Worcester’s first Black Families for Education conference is a success!

By William S. Coleman, III, Parlee Jones-Thompson and Alicia Graham

On Saturday, August 21, Black Legacy, held Worcester’s first Black Families for Education Conference. Hosted at the Woodland Academy (formerly Woodland St. Elementary School), parents, children, community organizations and education leaders including Dr. Melinda Boone, Dr. Jeffery Mulqueen, and Dr. Johnson the president of Becker College came together to discuss challenges and strategies for improving academic outcomes for Black children, and all children.

“I am because we are”

It seems that the theme of the day was summed up by Joyce McNickles, Ed.D., when she recited the African proverb, ubuntu, which means “I am because we are.” Black Legacy understands that the health and wellbeing of individuals is the result of the commitment by the entire community to health and wellness. It is our responsibility as a caring, forward thinking community to assure that our youth have what they will need to lead themselves, their families, and our community.

Education is the key to open Doors

“He who does not know, can know from learning.” That’s the quote that I read on the back of all the Legacy t-shirts. An empowering statement that is true. Seeing many people from the African American community unite for this conference was a glorious moment. For all our guest speakers, to take the time out of day to come and educate myself & other people was an experience. Just to be around these people has inspired me. I want to speak to the younger generation about importance of education. I had my son Delonte at 17, & continued my education. The message that I have gathered is that education is the key to open doors.” This quote provided by Willie Moore, III ~ 21 y/o Sophomore at QCC speaks to one of the goals of the conference which is to increase the awareness of the significant impact education has over our lifespan. The quote Mr. Moore is referencing is the meaning behind, Adinkra West African symbol selected as the logo for Black Legacy.

We were welcomed by Ms. Patricia Padilla, Principal of Woodland Academy, which is home to both Woodland Academy and Claremont Academy. We were then introduced to Carlton Watson, President & CEO of the Henry Lee Willis Community Center (Willis Center), a social service agency in the city of Worcester with over 15 locations that focuses on the marginalized, disadvantaged, and especially people of color. Many of you will recall that Willis Center grew out of the need for such an organization following the closing the Prospect House, founded by Betty Price.

As a major partner with Black Legacy, Mr. Watson spoke to the need to continue the efforts of the civil rights era, and those before them, toward the goals of equal education because education is key to providing every child with the opportunity for a healthy and prosperous life. He introduced us to Black Legacy, a group of community members and supporting organizations that have come together to secure the future of our children by making sure they have the best education Worcester has to offer.

Mr. Watson explained that over the last year, Black Legacy’s goal is to help build stronger bonds within the Black community that provide support for focused policy change work within the school system. In addition to parent involvement in the classroom, the focus of Black Legacy is to help parents be more active at the administrative and school committee level so that the changes they want to see for their child/grand-child is implemented and beneficial to all of the children. The specific policy changes they are working on:
· School Accountability: assuring that the schools are measuring outcome indicators that are important to the success of Black children such as school climate, advanced placement/honors, disciplinary measures, placement in alternative education, etc in addition to the traditional outcome performance measures
· Core Curriculum: assuring that children will receive the same content and quality of education regardless of what school they are in for every grade. We know that much of the academic performance gap is attributed to “transient populations”. By assuring all schools are offering the same education, we would eliminate what many see as a major factor.

Black Legacy is helping parents and concerned community members participate in policy development by coordinating our participation in key committees such as WPS sub-committees, school site councils, and more. When we each make a commitment to be involved, we are able to change the entire landscape in a way that all of our children can be successful.

Data was presented that shows that education is a primary social determinant of health. What that means is that the level of education we have will impact many other aspects of health such as our ability to eat healthy foods, have adequate health insurance, live in healthy environments and so much more.

