There are so many myths and studies to prove them depicting Black children as struggling, bad and coming from broken homes. School leaders, advocates, Parent Organizations, even non profits say the same line, “We cannot get parents to show up or come out!” It’s a challenge that many schools identified as “urban, Title I or inner city” have. Yet, no one will come out and say that Black parents are to blame. There is truth to this statement. Parents play a major role in the development of the child(ren). Family engagement is a critical part of why children find the right pathways that lead them to unlimited doors to success. Children begin learning before they enter a school. Family and community are definitely impacting our society. This is seen through school progress that what children learn within the home is what creates their success. School enhances this. In my 12 years of working in public education in the City of Atlanta, many of our Black children aren’t meeting their full potential because their village is failing them. So are Black parents to blame, absolutely! As the village to our children, we all do play a role. This still doesn’t change the fact that it is time for more Black parents to step it up for all of our Black children.
The focus of this blog post is on the stereotypes of black families. The stereotypes of Black parents and families plays a huge role in how they are engaged and empowered in schools. In almost every comparison, Black families are always immediately connected to Title I and lower-income definitions. However, most school studies are specifically based on the numbers of Title I and lower-income families that have been identified with 70% or more African-American students served at the school. Therefore, we have to be conscious of the black families role in economic and educational classification. We also cannot solely portray the Black family as broken, dysfunctional and led solely by Black women. This may be happening in some communities but it’s not happening in all. Your income and educational level are in fact used to determine outcomes and opportunities. This stigma given to Black families forces stereotypes onto Black children. Curriculum often reinforce this due to the lack of our presence in text and media in influential. powerful roles. Black children don’t see positive images of Black families as I recall growing up. From the Cosby Show to Hanging with Mr. Cooper, Black fatherhood and Black family success was intentionally presented in the forefront of media.
Parents have to be present! There are many more road blocks as to why many black parents aren’t as engaged in their child(ren)s schools. Transportation, multiple jobs, time of events and even communication all contribute to why there aren’t more families engaged in day time family engagement offerings. However, there are schools that provide many ways for families have to become involved in the school wide program. I have seen schools with numbers as large as 600-700 students celebrate getting 35 – 50 parents out to an event. I have seen athletic programs packed with families and supporters. Yet when parent teacher conference, report, family university or other academic based nights happen, the turn out is significantly lower. The normal assumption is that students whose parents aren’t engaged with the school are the children who have discipline concerns come from single black parent homes or are being raised by single black mothers. This is not an accurate assumption in which we place traditional family structures as the correct or most effective type of home. It also takes away the single fathers, step parents and grandparents who have success households in the Black community. We even place the blame on black parents being more focused on the entertainment areas such as athletics and band in education. In doing the work of family and community engagement, I learned that there is a steady and large number of grandparents raising school aged children that has doubled since the 80’s. The traditional, two parent family design is not the only design that is helping our children succeed. It truly does take a village to raise a family.
Where we understand that there are challenges in the Black culture around family lineage, traditions and stability, I believe our schools will help change the narrative regarding this. How we restore families, those who have gone through the prison or juvenile system, foster care, victims of abuse, neglect, homelessness and mental illness, makes a difference in how Black children cope, deal and heal from these things. Trauma is a huge dynamic that we simply don’t have the support for with helping Black families deal with this. How does seeing a parent arrested, abused, broken from financial hardship, mentally unstable or strung out on drugs? What does it feel like for children going to schools who come from families financially struggling or displaced? The family unit has so much influence on how children learn, play and develop. I believe that if we collectively place more attention on self-assertion, positive coping skills, character education and entrepreneurship then more Black children from all backgrounds will be more successful. Moreover, the Black parents who aren’t actively engaged, supportive and present in our schools and communities must change the narrative. Mentoring, coaching and tutoring are great assets for schools to reinforce self-affirmation but the greatest empowerment seen within our students begins at home. Self affirmation begins with family! The change we desire to see for Black children begins with Black parents.