Black Parent Advocacy and Educational Success: Lessons Learned on the Use of Voice and Engagement
ORCID Scholar ID #: #0000-0003-4001-5445
I want to honor my mother and all the parents that have used their voice and helped us get to this point in our personal journeys. Remembering these very special people of our lineage, learning about their lives and seeking to understand the context in which they lived their lives gives us a perspective on the work of our own lived journey. I cannot say enough about my own mother’s courageous, wise and indomitable spirit. She was quite a special lady, indeed. She would however want me to talk about myself on an occasion like this one.
She would want me to say things like I am a seasoned entrepreneur and have worked in diverse industries. As a consultant I’ve helped leaders to understand the things in their way and supported them in making the needed changes to motivate and lead their teams to perform. I’ve trained, coached and strategized with decision-makers on tactical and personal/professional development. I’ve been self-employed having started businesses on my own, and I’ve also worked in the public, nonprofit, and private sectors.
My mother was especially proud of my academic achievements. After all, I was the little boy the teacher said was academically ‘slow’. No one thinks that today. I attended and graduated from Central State University on an Academic and Athletic Scholarship. I have two Master’s Degrees from Cleveland State University, both paid for with scholarships, and I was on the Dean’s List for both. I attended the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University as a Senior Executive in State and Local Government, on scholarship as well. These were all very rich experiences for me, but my Mom would have been so delighted to know that her little boy now has both a Master’s Degree and a Ph.D. in Leadership and Change from the Antioch University. The University started by Horace Mann. She has passed away, but I still think she sees me down here and I know she is so proud of me. This is the reason for my passion in my own community. I want to make a difference in others’ lives, too.
“Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.”
“The opportunity is there, this is what I think of when I think of role models, I think of my experience” (Anthony—a participant in this study—commenting on the effectiveness of advocating for his child). Black children encounter racism in American schools and parents need to advocate for them. The purpose of this qualitative study was to explore how Black parents developed and used their voice to advocate for their children in a predominantly White educational system with a history of racially disparate outcomes. Particularly, this study drew on the experiences of 15 participants, two men—one was a grandfather—and 13 women, whose children had successful outcomes in graduating from high school and going on to post-secondary education. The findings reflect Black parents’ understanding of the need to advocate to support their child’s success in getting through school: all related incidents of discrimination where they needed to speak up on behalf of their child in response to inequitable treatment within the educational system including in the classroom, participating in extracurricular activities, and in access to resources. Parents facilitated their use of voice on behalf of their children by cultivating engagement with the school, getting to know teachers and administrators, and being involved in their children’s activities, making sure they were seen to make sure they would be heard when needed. Most parents in the study recalled role models in their own families as inspirations for their sense of voice in countering experiences of racism. These participants urged other Black parents to be involved and speak up for their children, and to connect with and draw on the social support of other Black parents of children in school. These findings suggest that as we continue to work to address systemic racism disadvantaging the most vulnerable of our community, our children, parental voice by individuals and within the Black community contributes to getting heard at the educational decision-making table and producing positive educational outcomes for these students. This dissertation is available in open access at AURA (https://aura.antioch.edu/) and OhioLINK ETD Center (https://etd.ohiolink.edu/).