With that in mind, Black Legacy which is a community health initiative is determined to go to the root of the problem, inequality in academic success, to reduce the health inequality that we see in our community by the following facts:

ü Lung cancer is 10% greater incidence and 40% higher mortality
ü Prostate cancer is twice the rate of incidence
ü Infant mortality is more than twice the state average
ü Breast cancer mortality is twice the rate in Black women
ü Cardiovascular mortality is twice the rate in Black communities
ü HIV mortality rates are more than 6 times the rate of their White counterparts

Black Legacy spoke to the need to address the issue of social exclusion in relation to the education system. Parents have traditionally been excluded from participation in the policy level due to lack of understanding about how policies are made, what the policies impact, who can participate in them, and when the meetings occur. Legacy is gathering that information in a central location to make it easier for parents and care givers to be included in this process. Additionally, students often report feeling socially excluded in the schools and this is another area for parents to evaluate and work with the youth and administration to address.

The workshops that were offered were The Right Question Project, presented by Sean Harris, Building and Supporting Self-Reliant Children in School, presented by Shirley Williams, LICSW and Dr. Joyce McNickles, and Strengthening the Roles of Parents as Agents of Student Success, presented by Dr. Jeffrey Mulqueen, Chief Academic Officer for Worcester Public Schools.

“I really enjoyed, attending the workshop ‘Building and Supporting Self-Reliant Children in School’. It created an atmosphere that allowed us to share challenges and concerns from a parent perspective and gave us educational support. “What I took from the workshop as a parent was how important my role is in my children’s academic success. Listening to Melinda Boone’s speech encouraged me to think about how I can make a difference starting with me first.” Lisa Santos, Parent

During the panel discussion, parents and community members were able to ask questions and make comments about their experiences seeking academic excellence for their loved ones. A number of people spoke to the challenges they have had with guidance councilors having lower expectations for children of color. Two mothers spoke to their experiences needing to advocate against the schools recommendations for their children to be placed in college preparatory and advanced placement classes. The school was suggesting that the children take basic math courses, however doing so would result in the students inability to take college credit courses upon graduation. This is one of the reasons that Black Legacy has decided that high school graduation rates is only one indicator of academic success. We need for our students to be prepared for the rigor of post-secondary education and/or training. Dr. Boone presented data that 70% of the children entering the community college from Worcester Public Schools need to take remedial courses. This is as important an indicator of success as graduation rates and drop-out rates.

“What I enjoyed most about the Black Legacy Conference this year, was the fact that it is in (happening) existence. Not only for African Americans, but for every person in need of representation with in the school system. The panelist meeting is what I enjoyed in particular. The questions focused on real issues. I am a proud parent of two children within the Worcester Public School system. I am very involved in their education so my children are doing well. There are barriers like language, and accountability on both sides that has to be addressed. This is a great forum to start. We need to come together and solve our issues when it comes to education.”
“How can we live in a state with the best colleges in the country (Harvard, Amherst etc.) and not live up to the same standard with our elementary ( and secondary) education system? It makes no sense……” Alexander B. Lowrens, Parent

Parents and administrators spoke to the need for parents to take responsibility for the education of their children individually and through collective action in the classrooms and in the policy development area. Legacy is providing assistance by building a website that provides academic supports including reading lists by reading level that are afro-centric, math tutorial links, links to the Massachusetts framework, and a Parent Network Support line for parents to connect with volunteers that can help in navigating the school system. Key to the work, Legacy works in partnership with a number of other groups focused on academic success including Fairbridge Project International, Stand for Children, Iglesia Critiana de la Commidad, Latino Education Institute, Black Unity, Pleasant Street Network Center, Social Justice Round Table, Worcester Violence Prevention Coalition, and the Worcester Education Collaborative. Individually, we each have slightly different areas of focus which allows for intense attention to the needs of various sub-populations, however, together, we are able to share our knowledge and skills to support all parents in shaping and supporting the school system.

Call to Action

Brenda Jenkins made the call to action on behalf of Black Legacy. She presented the challenge to those in the room to make a commitment to building a healthy education system in the city of Worcester that results in quality education for all of our children. Ms. Jenkins explained that Black Legacy is building a support network for parents so that we can demand a future for our children with confidence. We realize that every individual can’t be a t every table, but together we can. Together we can make sure our families are represented and that our legacy (our children) is protected. Here is a list of some activities that describe how we build our network. What kind of commitment can you make?

