Op-EdOpinion

LONG: The Message Matters — and So Does the Messenger

Parents play critical roles in their child’s achievement from kindergarten through graduation from high school. Advocating for your son or daughter to school administrators has proven to have positive implications on the child’s educational success. But who advocates for the parents and caregivers? In African-American households, oftentimes clergy or other prominent community leaders have been the driving force behind motivating the Black community to act.

Think back in the ’50s and ’60s in the civil rights movement. During this time, critical voices for change came about through influential leaders. Dorothy Height was instrumental in bringing together women of different races to create a dialogue of understanding. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. motivated the Birmingham, Alabama, community to nonviolently protest segregation. In more recent history, organizers Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi inspired millions to support #BlackLivesMatter, bringing light to systematic racism against the black community.

But what about education reform? Who is standing with parents as they call for education reform in their communities?

In a report produced by the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), “Done to Us, Not With Us,” African-American parents feel obstacles exist that prevent them from pushing for all the change needed for their local public educational system. Among the many findings, results of this study improve our understanding of how to best reach parents:

Not only do we have to support parents as they navigate the college-going process, but we also have to highlight the larger educational crisis that exists within the African-American community. We need to let parents know that they can make a difference and that their children can achieve higher outcomes than what some might expect for them.

What are the issues plaguing the current public school system? Why is there a need for reform in K-12 education? Too many African-American communities experience low-quality, under-resourced K-12 schools and are staffed by educators who are less experienced than those in high-income neighborhoods. This disparity hinders economic growth. It also causes a gap in student college preparation.

The report acknowledges that the messenger matters. In Malcom Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference,” he states, “In epidemics, the messenger matters: messengers are what makes something spread. But the content of the message matters. And the specific quality that a message needs to be successful is the quality of ‘stickiness.'”

In other words, people relate to relatable people! It’s extremely critical that messengers who understand the current educational climate and who understand the African-American community are carrying these messages of how to advocate for their child in school and what actions they can take to bring about change in their local jurisdictions.

This is one reason why the UNCF’s boots-on-the-ground, K-12 advocacy group exists. In an effort to focus on increasing college readiness in the Black community, UNCF has partnered with local leaders and changemakers to address the importance of educational success in fresh, contemporary ways and to hold schools and educators accountable for providing high-quality education in underperforming districts.

Parents, take a look at the UNCF parent checklist to understand what you can ask and do to help your children thrive in school.

Community leaders, download “The Lift Every Voice and Lead Toolkit: A Community Leader’s Advocacy Resource for K-12 Education” for effective ways you can motivate your church, community or nonprofit to change the conversation about K-12 education reform.

In the blog post “Rethinking America’s K-12 Debate,” Darrell Bradford, executive vice president of 50CAN, sums it up perfectly:

“When it comes to how to best educate children, we don’t know all of the answers, but we should commit to empowering new voices, fostering innovative ideas and asking lots of questions.”

Khalilah Long is the communications manager for UNCF.

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