By Gwen Samuel
Last week I joined black parents from several states to attend the 45th Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Legislative Conference. To build community with these parents was empowerment at its peak. To see the CBC sell out its education community to the highest bidder was a big disappointment and a serious wake up call for us as active voters and Black parents.
As a black mom struggling to make a dollar out of fifteen cents, you know, trying to stretch a little income a long way, I don’t always get the opportunity to be in the room with a majority of Black educators and administrators to talk about being a black parent on today’s educational landscape. There are few places where I feel I can share my story and advocate for a just education for my children (and others) in spaces where people with power look like me.
I thought the CBC would be the best place to find fellowship with my people and speak truth to power. Boy, was in for a reality check!
The first session I saw was about Black child development so I felt like, wow the CBC is the place to be for Black parents.
Then the next session I attended threw cold water on that thought. I knew instantly I was in the wrong place.
The session was called “Education as a Civil Right: Federal Policy Solutions to Advance Access from Cradle to Career.” The room was packed with black people. The panel was stocked with important looking experts that included representatives from the US Department of Education and National Educational Association.
Then, strolling in at her leisure, there was Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. I didn’t see her name on the original line up, but there she was positioning herself for a show. And she performed true to form. Since I am sure she was not there for the rights of black children, I can only assume, it was AFT’s $300k contribution to the CBC that bought her a seat on that stage.
Here’s the real kicker: at a black policy event, in a room full of educated black people, the moderator introduced Randi saying, “she’s our sistah!”
Wait, what? Whose ‘sistah’?
People clapped and cheered. I was insulted, especially when she jumped into an awkward theatrical sermon like a black pastor on Sunday morning. She even waved her hands all around and seduced the audience with her hype—she worked us damn well!
Did everyone in that room forget this woman and the organization she leads have a clear track record of blocking policies that give black families like mine equitable access to more educational choices? Does that matter to this group? I soon learned the room was filled with mostly dues paying members of the teachers’ unions, so the sad answer is probably no.
It’s disheartening, but many of our black “educators” that lived through the civil rights era and its injustices have many of the same beliefs about black kids as their white comrades in the union. It was crystal clear to me at that moment, as long as Randi fights for their job security in the schools they would never choose for their kids, she’s golden – she really is their sistah!
But what of our elected officials; they are supposed to be fighting for our communities, our children, at the highest levels. Yet, it’s apparent they’ve auctioned us off to the AFT and the National Education Association – two of their big donors.
I could see how the essence of spiritual black people was exploited by those with long money who had no shame in using theatrics to get us all drunk with their self-serving arrogance.
The word “sister,” a term of endearment and solidarity in the black community, was used at the CBC to insult our intelligence and devalue our heritage.
Then, it got worse.
The one parent who had a chance to ask a question during audience Q&A was a black father from New Orleans who stood up and gave an impassioned statement about what he expects from schools. He said he wanted the panel to affirm his right to choose what’s best for his child. He wants a voice in defining what success looks like. As he spoke hecklers in this sea of black educators had the nerve to be rude. They snickered and murmured under their breath.
That told me all I needed to know about the place of black parents in the education debate. People want to talk for us, but not with us. They felt because they were so-called experts they had the right to define our narrative as Black parents.
Randi Weingarten was better received at the CBC than those of us who traveled long distances with limited resources to engage with the powers that be. Despite dispelling the myths about black parents and low income communities, we are further marginalized in these rooms by our own people.
We, the parents, are in a bitter struggle for our kid’s educational rights, and we are tired. We are engaged and committed, but sick of being told that we must accept whatever educators say and do to our Black children and communities. As parents we have the closest relationships with our children. Yet, teachers and their leaders continue to oversee non-family-friendly school environments. They talk as if educators are the most important people in lives of our children – as if parents are non-factors.
Aren’t we the people who should be introduced by shiny moderators on black education panels, and called “sistah” to roaring applause by black educators?
For a black woman to affectionately call another woman her sister says we are united in the struggle to ensure the safety, education and overall well being of our black babies. We work for real justice by ensuring we all get fair access to educational opportunities.
While the leadership of teachers’ unions talk about equity and justice, they also defend the assignment of the lowest performing teachers into the poorest and highest need communities. They demand more funding, but with no accountability.
And our black middle class, as represented by the CBC panels, are their assistants.
Maybe they have internalized so much racism that they’re willing to say Randi Weingarten is their “sistah.” Maybe the benefits are just that good.
As for me, would I call the nation’s biggest lobbyist against the interests of black children a “sistah”?
Hell to the naw.