Local School Advocacy and PTA Inequities

Hi Friends!
We’re fully into the holiday season! I hope all of you are able to get some time off to spend with loved ones.
Based on the six survey responses I have received so far, we have several areas to spend our energy advocating for in the coming year. Additionally, it looks like Wednesdays continue to work for the most people, but Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays are also possibilities. I am working to set up a meeting with one of the County Board members (thanks to one of our group members who is facilitating this connection) and I want to make sure as many of our members can attend this meeting as possible.
In case you missed it, the School Board approved the middle school boundary changes last week. There were a few speakers who spoke about the demographic issues, which was heartening, and one of the board members spoke specifically about his intent to create a new proposal and his decision not to move forward with that. It was partially because of a lack of support from his colleagues, and partially because he didn’t want to undermine or circumvent the process of engaging the community about the options before the vote. I found the commentary by the Board members after the community speakers to be quite enlightening.
One of our members worked to create a petition to the school district. I also saw it posted on the local schools FB page where there was some discussion. This is related to a similar discussion at the county-wide PTA about the renewal of the MOU between the school district and the county police department regarding the role of SROs in our schools. The county-wide PTA is recommending that the Virginia state model MOU be followed. The school district is drafting a document to inform students about their rights when interacting with law enforcement on campus.
I saw a story in the Washington Post headlined “Integration in schools boosted by gentrifying.” Thoughts on this? I imagine that if white families continue the trend of displacing families of color that gentrification ceases to be as beneficial to the community. My sense is that gentrification tends to push out lower-income people over time because property values become unaffordable, but I would love to hear from any of you about your thoughts/experiences about how this happens in our community or elsewhere.
As our group and our activism has evolved, I have been focusing more and more on the inequities among the schools within our school district in my own personal efforts. For those of us interested in our educational system (and that seems to be most of you), it makes sense to focus on ways in which we can leverage our voices to make sure that each and every one of our schools has the resources it needs to support its students. Unfortunately, our student population is growing faster than our tax base is growing. It is going to be very important to agitate at the County Board level for improved/increased funding for education as a bigger part of the County budget. Our school district is currently facing a huge deficit in the coming budget.
I wanted to share that I’m officially the working with the county-wide PTA on their grant initiative. If you don’t know, the county-wide PTA meets monthly and represents all of the PTAs in the county. The meetings include reports from a School Board member and the Superintendent. Ideally, each school that is a PTA member sends a representative to these meetings. They have a grant initiative that was started in the last few years to specifically support the goal to provide greater equality and equity in academic experiences and opportunities across schools by enabling those PTAs with sufficient funds to help those schools lacking financial resources. We made six awards this term (applications are reviewed twice a year), which included field trip scholarships so 4th grade students could all go to Jamestown Settlement (something some elementary schools cannot afford to do), and literacy initiatives, including books for classroom libraries and other literacy programming. I plan to get the word out about this initiative more, and feel free to share this with your PTAs. If you have any questions, please let me know.
As I said in my weekly update last week, please let me know anytime if you have relevant events/actions/information to share with the group. This group will be strongest when we share information with each other about our efforts on these issues, allowing collaboration and support.
Happy Holidays!

Privilege and Charitable Giving

Hi Friends!
Hooray Alabama! As one of my friends pointed out, people of color were the heroes in yesterday’s election — they overwhelmingly voted for Jones. Here are more breakdowns if you’re curious. As before, there is so much more work to be done. On we go!
If you can attend the School Board meeting tomorrow, they will be voting on the middle school boundaries. I haven’t seen anything from the school board member posted online, so I have no idea what might happen at the meeting. It may be that there is a push to delay the decision until better options are considered. There is an opportunity to speak at the meeting, so if you can go, please do. And feel free to coordinate on our list to see if you want to try to go together or speak to the same purpose — the more voices we raise about this the better!
I saw an article in Medium by Molly McClure called “Parents, Privilege, & Public Schools.” It’s a really good read. Here’s a sample:
“For privileged parents, it can be especially hard to see the ways that our understanding of and approach to addressing challenges at school is shaped by our experiences of privilege in the world. We can show up to our new school community with race and/or class entitlement that can alienate teachers, other parents, and school staff. We may replicate some of the underlying structural inequities that created the things we find challenging about the school in the first place.”
I came across a publication that sounds really perfect for members of our group — Hold the Line Magazine, “where parenthood and social justice collide” which just published its first issue. The content looks amazing and is available in PDF form.
As you consider your charitable giving before the end of the year (and all year long), please keep in mind POC-led organizations. A powerful part of our anti-racism efforts is in reallocating financial resources to POC (more information can be found around reparations here).
Please keep in mind as certain legislation moves through our government that many of us are in a privileged position to be less affected by the results of these measures than many in our community. Please make space for listening to and supporting our friends and neighbors who have less privilege and less flexibility to absorb these changes if they are enacted. We must show that we are better than this with our actions.

