The National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) recently hosted its second National Black Parents’ Town Hall Meeting on Educational Excellence at the Gethsemane Community Fellowship Church in Norfolk, Va.
The event, which was livestreamed on Facebook and jointly hosted across the country in Los Angeles, kicked off the NNPA’s annual convention.
Panelists for the event, where questions and comments were discussed regarding the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), were Linda Langley Davis, the director of educational services for Hampton Roads, Inc.; Fred Smoot, a former Washington Redskins cornerback and motivational speaker; Rev. Dr. Kirk T. Houston, the founder and pastor of Gethsemane Community Fellowship Church; and Deidre Love, the executive director of the nonprofit Teens with a Purpose.
Dr. Elizabeth Primas, the program manager for the NNPA ESSA Public Awareness Campaign, moderated the panel.
“I’m a product of the Norfolk public schools and I’m also the mother of a child educated in the public school system and, as someone who’s taught for 33 years, I know the struggles teachers endure and it’s an uphill battle,” Davis said.
Each of the panelists acknowledged that teachers wear many hats, should be paid more, and all need the support of parents.
Smoot, who’s now a motivational speaker, said its important that educators realize that each student is different.
“Every child succeeds when they are taught in a different way. We have to stop the exit test and find out in the beginning what they need,” he said.
Houston, who once served on the local school board, said everyone, including parents, need to be educated about ESSA.
“One thing I learned on the school board was how little I know about education policies,” he said. “We need parental enlightenment and stakeholder participation,” Houston said.
Love, whose students gave an inspiring spoken-word performance before the town hall, said that the voice of the youth must be heard.
“Our mission is to create that platform to encourage young people to use their voice,” Love said.
The panelists and moderator all noted the sobering statistics facing African American youth, including that 45 percent of Black students attend high-poverty schools compared with just 8 percent of Whites.
The high school graduation rate of Black students is 76 percent, the second lowest among all ethnic groups, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
“In 40 percent of U.S. schools, there are no teachers of color on staff,” according to a report by the Center for American Progress. “As a result, White students—and teachers—in these schools may miss opportunities to question assumptions about race, class, and privilege that they might encounter in their communities…”
As one parent at the meeting noted, school segregation today is worse than it was during the Civil Rights Movement.
One young person in attendance said that sobering fact has made life difficult for him.
“In some schools, I feel very uncomfortable, because I’m like the only Black person in the school while other schools I feel comfortable where teachers are African American, and they can relate to me,” said 11-year-old Doran Glass. “At school, I feel like I’m being looked at as a criminal.”