COMMUNITY BUILDING :
As parents, some of the factors that negatively impact the success of Black children in the predominantly White private school setting are within our sphere of influence. I assert, more than we think. If we take a proactive stance within the school, many of these detrimental elements can be neutralized. In order to effectively advocate for our children, we must make our presence seen, known and felt.
I have several suggestions for how to do this. This Part I focuses on school community. One of the most effective and efficient ways to help our children is for Black parents to come together and cultivate the school’s Black community. The Black communities in the private schools I’ve known are notoiously dispersed. Somehow, we seem to divide-and-conquer ourselves. At our worst,we feel the competition, academic and otherwise, in the larger school community and seem to internalize it and use it against each other.We often sense the discomfort of the larger school community if too many of us gather for too long, so we don’t. We sometimes feel we need to separate ourselves so that teachers and contemporaries can tell us apart and get our names straight. We are often too self-conscious.
Well,we have got to get past all of that. Community is too important!
However small the number, the Black population of your school can come together and help each other. By failing to come together, we are a wasted resource for ourselves and the school community at large. This may seem like a simplistic solution. But it isn’t. I acknowledge that the school-its administration and teachers must address the issues that negatively affect their Black students. But we can no longer rely on someone else to compel their actions on our behalf. In schools, special interest politics rule the day. Those who make their needs known are the ones who get them met.
No one is going to take up your causes for you. As concerned and involved parents, we know that there are many beneficial ways to participate in the school. But we often feel that we simply do not have the time or the resources (or either) to fully participate. Many of these involvements can be taken on as a community, where indivdually, they are difficult. We know that the larger our network of support and information, the better off we are. We need to take another look at each other and recognize our value as a network.
We must understand that as Black folks, no matter where we are socioeconomically, we have similar battles to fight for our children at school. When I go to school to address a teacher who is racially abusive, for example, I am positively affecting the entire community of Black kids who will come in contact with that teacher. When I see you in the carpool; when our kids play together; or when we have coffee together or dinner with spouses, I pass on that information to you and you in turn do the same.
We all know that this is how the greater community works. We all know that this is a concept that has its merits. Now, we need to act on it!!
There are so many wonderful things we accomplish by knowing each other and making sure that our children know each other. One of the most important of these is our ability to create an environment where our children feel they belong. Belonging is essential to success at school. The factors that wear away at our children’s comfort and self-esteem at school (like those discussed above)are detrimental precisely because they make the child feel unworthy and lesser. Our students are made to feel like visitors, instead of contributing, vital parts of the school. Until our children’s school environment supports them in a way that fully recognizes and enhances the intelligent, wonderful beings that they are, we, as a community, have work to do.
WAYS TO COME TOGETHER:
1. Non-Structured Contact: Endeavor to connect individually with another Black parent TODAY! Even if you never come together as a group, know your fellow Black parents and cultivate the relationships so that you can call on each other.
2. Structured Social Gatherings: Endeavor to bring together your group socially: a Saturday coffee date at Starbucks for Black mothers; a pot luck dinner for Black parents or families; an annual Black family picnic. Any form of get-acquainted time is good. And if you could develop a regular meeting time, all the better to keep the information flowing.
3. School Sponsored Events: Private schools regularly sponsor (i.e. pay for and host) many group-specific events. Your school needs to know that creating cohesive ethnic communities is healthy for the particular ethnic groups and for the school community at large. Discuss this with your Headmaster or whoever is responsible for your school’s diversity efforts. (Bring a copy of the book, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” by Beverly Daniel Tatum, PH.d, if they need further convincing on this point.) Encourage them to sponsor a social event for Black parents.
4. Student Socials: It is very important that the children know each other. Encourage your child to connect with other Black kids. You can model this behavior by making a point of introducing yourself to other Black parents. Then you can tell your children, if they are resistant: You should think of the other Black kids as your cousins. You may not like them particularly and you do not have to be best friends. But you are all in this together and should be comfortable enough to be able to communicate and seek help from one another.” Often,younger kids are shy or may not realize the value of such connections. But if you cultivate the community, they will most certainly see the value in time.The earlier you begin this, the better. Black kids who have been isolated from other Black kids for long periods of time have a more difficult time connecting or reconnecting. Keep trying. Its worth the effort!
One way we have helped this along in our school is by arranging socials for the Black kids in all of the nearby private schools.By allowing the Black kids to sponsor a party or social for the larger Black community, they come together for the effort and reap the benefits of exposure to a larger Black population. We’ve done this at the middle school and high school levels with great success.
Any movement toward community, is movement in the right direction!!
Stay tuned for Part III: Knowing and Being Known: The Parent/Teacher Relationship
(Original Post March 10, 2005)