Vision for a Coalition

Hi Friends!
Happy December! Before I get into updates for the week, I’d like to share my thinking about the goals and purpose of our group with all of you as they have evolved a bit since our first meeting in August. We have also gained quite a few members, so I’d like to be clear about our group’s purpose and goals for everyone’s benefit as we head into the new year.
I gathered the group originally to encourage others in my community to engage with their privilege and to examine their own role in perpetuating systemic racism. I have been committed to struggling with these things within myself and I hoped that others were doing the same and that we could support each other through that process and encourage others to join us. I am happily convinced now that many, many people in our community are doing this and are already engaged in activism and work that addresses racial and economic inequalities in our community.
Therefore, our group will still serve its original goal and I would like to broaden its scope. I would like our group to become a strong community/coalition of dedicated individuals working to resolve racial and economic injustices in our communities in many different ways. This means finding areas in which we can each leverage our privilege to promote change. This means communicating with each other through the group about events, activities, petitions, meetings, etc. so we can support each others’ efforts. Through all of this, our focus will be to listen, to amplify, and to follow members of our community who are most affected by inequities and injustice. Through our actions, we must prove that their voices, their experiences, and their lives matter.
For example, if we hear from our members/community that police discrimination is a problem for POC communities in our county, then we can address that issue by communicating with the County, communicating with our schools regarding SROs, communicating with POC communities about alternatives to calling the police, etc. Wherever you have privilege/leverage, you could use it to address this issue however it overlaps with your expertise/connections/abilities. All of these issues are interconnected, and our goal is to create a coalition within our community to address them from as many angles as possible. Do not underestimate the fact that if you are white, you have a louder voice than POC saying the same words — that is a function of your privilege and that is where you have leverage to amplify their voices.
With that in mind, I have created a survey to gather information from our group about interest and availability for the coming year. The more information you can provide, the better I’ll be able to put together content that will be relevant for as many of our group members as possible. In terms of future events, I’m already working to schedule some speakers for the group as well as more small group discussion meetings. Please let me know if you have any suggestions for speakers or discussion topics.
Thanks to those who were able to come to our small discussion group last week. We had a productive conversation about local school districts and some of the similar challenges in both areas. We also talked about the middle school boundaries, enough that I was able to attend the School Board meeting and speak about the fact that the proposed middle school boundaries as they stand make the demographic balance in the county worse.
A slightly revised version of the middle school boundary map was presented at that meeting. One of the board members also stated at the meeting that he would be working on an alternative version of the boundary changes over the weekend, but I haven’t seen anything about that yet. I’m hoping more information will be available soon. The Board votes at the next meeting, which may be a very sedate meeting or might be quite raucous depending on what happens between now and then. It was clear to me at the meeting that the Board listens to community members, so please email or otherwise contact the Board through their website. Despite the fact that the Superintendent has made his recommendation, everything is still potentially on the table. This is not over!
One of our members let me know that the County Civic Federation’s Legislative Committee has written a resolution on Criminal Justice Reform. Please contact your neighborhood’s civic association representative to support this resolution.
EmbraceRace hosted a community conversation called “Can We Really Raise Inclusive Kids in Segregated Neighborhoods?” I think you’ll be able to access the recording of this session here.
A community member recently started a new nonprofit dedicated to putting books in the hands of young children, 1 in 5 of whom in our community do not own any books. The organization is called Read Early and Daily (R.E.A.D.) and you can learn more here.
Thank you for reading and for being a part of this movement!

