Advocacy on the inside

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By Reginald Barbour

Something happens when you allow yourself some true down time to do things like relax, release, and at some point, relate. I had this experience not too long ago when my wife’s family decided to host a reunion at a campsite in rural Virginia.

We live in the city so my sons really don’t get a chance to see the countryside as much as I would like them to. However, my parents are from rural areas in Virginia and South Carolina. Spending summers on a farm at grandma’s house without central air conditioning and absolutely nothing to do at all except be creative and make up your own fun was not only something that I was used to, it became something my siblings and I looked forward to. In doing so, I believe I was taught some of my most valuable lessons. Thinking back, I realized that many of my life traits were built on what I learned while “being basic.”

For example, lessons around having to be resilient when faced with adversity come to mind. I remember my grandmother not having a lot but always seemed to have plenty to go around and share. She taught me the meaning of empathy and charity. Learning to bounce back and move on when the pathway seemed long and the light at the end just wasn’t bright enough to squash my thoughts of failure, her lessons of putting God first always allowed me to stay in the many times when I wanted to give up.

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So being at the campsite provided me with much-needed relaxation to unwind and reflect. I smiled as my sons played with their cousins like in the picture shown above. Watching them reminded me of why my wife and I do the advocacy work that we do. Represented in our family was the sum of choice. There were charter school students, traditional public school students, kids who attend private schools and homeschooled students. All Black, all related, all happy, and all brilliant beyond their years.

I haven’t always been in advocacy. As a matter of fact, I am an Accountant by trade. I work in a field of absolutes. One plus one will always equal two regardless of what anyone tries to say. There’s no way of getting around mathematical facts. However, as my wife always tells me, there is a way of using those facts to tell or support whatever story you want to tell. We see the data reports – some say choice is good while others say choice is bad. They all use real numbers and data, but the narrative is different, varied, and sometimes skewed.

Being an advocate and a parent I feel it’s our job to cut through the clutter to ensure that the narrative of our children and our fight for education equality is our story to tell. During a recent meeting hosted by Education Next where they released the results of their new report showing that parents support choice, one of the panelists said having parents in the room and as part of the process that could help influence policy is “the right agenda, but getting there is the hardest thing to do.”

We agree. It is hard, but it’s not impossible.

That’s why we’re here…for the long haul. To move from speaking for the Black parents who aren’t in the room to teaching them to advocate and speak up for themselves and to show up in every room that they can. There’s a lot of pain in many urban and rural areas in this country. Being treated as less than is never fun for anybody, regardless of your race. The fight for equality is hard, but it’s essential. Engaging parents in a process that they haven’t been a part of before is also hard, but it’s critical.

So, when we have the conversations about equity in education let’s be sure to include some of those authentic voices in the dialogue. Let’s bring in some of the people who live the lives that we talk about every day. Let’s create more melting pots of choice so our children can grow up learning the lessons of advocacy and activism. And they will know how to be the parents who not only speak up but they also speak out for equity. And when you get a chance, take your family camping. It does wonders for your soul!