Host a Home Party: Have a few of your friends/family over to your home, church, etc. for
A discussion about the current state of education with our Black Children. We bring info and light refreshments (3 hour commitment).

Action Team: Sign on to stand and be present when important votes will happen by committing to call or email your representatives, or attend key meetings. In addition, we must vote! 5 minute commitment for a phone call/email or 3 hour commitment for a meeting.

Family Representative: Sign up to be a representative for our families at monthly school committee meetings where the decisions get made. You can choose 3, 6 or 12 month commitment (3 hours monthly commitment). There are 5 important sub-committees that meet monthly. We need people representing our communities’ interests.

Black Legacy Leadership: The team meets monthly on the first Wednesday of the month at the YMCA on Main Street. That is where we coordinate the various activities, make strategic decisions regarding our direction and seek funding. Join a sub-committee that oversees the Home Parties, Conferences, Cyberdrumm.com, Parent Support Network and Family Representative Work. (5 Hours a month commitment).

To join the movement, contact us at administrator@cyberdrmm.com. Also, if you are having challenges within the school and could use some support, Black Legacy has a volunteer led hotline that you can call at 508-799-0702 x128.

Legacy would like to thank Ms. Patricia Padilla principal of the Claremont Academy for opening her beautiful school to us for this event. It definitely added to the day’s success! We would also like to thank Dr. Melinda Boone and Dr. Jeffrey Mulqueen for joining us and making the day a success. We would like to thank Carlton Watson for the continued commitment and support by the Willis Center for Black Legacy. Also thanking Dr. Robert E. Johnson, President of Becker College for his remarks, especially, “I am here today because someone saw in me what I didn’t see in myself.”

Education is the responsibility of everyone in the community to get more involved in ~ the education of our children. For more information on Legacy and how you can get involved, go to www.cyberdrumm.com.

Additional Community Comments:

We ask some of the participants of the conference to give their opinions on the day’s event. Their quotes are listed below:

“While I was at the Legacy Conference today I was moved by our collective concerns and commitment to help black youth and their families. I hope we continue to take action and help our youth be successful at home, school and the community.”
Shirley Williams, LICSW, Workshop Presenter
“Building & Supporting Self-Reliant Children in School

“The Black Families for Education Conference 2010 sponsored by the Black Legacy Committee was right on point and time. From the opening remarks from Carlton Watson, the Keynote Speaker, Dr. Melinda Boone and the wonderful words of Keesha LaTulippe, this conference delivered meaningful dialogue and interaction between Worcester Educators, concerned parents and citizens.”
Dorothy Ware, President, Toastmaster Club 2277

“Today at the conference there was a lot of great things happening, like parents getting more information about theirs kids education and also providing child care for the parents. Some of the workshops were about the right questions parents should ask. Building and supporting self-reliant children in school, and strengthening the roles of parents as agents of student success. I did not attend any of these workshops but many parents were raving about it. And childcare, which is where I worked for the day was run very well and had many activities for the children to enjoy, such as beading, inspiration boards, “I have a dream” clouds, and an “all about me book”. I think this was a good program and I enjoyed that this community does so much for education because education is so important.”
Imnet Edwards, 14 y/o ~ Grade 10 WPS

“The Black Family Education Conference was an exciting program for a Saturday afternoon. The experience was open to school members, community and students. I thought the dialogue was excellent and the information impacting. The people who got together in workshops, ran by members of the Black Legacy, WPS and community members were informative. We were all given a chance to participate in the Call to Action. Education is the basic need for our children, and to be involved is one of the greatest aspects that we, as parents and children need, to assure a better outlook in life, community.” Keith Scott, Legacy Member