How to Advocate and Connect with Your Community

Hi Friends!
I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving holiday. I’d love to hear about any conversations that took place around race or racial justice issues with family and friends — even if it wasn’t productive, feel free to share your experience trying to discuss these topics.
I had time to do a little digging about the County Board meetings. They are held monthly on Saturday mornings and Tuesday evenings with different agenda items at each meeting. Members of the public who wish to speak must follow very detailed rules and fill out a slip to speak on an agenda item. I think the most important part right now is that in February the Board will be reviewing the proposed budget for the 2018–19 fiscal year and will have a Public Hearing that month. Unless someone knows otherwise, it sounds like we should make a point of being very vocal during this time, both in person and by email. I’ll keep this on our radar.
I had missed this before from our county, but they put out a strong statement after Charlottesville regarding actions the Board will be taking to combat racism and bigotry, especially related to their desire/ability to rename roads/schools that commemorate Confederate leaders.
Some good news on the role of SROs in our schools and the connection to the school-to-prison pipeline. The county-wide PTA has put together a recommendation to the School Board regarding the pending MOU renewal and new Student Rights document, which will be voted on soon. The summary of the position is: “The Virginia Department of Justice created a Model MOU balancing school and police needs, considering the statewide problem of a school to prison pipeline. Specific delineations in this Model MOU reflect that generally SROs not be involved in administrative searches or school discipline, and that interviewing and questioning students by SROs at school should be limited to potential criminal activity at school or specific exigent circumstances. Parental notification should be provided when such questioning must occur.”
I heard back from the local chapter of the NAACP, which meets monthly on the third Monday of every month at 7:00 pm. I will be finding an opportunity to attend. Please let me know if you’re interested in attending — meetings are open to all, so no need to make a special arrangement.
I also heard back from SURJ DC, which Black Lives Matter DC connected me with rather than responding directly, which I completely understand and support. They work closely in collaboration and I’m hoping to have a phone call with them this week to see how we might coordinate our efforts.
I also heard back from the Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations (VACOLAO) and the Legal Aid Justice Center. Many of their efforts are statewide advocacy, like their annual Immigrant Advocacy Day in January in Richmond. The person who responded to me also works to distribute food in our community early on Thursday mornings and the next one is this week. If you’re interested, please let me know right away and I’ll connect you. Otherwise, we can plan on the December one, perhaps.
I hope to put together a quick survey of everyone’s interests going into the new year so we can plan some further meetings/actions and so I can try to find resources related to those topics to share with everyone. I know that this time of year is very busy with the holidays, so I’ll try to get the survey out in the next couple of weeks before Hanukkah begins.
Thanks for reading!

Talking to Family and Kids About Racism

Hello Friends!
First, I want to extend a welcome to several new members who have joined after an engaging conversation on the local schools Facebook page. The conversation there was about the failure to address diversity issues with the middle school boundary proposal moving forward. Please spread the word if you see others who are on board with working on this issue!
I read a very useful article called “Six Things White People Can Do To Reach Friends and Family Members to End Racism” by Kimberly Dark on Medium from August 2017. The article was written right after Charlottesville, but that context doesn’t change its very practical suggestions and it has some clarifying insights that I found helpful.
You might find the webinar from Embrace Race about helping children develop cross-racial friendships a helpful read. The takeaway is that kids model what their parents do — food for thought.
Since we’re focusing currently on school-related issues, here are some school district updates for which input is needed: School Naming Criteria, Middle School Boundary Changes — a public hearing is scheduled for the next School Board meeting.
If you’re nervous about awkward conversations with friends and family over the holidays, SURJ emailed some resources and suggestions. And if you’re feeling really motivated, you might want to check out their podcast at The Word is Resistance about how complicated this holiday is (Episode 35).
I attended a county-wide PTA meeting recently and it was very clear that if we want our schools to be fully funded, we must advocate beyond the School Board and the Superintendent. We must bring our concerns to the County Board and advocate for the schools. Has anyone in the group done this before or is anyone familiar with the process for providing feedback/input to the county?
I have reached out to several POC-led racial/social justice organizations in our community to find out whether there are any meetings/events that I could attend with the goal of listening to and following their priorities locally. I’ll keep you posted about what develops. And again, if anyone has suggestions of organizations or connections, please let me know.
Please think about your goals in your work for racial justice in our area, especially as the new year approaches. I welcome your ideas and input as we move towards an action plan and set up more small and large discussion groups. Thank you for your participation in this group!

