Dear Black Parents from Memphis Lift,

I owe you an apology. Today, via social media, I watched you show up to be heard at the NAACP hearing on the moratorium for charter schools. You felt blindsided and unheard. You were threatened, and the police were called on you for fighting for what you felt was right.

.@NAACP Regional Field Director Fields Heated Responses from Pro-#CharterSchoolParents after Board Approves Moratorium Resolution — Choice Media (@ChoiceMediaTV) October 15, 2016

I am a member of the NAACP and contrary to many other black folks; I do have a profound respect for them and what they are meant to stand for. My letter to you is not an entryway or access point for non-Blacks to use to attack the NAACP. My blackness just won’t allow that. Think of this as a family meeting where we have some things to address amongst ourselves. I am not interested in watching Black leaders eviscerate each other at the entertainment of other folks.

However, I do feel that we did you a disservice today. I have never worked for a charter school nor did I attend one. I have nephews that are currently thriving in one. I do not believe charters to be the Christ of education that can baptize our communities to academic heaven. No. However, I am an ardent supporter of your right to make a choice on your own. I believe that you deserve a level of dignity and agency when it comes to how your children are educated. I believe you deserve the right to have an option when one system or school is not up to your standards.

I live my life working to improve traditional public schools. It is a hard and difficult grind, but I see it as a duty for what God has personally pulled me through and I thoroughly feel blessed to be able to do it daily. I want the mark of improvement in those schools to be academic improvements that can lead to a better life for Black students. Let me be clear; I want us to build traditional public schools that Black parents WANT to send their children to, not ones that they are forced to.

I have failed you though because even with all of the degrees, the access to information, the connections I have worked to build and the social privilege I now possess, you still have not been served as best as you can, and I have little to show for how I’ve improved that. In a world where no one wants to take the blame, and everyone loves pointing the finger elsewhere, I know that part of this is my fault.

When I look at the mothers that drove seven hours to Cincinnati from Memphis just to be shut down and shut out, I think about my mother feeling helpless and aimless in my education. I think about the insecurity she must have felt not understanding how to guide my education. I think about the double-digit number of schools I attended across the country and her fear that my educational life may end up like her’s. This country could’ve done more to serve you. I could’ve done more. At the very least, today, we (and I say we because I’m a supporter of and paying member of the NAACP) could’ve made sure you were treated with more respect and dignity than you were. Today could’ve been a day that restored hope rather than one that left you feeling like an orphan with no home or protection. I watched with a clinched fist the live streams of police being called on Black parents today in Cincinnati.

I would have preferred the NAACP to call out the entire system of education as it relates to Black people on the whole. Black parents, I am sorry that you will have to listen to non-Black people quote the NAACP to you as they basically tell you that you do not have the right to choose what you feel is best for your children. It bothers me to my core.

Black parents, let me be clear, family. I don’t blindly trust any of these systems. Not-a-one-of-them to do what’s right by my people. What I support is access to all the information and the ability to do what’s best for your family. Once you make that choice, regardless of system, you must fight like hell for the edification of your child. So in this conversation, I may come off as a charter advocate. Nah, I’m an Agency advocate that understands no perfect system exists so within that context, you need the access and ability to make the best decisions for your family. Our role is to then support you in that decision and help you navigate it.

We must be better for you. Black parents, wherever your child attends school, whether it be a traditional public school, a public charter school or a private school, we can and must be better for you. I have a few suggestions on how we can do that:

  1. Traditional public schools, public charter schools, and private schools must put politics to the side and get real about what it means to educate Black children in this country. That involves us being adults and talking to each other.
  2. Black people have to lead. There are a lot of well-meaning folks out here leading, and I commend you, but Black people MUST be at the forefront of their liberation. When you look at the civil rights movement, there were a lot of courageous non-Black people involved, but they understood that to see real progress amongst the people it had to be Black folks out in front, leading.
  3. Black agency, or the ability to feel confident and in a position of power when it comes to issues affecting your family, must become a priority for any leader that is responsible for educating your children.
  4. Leaders of every sector of this work, we must yell down and shout out anyone that tries to blame the deplorable state of Black education in this country as a whole on the Black family. I completely understand the role the family unit plays, and I respect it. However, if any education system blames their failures on Black parents or tries to convince you there’s something wrong with us, then you should exit en masse. That’s a lie from the Devil’s lawyer, fam!
  5. We have to have a real conversation about results and who’s being educated. Our Black parents need to know that an ‘A’ in English doesn’t necessarily mean your child is reading at or above grade level. Parents shouldn’t need to know that, but alas, here we are.
  6. We must lift up and support when educators, regardless of political leanings or educational delivery system, are educating Black children well. We must seek them out in every sector of education.
  7. We must create a safe space for Black leaders on every side of this issue, along with Black parents and students to have a closed-door, family-only conversation. Remember when we used to have family meetings where we would fight, fuss, cuss, argue, eat, drink and then walk out of that house fortified as a unit and ready to take on the world together? We need that type of space.

Black people, I will be better for you and not as some savior, because (1) I can’t be that and (2) you don’t need that. I still do not totally know how, but I will do my damnedest to find out and walk in that. It starts with me. Would love to see other leaders take a similar stand publicly for our people because on the whole, this entire thing could be better for our people.

Humbly and sincerely,

Someone deeply trying to figure out how to be of better service to his people…

Dr. Charles Cole, III​ is an educator focused on the advancement of youth of color, but more specifically Black males. This passion comes from his experiences growing up without proper support, including being homeless and attending more than ten elementary schools across the country while his parents battled addiction and incarceration. Throughout that experience, no adult, no group, no organization ever asked him how he was achieving success nor how he was surviving. Schools were not a place where students in similar predicaments were learning. This experience helped lead to the publication of his first book, ​Beyond Grit and Resilience. As founder of ​Energy Convertors​, Charles comes from the community and has shared many of the students’ experiences. Previously Charles served as a social worker, a Director for Teach for America, the Vice Chair of the California Young Democrats, Black Caucus and at a director’s level with various youth-focused nonprofits. n addition to founding Energy Convertors, Charles is a national speaker and a writer, and he can be found in Oakland and around the country working with youth on how to equip themselves appropriately to lay the groundwork for a bright future. Charles is currently a board member of ​UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital​, and co-host of the ​8 Black Hands Podcast. Charles’ life goal is to better the communities he grew up in, which include Chicago, Paducah, KY, and Oakland.    


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