One of the most frustrating, yet enduring tropes in the realm of education debates is the idea of black and brown parents as disinterested, disconnected and ignorant.

Far too often you hear about how the dismal outcomes for the nation’s students of color are the byproduct of their parent’s and families’ lack of interest in their education. It’s not the inequitable funding practices, the resulting outrageous funding gaps, nor poor teacher prep programs and it’s almost considered a sin to question the efficiency of the teaching force placed in front of our most marginalized students.

Nah, its mostly just that their parents don’t care.

With that in mind, it’s always a beautiful thing to see in action what many of us in the reform world already know to be true. Black and brown parents value education deeply. And they know when something is wrong or inadequate.

Last week, a prime example of this came to fruition when the parent organization Oakland Reach, in coalition with the Oakland NAACP attended a Oakland Unified School District board meeting, to announce a powerful new coalition and campaign they are calling “Literacy for All.”

The meeting was proof that Black and Brown parents can and will mobilize to fight back against the enduring, broken systems that educate their children. These families know that Oakland, a “progressive” city with some of the worst racial gaps in education, needs to do better.

The best part about this specific movement is that they are so laser-focused on what needs to happen and in truth, it’s absolutely actionable. These parents know that there is a literacy crisis in their city, and they’ve done the research, organizing, and planning to present to the powers that be that changes need to be made and made quickly.

From The Oakland Reach:

There is a citywide reading crisis in Oakland – fewer than thirty percent of black and brown kids can read, and less than half of all students are at grade level for reading. The wait is over. The time is now for a citywide movement. 

“At The Oakland REACH, our work comes from our families,” said Lakisha Young, Executive Director of The Oakland REACH. “And again and again, we were hearing that the thing that keeps parents up at night is their child’s ability to read. They know that if they do not make sure their children can read, there is a potential prison bunk waiting for them. That’s what makes this campaign unique: it is led by the parents most impacted by failing schools — they are finally the forethought, not an afterthought.” 

As part of Black History Month, the newly formed coalition used the board meeting as an opportunity to lay out their priorities, air grievances with the status quo and make their voices heard.

The Literacy for All campaign is described as going beyond focusing on “K-3 literacy outcomes” and will also target increasing the literacy of the whole family. Parent after parent, many with their own OUSD students joining them, stepped to the podium to speak to the school board about the importance of literacy and why the time to address the crisis has to be now.

Following the comments from parents, community members, students and educators, the board unanimously voted to pass a resolution to “become an active member of the Coalition” to work together and ensure that every Oakland child learns and loves to read.

We’ll be following along closely to see what this partnership can achieve and the rest of the country should pay attention, too.

Josh Stewart considers himself a global citizen first and foremost and is passionate about cultural exchange. He has a B.s. in Political Science and Hispanic Studies from St. John's University in Minnesota and experience as both an ESL and social studies teacher in Korea and the Philippines. He currently works a digital content Manager for Citizen Education and Education Post and enjoys both traditional and creative methods crafting messages around the desperate need to improve our education system and provide quality options to the most marginalized students and families.


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