Maybe Don't Call the Police

Hi Friends!
First, HOORAY HOORAY for the fantastic election results in Virginia! I took a day or two to just feel good. Now, back to work. Especially because the demographics about voters is a clear sign of the systemic problems we face (more here).
Also, on November 8, our school district posted new middle school boundary information. They have eliminated Option B and have updated Option A. They heard us on demographics and I understand the reasoning for moving forward the way they are. We need to work beyond school board issues to address the stratified demographics in our county — most families want to go to school close to home, so our communities need to diversify.
One of our members passed along some great info. The image below is worth discussing in terms of ways the community can respond differently (instead of calling the police) in certain situations. I have wondered about this often since an incident that happened in the last few months at our house and I’d love to discuss this, maybe at our upcoming meeting.

I read a really helpful and insightful article (which I found through Embrace Race) at The Daily Beast called “Why Do White People Feel Discriminated Against? I Asked Them.” It might help give some insight when you’re talking to anyone who might feel that way. Maybe some ways forward there.

Talking to Our Kids and Halloween

Hi Friends,
I’m loving the draft language one of our members wrote up and shared that we can send to our county school board about the middle school boundary considerations and emphasizing the importance of considering equity and diversity at all of our schools.
I submitted some feedback and received a very thoughtful and person response back from a staff member, so that was encouraging. I hope everyone else who submitted something to the email address received the same. Keep sharing your voices and your perspectives — there are so many opportunities right now just in our county.
Two of our group members shared a couple of articles about talking to our kids about race.
I have signed up for a webinar through Embrace Race entitled “Why and how to encourage cross-racial friendships among children.” Especially given our interest in attending diverse schools, this should be quite relevant and interesting. I’ll let you know what I learn — feel free to join in, too!
I’m including a quick article about cultural appropriation, especially since Halloween is next week. Please make sure that the costumes you and your children are wearing are sensitive to this issue. And talk to your kids about costumes they might see and why they aren’t appropriate. It’s a good opportunity for conversation.
I also wanted to share a local resource for families. First, they have a whole page about resources for talking about race: https://apcyf.arlingtonva.us/2017/04/lets-talk-race/. Second, one of their staff members presented at this week’s county-wide PTA meeting about their survey results from this year, which are not about race, but definitely speak to the experiences of kids in our county schools and which I found very eye-opening and upsetting and useful. These are worth exploring in detail.
I know that the holidays are going to quickly overwhelm most of us. In light of that, start brainstorming for the new year now. I’d like for us as a group and as individuals to identify an opportunity in our community to leverage our privilege for positive change. If the group wants to continue to focus on schools, that’s great. If something else struck you as meaningful or a place where you have access or contacts, then focus on that. We have incredible power and we need to use it for change. Here’s some inspiration from Shaun King about turning the desire for change into actual change.
We’re getting some small group meetings set up. I’ll keep this weekly update going, so please keep sending your thoughts and events/articles to share. Keep the conversations going!

Self Care and White Terrorism

Hi Friends,
The March for Racial Justice was really meaningful and I’m so glad I was able to go with a few others.
I’m sure I’m not alone in this, but I’m feeling very emotionally drained, very tired. So many things have been happening in the last week/month/etc and it can get overwhelming. In light of that, I want to remind everyone about self-care and that it is required that you take breaks away from the news and social media, to reconnect with your values and your loved ones, and then to come back ready to work again.
Back in January, I received an email from a woman running an email list called Action Now. She hasn’t written much in a while, but what she did share was so helpful at the time. I’m sharing it with you because I’ve been revisiting it lately, trying to re-ground myself in what is most important (especially since everything feels important right now!). Here are some excerpts:
Think about all of the things swirling around you, all the opportunities you have to do things and act on your values and choose these three things:
One thing to be a leader on
One thing to be a follower on
One thing to make a habit of
If you have the energy, here’s an important and clarifying article by Shaun King about the role whiteness is playing in the treatment of the Las Vegas terrorist.
Hang in there! We’re all in this together.

