Parents of students of color in the Osseo School District converged at a town hall meeting to discuss with district leaders the negative issues their children face in their academic environments.
African Immigrant Services (AIS) and Legacy Family Center, both 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations dedicated to assisting and advocating for community members of color and immigrants, hosted a community town hall meeting at Brooklyn Park Community Activity Center on Thursday, May 22, to allow parents to speak with school district administrators face-to-face on policies and practices that affect their children, and to do so outside the confines of a school setting. The meeting would allow parents of color to set their own agenda and take charge of their children’s scholastic experiences, and stem the tide of issues disproportionately hindering the students’ futures. The hall was a packed house, filled to the brim with parents, community and faith-based leaders, and school representatives hoping to form a productive dialogue.
“Our goal is simple: to move people of color from the sidelines so they have leadership,” said AIS Executive Director Abdullah Kiatamba. “We are disproportionately affected by a wide range of issues. So we decided to step up. The issue of suspensions, the issue of hiring practices … they have to be addressed.”
Kiatamba mentioned that AIS met with 50 parents in the district, and those discussions heralded remarkably similar results.
“Some of the issues (discussed) were issues that were defining across different spectrums,” said Kiatamba. “We found it was important to engage with the leaders of the school. But this time, let the parents set their own agenda outside the school. They know what’s effective. Let them set their own agenda.”
Religious leaders representing African and African-American congregations mentioned the necessity of keeping parents involved in their children’s educational lives.
“It’s important to us because we know that most of our people live in these communities here– Brooklyn Park, Brooklyn Center, Champlin, Maple Grove and other areas,” said Imam Mohammed Dukuly of the Masjid An-Nur mosque of Minneapolis. “This is a serious matter to us. We need to include the parents.”
“I’m a parent in the Osseo school district, and this is an important conversation because a lot of our member churches are within the Osseo school district,” said the Rev. Alexander Collins of Brooklyn Park.
Kiatamba took care to mention the efforts already made by certain school leaders around the community to address these issues head on, such as North View Junior High Principal John Groenke.
“He placed a ban on suspensions,” said Kiatamba. “He’s a leader that would step up. This guy (believes in) equity. He fights every day. He wants to hear what the community wants. We need to not only preserve these leaders, but to support them and tell them, ‘We’ve got your back.’”
Parents got to have their say, like Crosswinds Arts and Science School Principal Carla Hines, who said that her oldest son reported feeling marginalized at Brooklyn Junior High School despite his excellent grades.
“My husband and I decided to make a conscious decision to transfer him in the middle of his ninth-grade year,” said Hines. “We began to see ‘the signs.’ We began to see that he was being labeled, that low expectations were being set on him, and he had no one in the building that was there to advocate for him. In his own words, he was being labeled as the ‘ignorant black boy.’”
A contentious email exchange with one of her son’s teachers regarding a misunderstanding over a school absence led to a meeting with the teacher in person.
“I informed the teacher that the tone of her email left me with the impression that she did not want me advocating or (being) involved in my son’s education,” said Hines. “She apologized, and said that it was not her intent. But I told her that was the impact.”
Ultimately, Hines believed that students of color faced different expectations from their schools.
“So that leaves me with the question as to what are the expectations of African-American students at (Brooklyn Junior)? Not just in the classroom, but in the school environment as a whole?” asked Hines. “This is a district-wide issue. Look at your data. It speaks for itself. I am here advocating and seeking a resolve for the families who did not get the information that there would be a platform to speak about their concerns.”
In order to gain ground on the issue, Kiatamba said, the community members of color must produce strong leadership from within.
“The goal is to have a parent-focused, parent-driven solution in partnership with the district,” said Kiatamba. “We’ve got leaders in our community. Pastor Collins, for example. He’s shown a lot of leadership. This time around, we are determined to build a support system. We have engaged 15 leaders who are determined to engage the various groups to bring more parents to the table.”
Contact Christiaan Tarbox at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow the Sun Post on Twitter @ecmsunpost.