Ignorance, hurtful rhetoric by white parents aim to shut down Black parents’ pleas for help

Advocates like LaToya Tahirou won’t let that happen. 

Her voice cracked and I could hear the emotion pouring through the phone. LaToya Tahirou, one of the strongest parent leaders I’ve ever had the privilege of working with at Stand for Children, was trying to find the words to describe her experience at a recent IPS school board meeting. 

While I couldn’t see her, I could sense the tears welling up as she explained how deeply hurt she was by something another parent had said to her – a baseless accusation that questioned her motivation for speaking up about a resolution being discussed at the IPS board meeting.  

“I already have imposter syndrome. I constantly question whether I’m truly qualified to use my voice to stand up for closing the opportunity gap in our schools,” LaToya said during our phone conversation last week when I called to check in on her.  

The truth is LaToya has more knowledge about what’s going on in our public schools – especially those in underserved communities – than nearly anyone I know, including and especially me. There has not been a more powerful advocate when it comes to closing the tragically large opportunity gap between white students and children of color than LaToya. It’s parents like her who drive the work of Stand for Children. 

By supporting parents – mostly Black and Latino families – to build their confidence and use their innate power to demand better outcomes for their children, Stand has built a network of parent voices who are ensuring education policy is being done WITH them and not TO them.   

But that fact scares some people – specifically people like “Susie” – a white mother who has enrolled her children in one of IPS’ top schools, which happens to be an innovation charter school. (While “Susie” is a real person and this story details real events, I’ve decided to not use Susie’s actual name as to not target her the same way she has targeted Stand-affiliated parents.)  

It’s clear Susie is an advocate in her own right, and she’s done her homework on what school is the best option for her children, which is admirable (and also hard work in this complex education environment). That kind of respect for Susie’s role as parent was not reciprocated by her at last week’s special-called IPS board meeting when she shouted down LaToya and other Black and Brown parents.  

Why was this parent so angry, you ask? Because Stand parents like LaToya had the nerve to fight for their children to attend high quality schools – including high-performing charters – just like Susie’s kids. 

Susie started accusing LaToya and other Black and Brown parents of being “paid” to show up to advocate for charter schools. And she consistently interrupted LaToya and others during breakout groups, and then proceeded to turn her anger toward the majority Black IPS Board of Commissioners, who all did their best to facilitate a meeting that allowed all parents to be heard and respected. In fact, Stand-affiliated parents felt like IPS commissioners were hearing and respecting them throughout – it’s just that Susie was going out of her way to attempt to tear down the entire process. 

There is so much wrong with how this parent acted at the recent IPS board meeting, it’s hard to even begin to unpack. But let’s start with Susie’s baseless claim about LaToya and other Stand parent advocates being paid to show up to IPS meetings. 

That’s 100% false. But worse than that lie being told by Susie is the implicit racism at the core of her claim: If Black parents are showing up to advocate for growing high-quality schools – including charters – than they must be getting paid to be there.  

And the other deeply offensive myth this parent and others associated with her in the past have pushed: Black parent advocates are being “brain-washed” to advocate for growing high-quality schools. 

Nothing frustrates me more than hearing white parents like Susie tell lies to intimidate and denigrate parents of color who, like LaToya noted above, already feel like they shouldn’t be at the education policy table because our unjust system has treated them as second-class citizens (or worse) for generations. The fact is Stand parent advocates are incredibly smart and discerning when it comes to assessing school quality, and they know the data about Black and Brown student achievement better than some policy experts and elected officials. And moreover, parents know their children best – and those experiences (positive and negative) should be shaping the policies we implement to boost achievement for historically underserved students in IPS. 

Unfortunately, Susie isn’t interested in hearing about the experiences of Black parents – because they tried to speak at the IPS meeting and got interrupted by her constantly. If she’d listen, Susie would know Black parents were advocating for IPS to scale the very type of schools her kids attend. To be honest, I believe she knows that, but she’s simply comfortable with her own breathtaking hypocrisy. Susie’s actions speak louder than her words in this case: I’m not going to send my kids to low-performing traditional schools in IPS, but I’m going fight to ensure Black parents have no other choice but to do that. 

I could go on and on about how Susie’s hurtful lies made me sad and angry at the same time.  But like so many other things LaToya and parents like her have taught me, it’s better to take the high road. And this moment is also not about my feelings – because in the end, we can’t let any more adult feelings/ego/distractions get in the way of urgently addressing the fact that Black students in IPS are seven times less likely to test on grade-level than their white counterparts. Addressing that injustice must be our true north – even when fear-based ignorance tries to send us in a different direction.  

In the end, it’s important to go back to this fact: LaToya and parents like her have fought to grow the very types of high-quality innovation schools that Susie is currently sending her kids to. So even as she talks down to Stand parents, it’s advocates like LaToya who continue to stand up for policies that are benefiting Susie’s family.  

That’s the kind of example LaToya and Stand parents are setting. I’m hoping Susie is watching and listening instead of shouting and bullying. Because it’s long overdue that we shape a vision for IPS –and public education across the state — that is done in partnership with Black and Brown families, and not done to them.  

If you want to stand alongside Stand parent advocates in their pursuit of growing schools that are delivering the best results for students of color then sign on to this letter to the IPS board.

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