Focusing Your Group and PTA Fundraising Inequities

Hi Friends,
Lots of things happening, so no reading material from me this week. Maybe share with the group what has been helpful or insightful to you lately?
First, the March for Racial Justice is this Saturday. I would love for you to join me. The website is https://www.m4rj.com if you have questions about details or logistics. Please come!
Second, thank you to everyone who responded to the survey! We have 10 responses so far and here’s what you have said:
Education/Schools — 10
Policing — 5
Development/Housing — 7
Voting/Elections — 3
Environment — 1
Parenting/Raising Kids — 9
We can definitely focus our future meetings on the most popular items, especially since the top three overlap so nicely.
Third, I’d love to hear from those of you with primary or secondary school children about your experiences so far in your schools’ PTA(s). I attended the local county-wide PTA meeting last night and learned quite a bit. One of the things we can all push in our respective schools is for the PTAs that do very well with fundraising to consider contributing to a collaboration initiative, which collects money from the PTAs that donate and then distributes grants to those schools that don’t have the same fundraising power for specific projects/needs. It just started last year and the more interest and support it gets, the more successful it will be in starting to address the inequities in our school system.
A group member has been working on ways to talk to friends and family who are pretty overtly racist, especially ways to discuss the issues without shutting it down. Has anyone else had success with these kinds of conversations? If you have, would you be willing to share your thoughts/experience with the group?
Thanks for reading!

More Resources and Educational Equity Intro

I have heard from many of you about your interest in focusing on educational equity issues in our community. This update is all about resources to consider as you educate yourself about systemic racism and educational equity issues:
“White people: what is your plan for the Trump presidency?” by Brittany Packnett in Vox. This one is particularly impressive given that it was written right after the election and is prescient about some of the things that have happened since. The headline sounds like it’s focused on partisan issues, but the majority of the content is about confronting racism.
“Going It Alone” by Rahawa Haile in Outside Online. This is a wonderful personal account as well as a touch on environmental racism issues.
“Are We Raising Racists?” by Jennifer Harvey in The New York Times. Related to parenting, this also has good advice for having conversations about race in general.
“It’s Time for White Parents of White Kids to Bring the Resistance Home” by Gayle Kirshenbaum in Huffington Post. I know it says resistance, but the subtitle is “Conversations about race have to start much earlier than most white people think they do.”
Integrated Schools on Facebook. This is a FB group called “Families Choosing Integration: Parent-to-Parent Grassroots Movement to Choose Diverse Schools.” This may have been on our resource list, but is worth sharing again.
“How Marginalized Families are Pushed Out of PTAs” by Casey Quinlan in The Atlantic. Please read this one especially if you are involved in your child’s PTA.
“School Segregation Didn’t Go Away. It Just Evolved.” by Alvin Chang in Vox. This one is REALLY long, but has wonderful graphics and a huge amount of very useful information. Keep visiting it to get through it.
Where do you see systemic racism?

Focusing the Group

Hello Friends,
I hope you have all had a good week, even in the face of desperate news from Texas. Despite the heartbreak, keep your minds and hearts open to see how Texas residents are portrayed in the media — racism in many forms will be visible.
I have put off the Doodle poll scheduling until we can put together a plan for future meetings, but that will be forthcoming in the next month or so. If any of you want to get together in the meantime, I’m more than happy to host a group or even meet up for a one-on-one chat, so please let me know. I will also create a quick poll for everyone to weigh in on the particular areas (schools, environment, policing) you might want to focus on as we put these groups together.
Find a way to start a discussion, ask questions, and share your own resources as you find them. Push yourself to become more comfortable with these conversations.

Resources and Getting Started

Thanks again to all of you for your interest in discussing racism in ourselves and our community. Here is the resources list that we handed out at our first discussion meeting for your reference. Please feel free to share this. The list includes a copy of the overt/covert racism triangle that we used to discuss white supremacy and systemic racism.
We must find ways to be accountable to people of color in our community. If you have suggestions of groups we can reach out to so that we can make sure that our efforts are actually helpful and informed, please let me know.
If you are interested in participating in any way in the March for Racial Justice on September 30, either by attending or making posters or however you’d like to participate, please let me know and we’ll get a group together to coordinate details.
We’re also interested in coordinating with existing efforts that might be happening in our community’s religious organizations, county government, school board, etc. If you have connections to these efforts, we’d prefer to coordinate rather than duplicate those efforts.
One of the best ways to educate yourself about these issues is to seek out the voices of people of color who are already sharing their experiences in public online. The resource list we provided lists many organizations that are a good starting point. If you’d like suggestions, I’m happy to offer them.