In the words of the late, great Notorious B.I.G., “I’m going, going, back, back to Cali, Cali.”
A year ago I told y’all a national education movement was building and here we are. Black and Latinx parents, education leaders and activists, and students have been traveling from city to city to face-off with Democratic presidential candidates whose education plans threaten to limit school choice options for families.
It started in Houston, then went to Westerville, Ohio, Atlanta, Pittsburgh and this week, it’s going down in Los Angeles, where the Democratic candidates will meet again for the next presidential debate,
Now I wish I could say I was going to L.A. to get away from this Chicago winter and kick it on Venice Beach. Nope, I’m going because of course I’m part of this movement. But, I’d be lying if I said I was looking forward to the trip.
Truth is, I’m emotionally burned out—as are many of my brothers and sisters in the education liberation movement.
Last week on our podcast, Christina Laster and I had an extremely important “table talk” with a fellow advocate, Vesia Hawkins and life coach, Shantell E. Jamison about the public and private struggles and attacks Black women endure—especially as education activists.
That conversation allowed us to bond, get some stuff off our chests and exhale for just a moment. But when that hour was up, it was back to life, back to reality—the reality that our struggles don’t seem to have an end in sight.
As a matter of fact, a day after that conversation, Vesia traveled from Nashville to Pittsburgh with the Powerful Parent Network (PPN)—a movement of parents from around the country—because there was a public education forum being held that really wasn’t so public.
People who support school choice weren’t welcomed. The parents of the poor and underserved Black and Brown children who were being discussed by all White and well-off politicians were barred from the room.
And when they tried to take a “seat at the table,” they were confronted and barricaded by police and event security—a scene that mirrored a Civil Rights Movement stand-off.
All these parents wanted was one thing—for these politicians to meet with them and listen to their stories and ideas. But the only one who answered the call was candidate and former Denver Public Schools superintendent, Michael Bennet.
What happened in Houston, Westerville, Atlanta and Pittsburgh—what’s happened throughout history—is a very sobering, heartbreaking but infuriating reality. These politicians don’t respect or care about Black and Brown people. They want our vote but have no interest in representing our needs. That’s why it was easy for Elizabeth Warren to lie to PPN member Sarah Carpenter’s face about sending her kids to private school while trying to take that same school choice away from families.
What’s really sad is how this whole “charter schools are destroying the traditional public school system” conspiracy has divided Black and Brown communities. The other day, Angel Gober—one of the organizers with One Pennsylvania—posted a picture of herself in a shirt that said “F*%k Charter Schools” on Twitter. I just wanted to throw my laptop because it was clearly a shot at the PPN!
Newsflash for Angel and other people frolicking around in the Sunken Place—this shit is bigger than charter schools! It’s about these Black and Brown kids that have been stuck in a system that’s failed them over and over again. We should be talking about how we’re going to dismantle and rebuild a system that works for all, or rescue them from this unjust one—that’s it!
Man, this infighting pisses me off the most and I’m sure it’s making our ancestors throw things in their graves. Because while we’re bickering over what kind of schools they attend, our kids are wasting away in prison-pipeline factories and the people who want to see them lose are loving every minute of it.
Taking Back the Narrative
Then the media outlets, people interested in preserving educational injustice and the social media trolls add fuel to that fire by constantly trying to flip the narrative and steal our agency.
The Powerful Parent Network caught all kinds of heat and shade from media when they received national attention for disrupting Warren’s rally in Atlanta in November. There was even unfounded reporting that they were funded by the Waltons to push a pro-charter agenda.
But how come no one questioned the agenda or advocacy of Moms Demand Action (MDA) when Michael Bloomberg tossed $50 billion dollars their way in 2014? Oh, that’s right—because when White, suburban mothers fight for their kids, they’re brave saints. When Black and Latina mothers do it, they’re paid agitators who couldn’t have raised money or put together a strategic plan together on their own. How easily we forget that the media suffers from colorism, too.
By the way, Sarah Carpenter vehemently stated that she doesn’t know any billionaires and just to be clear, I’m not throwing shade on MDA’s advocacy—I’m just reiterating the double-standards discovered by my good friend, Erika Sanzi.
And to put the last straw on the camel’s back, they’ve called our messages incoherent and have tried to discredit our voices. Facts: we’re coming from different cities, different sides of education, repping different organizations and groups on our t-shirts and holding signs with different messages. So the hell what? If people cared or even attempted to connect the dots, they’d know we’re all saying the same damn thing—that our kids need and deserve justice, equity and, overall, a better education. Now break that news.
So this is why I have to go to California with the hundreds of other freedom fighters. Because despite everything I talked about above, we have to keep pushing. No matter how burned out we get, our kids are more than enough reason to reignite the flame. No matter how hard politicians work to lie to and ignore us, our voices will be heard and our needs will be met. And regardless of what anyone thinks grassroots activism should look like, this is us walking authentically in our truth and fighting for our purpose.