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Community EngagementEducation

Brilliant children deserve a brilliant system

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“Parents and youth are the experts of their lives. They have knowledge and experience. If you’re in a position of power, you should be taking it all in.”

Xochitl Montano, Policy advocacy organizer, Building Blocks for Kids-Richmond
Bay Area parents and children enjoy a virtual paint party

In Richmond, California parent organizer Xochitl Montano believes attention to students’ social-emotional needs will be critical this fall. She was a student not so long ago and empathizes with what she’s hearing from parents and youth who want to experience grace, especially when it comes to learning loss during the pandemic.

 “Education can feel very overwhelming,” Montano observes, “a lot of youth feel like their value is tied to their grades and if you fall behind in school you feel like you’re drowning. They should enjoy learning, but the message that ‘if you don’t perform perfectly, you’re not going to succeed’ is a huge strain on kids.”

She’s hoping school districts will re-examine standards this fall and going forward. “Being graded and judged by arbitrary standardized testing that’s already proven to be racially-biased; parents are over it. They’re saying these things are outdated and don’t work. They want their kids to feel better about learning.”

Montano works as the policy advisory organizer for Building Blocks for Kids-Richmond (BBK-Richmond), part of a Bay Area coalition supported by WKKF. BBK-Richmond, the Bay Area PLAN, and Coleman Advocates have built on their strong collaborative foundation to ensure mothers’ voices were amplified to reach people in decision-making roles throughout the pandemic.

“We did the hardest work of listening,” says Pecolia Manigo Awobodu, Bay Area PLAN’s executive director. “Our job as advocates is to keep telling the stories for folks, to move the narrative from ‘folks don’t deserve resources’ to ‘folks absolutely need resources to make equity real and to right the wrongs of what’s been driving our systems, to transform systems of racism, of difference, of oppression into a system of diversity.”

“Our beautiful, brilliant children deserve an amazing system."

Caring for one another, with one another

During the pandemic, this Bay Area coalition has taken what they’ve heard from community and transmitted it to those who can pull the levers within systems.

From that process came the Family Thriving Fund, supporting undocumented and Black families facing pandemic-related unemployment and eviction and providing resources for survival. Meanwhile, Arabic-speaking parents successfully advocated for Arabic classes in their schools and translation of key communications from their children’s schools.

Sasha Ritzie-Hernandez is Bay Area PLAN’s Senior Parent Organizer, who says they have an all-star team of parent organizers. “Most fundamental to our organization is that we are multi-lingual and multicultural, so parents can work with Black, Latinx and Arabic-speaking organizers who fully understand them both culturally and linguistically.”

But, what all the parents, of all cultural backgrounds are most excited about was the Reparations for Black Student Resolution. The resolution, passed by the Oakland Unified School District, called for prioritizing Black students in a safe and healthy return to school, as the community hardest hit by illness and loss of life; committing to closing the Black digital divide; ending the school to prison pipeline; and setting up a Black Thriving Fund, among other elements.

Bilquis Alawi works primarily with Arabic-speaking parents from Yemen, who she says spoke up in support of the Black Student Resolution. “They live in the same neighborhoods as Black families. They struggle together. They said, ‘this resolution for improving education for Black students, for hiring more Black teachers, means better education for all of us.’ Arab Parents want improvements and equity in schools for all students.” 

“All our Arabic & Latinx families showed up for Black families, and we know we’ll fight together again next time.”

Ritzie-Hernandez affirms, “All our Arabic & Latinx families showed up for Black families, and we know we’ll fight together again next time.” In turn, Alawi adds, the Black community supported the Yemeni Students and Families Resolution, showing up and speaking in the board meeting in support.

Overall, this Bay Area coalition’s work has forged a closeness across the districts they serve. Ritzie-Hernandez says, “We’re all like a family. It’s all about how we show up and build love, respect and trust together.”

Ze Min Xiao, leading through authentic relationship

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