In 2011 Tanya McDowell, a homeless black mother in Connecticut was also busted for stealing a public education for her kindergartner.

Again, there was silence.

Last year we even saw the silliest case ever: a black family charged by police for cheering too loud at a high school graduation.

Today, over one million parents are on waiting lists for charter schools. Like me, they know the power of having options.

Yet, just this past week we find out that the Washington state teachers’ union spent $4 million (some going to elect judges favorable to their position) to prevent low-income parents in that state from enrolling their children into schools that have been designed to meet their needs.

Families with children in these charter schools are now in chaos wondering what the future holds.

It’s been interesting watching middle-class white people dance on the pain of these parents, and take victory laps in social media about this awful decision clearly designed to make “failure” an option again.

Enjoy your privilege. It won’t last forever. Panther moms will realize their parent power, and you will too.


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