Do I Really Have to Defend Civil Rights Activists From the NAACP?

For months, I’ve struggled internally with blasting the NAACP for its stance on charter schools. To chastise an advocacy organization that has been instrumental in progressing equality for Black people in America is similar to a grandchild talking back to an old school, Black grandmother in public—it’s just something you don’t do. 

I’ve been treading lightly—trying to be as respectful as possible in previous pieces I’ve written on this denial of access. But when I read this article in the Huffington Post, where three parents/grandparents were accused of being paid pundits for right-wing organizations because they’ve chosen to publicly advocate for their school options, I was pissed off. 


Shots were fired that hit me hard—and I hope they’re felt by anyone else who claims to be a diehard advocate. 


Because when anyone tries to silence the voices of marginalized families through lies and intimidation, a line has been crossed and it’s an attack on our mission. When that happens, we have to call those people out—even if they look like us.


How dare Rick Callender—second Vice President of the California Hawaii NAACP—dismiss grandparents Christina Laster and Joette Spencer as some sort of paid political operatives when in fact they are fighting for the rights of the very schools their grandchildren attend. The very schools that saved them from having to send their grandchildren to traditional public schools in California where 68% of Black students fail to meet English language arts standards. The very schools where Black students outperform their peers in traditional schools, but are fighting off endless legislative attacks from California lawmakers and teachers unions.


And in her tweet, Ms. Laster asks us to check her bank account for deposits and I’m with her—show us the receipts.


Because the insinuation that there’s some funny business going on between her and right-wing groups without mentioning financial contributions the NAACP received from the American Federation of Teachers is telling a very lopsided story. 


Here’s a fact—over 700,000 Black families have chosen to send their children to charter schools because traditional public schools are failing them. Why isn’t the NAACP listening to them?


My colleague and mentor Chris Stewart wrote that seven out of eight Black kids attend traditional public schools—not charters. And nationally, only 18% of Black eighth graders are proficient in reading. So if more of our kids are in traditional public schools, who owns the responsibility for the miseducation of our children? Why isn’t the NAACP focusing its considerable influence on those countless traditional school districts that continue to fail us, generation after generation?

I couldn’t be more disappointed in these accusations against a genuine community advocate, at a time when we most need to be sticking together to fight racism, inequity and injustice in our education system. We’re a community divided. It’s heartbreaking.

But we can’t abandon the fight. If you are a Black parent, grandparent, guardian, student, advocate or ally who believes in quality education for all kids, we need you to speak up right now. Forget the political rhetoric, feeling compelled to be loyal to organizations and leaders that no longer serve us, and forget about the charter versus traditional debate.

Instead, think about the freedom and humanity of choice, the right to equal access and the millions of families who deserve a good education regardless of their skin color, zip code or the school model. Let these things fuel and guide your advocacy.

Your voice is needed to grow this movement.

Tanesha Peeples
Tanesha Peeples is driven by one question in her work—“If not me, then who?” As the former Deputy Director of Activist Development for brightbeam, Tanesha merges the worlds of communications and grassroots activism to push for change in the public education system. Her passion for community and relentless mission for justice and liberation drive her in uplifting and amplifying the voices and ...

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