Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Starting a Black Parent Affinity Group at your School SF Public School Mom

Starting a Black Parent Affinity Group at your SchoolSF Public School Mom:

Starting a Black Parent Affinity Group at your School 

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Parent affinity groups can have profound effects on schools. This post about my experiences starting an affinity group at my daughters’ elementary school, originally appeared on Blavity, a an online community of “the most exceptional multi-cultural creators and influencers in the world.” Blavity partners with diverse content creators and influencers to “help them reach a wider audience, amplify their message, and fund their hustles.” I am proud my work is highlighted there. Check out my article there, as well as more great content by Black millennials, artists, culture critics and entrepreneurs.

One Step Back, Two Steps Forward–Starting a Black Family Affinity Group at your School

Needs of underrepresented groups can get overlooked. Parent affinity groups can help.
Needs of underrepresented groups can get overlooked. Parent affinity groups can help.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I last spring I begun hosting a Black Family Breakfast affinity group for Black families at my daughters’ elementary school. This is part of an effort that my principal, I and a few key staff have initiated to “explore race and culture” at our school. Teachers noted last year that parents needed to be involved in the process (not just teachers and kids). As parents, we can undermine efforts of staff in creating a safe and welcoming environment for all families. That said, after several conversations with Black families at our school, we decided to get together to share ideas and resources to help make our school and even more welcoming place.
Apparently my “great idea” of bringing Black families together was not met with open arms by all staff. A few days after sending out invitations for our second meeting I learned some teachers were voicing concerns about Black parents getting together to talk about their experiences at the school (?!) This happened even at a school with an enlightened and supportive principal like mine! At this moment, I realized, there was still a LOT of work to be done in our district and at our school. Nonetheless, I’m glad I’m doing it.
What was all the hubbub about? Some staff expressed their concerns that an affinity group would be too “exclusive” and could potentially be seen as unfair by other racial and cultural groups at the school.
As a Black woman who is constantly having to navigate “white spaces”, I understand the importance of being able to “tell it like it is” and in a room full of folks who “get it.” I also understand how important it is to be able to speak about my experience without having to worry about defensive reactions of others.
With support from the principal (which is KEY) we decided to move ahead and use this incident as a “teachable moment.” The principal agreed to listen to staff concerns while still encouraging them to live with the potential discomfort that their questions stirred up. I explained to the principal that I was happy to answer any specific questions staff had, and we both agreed that if staff felt other affinity groups should be formed
Luckily, a friend of mine shared an article that proved helpful in explaining why our affinity group is so important for our families. This article is focused on setting up student affinity groups, nonetheless, I feel it also applies to parents as well:
Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Good Friday have long been on the calendar at Madeira School in McLean, Virginia; no major tests are given on those days. But it wasn’t until students in the school’s Muslim affinity group were discussing the dilemma of choosing between taking tests or attending Eid services that the lack of inclusion on the calendar became apparent.
“You really shouldn’t be having tests on a major holiday. We can communicate this up to the teachers and the administration,” math teacher and affinity group leader Jeannie Rumsey told the students. “We can find another time for you to make that up, but this is a major holiday for you and you should be able to celebrate it.” After organizing and communicating with their administration, the group succeeded in adding the major Muslim holy days to the following year’s school calendar. The dates were given the same treatment as the Christian and Jewish holidays: no tests.
This example of collective action is one of the purposes of affinity groups in schools: They allow students who share an identity—usually a marginalized identity—to gather, talk in a safe space about issues related to that identity, and transfer that discussion into action that makes for a more equitable experience at school.
Even though I experienced some initial pushback, it’s been interesting to see some positive outcomes of moving forward DESPITE the initial resistance.
First, it became very clear that YES… our teachers actually NEEDED to talk about Starting a Black Parent Affinity Group at your SchoolSF Public School Mom:

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