“Sponsored by the Black Legacy Group, today we had a Black Family Conference. A group of volunteers and I gave childcare for parents to attend the function. Parents learned how to better support their children’s education, and fulfill their highest potential. It was a great function and many parents learned informative things to better our community.”
ShaAsia Medina, 13 y/o, grade 8, SOKCS

“The Black Families for Education Conference was well worth my Saturday! I work for the Worcester school department, and it was valuable to me to see direct communication between school administrators and members of the Black community. Wonderful and worthwhile. Sabrina Snyder, Parent

“My name is Born Taylor and today I was proud participant at the Black Legacy Family Education Conference. Although I wasn’t directly in the meeting, I was able to watch and enjoy the children of the participants who are the children of tomorrow.”
Born Taylor, 12 y/o, Grade 7, Nativity School

“I am a parent of a 9th grader in a local charter school and also my niece is in the charter school. As a member of the Black Legacy I am very excited that one of our goals has been accomplished, it took a lot of work and commitment from the member to get this done. I feel that both my son and my niece need me as an educator in the Worcester Public Schools. I look forward to helping this mission be accomplished. I enjoyed the workshops. Let’s stop segregation in the classrooms.” Evelyn Bambo, Parent & Legacy Member

“My name is Zenobia Turner. What I hope to do in my future is to go to college and become any thing that includes dancing. I’m 8 years old. I go to Venerini Academy. My goal is to be a basketball player. That’s my goal when I grow up.”
Zenobia Turner, 8 y/o, Venerini Academy

“At the Black Legacy conference the most important thing I got out of the day was that problems exist and Black people do care about there children’s education. Black Legacy is a movement and it is necessary to have community organization involved with the education system.” Nathan Pickens, Parent & Legacy Member

“My name is Imani Hunter, Zenobia’s cousin. What I hope to do in my future is go to college, the art institute and become a model, a fashion designer, or an artist who travels the world. I am 12 years old. I am going to Forest Grove.”
Imani Hunter, 12 y/o Forest Grove

‘I am a parent of past and present students of the Worcester Public Schools. To me it does not matter what the color of the teacher is as long as my children are getting a good education, and the teacher teaching is right. Doreen Samuels, Parent, Legacy Member

“My name is Tomiwa Olaniyan. I go to Gates Lane School here in Worcester, MA. Education is important to me because it gives me a better future. My parents encourage me to further my education because they want me to do well in life. Something I learned today was if you start now really good in education you will do great.”
Tomiwa Olaniyan, WPS Student

“Being a part of the Black Legacy Conference really made me feel as if there is a village here in Worcester to help me raise my family. Thank you for inspiring the passion that has been manifesting in me about my culture & ancestry. I hope that this group will flourish and continue for years to come.” Natalie Turner, Parent

“I attended the Black Legacy Conference and am so glad I did. As a parent of 2 children who recently graduated from the Worcester Public Schools, I feel this conference is way over due. The various workshops opened up dialogue for those in attendance to discuss issues such as ‘Strengthening the Roles of Parents as Agents of Student Success’ which I attended. The workshop as lead by Dr. Jeffrey Mulqueen, Chief Academic Officer of the Worcester Public Schools. I think it is important to provide the parents with the resources that are available to provide after school and other community wide tutoring services. An important theme that was discussed was that not all students have to go to college. They have choices to either go to college or be prepared for a career. We need the schools to prepare the students to make a choice, college or career. Schools now are the same as they were 50 years ago, but the culture of students, as well as families have changed, which makes for a hostile environment for the students.” Jacqueline Harris, Parent

“Education as the most important Legacy!” We all know knowledge is power. And many people can relate to the biblical saying that “my people perish for lack of knowledge”. As a first generation immigrant it is imperative that we educate ourselves and educate our children. The education of our children is too important to be left in the hands of just the school system, let alone a single individual in the name of the “school teacher”. It is therefore imperative that parents stay engaged. Dr. Melinda Boone in her keynote address stated it clearly when she said “It takes a village to raise a child.” Parents must connect with their kids school starting from getting to know the class teacher, the curriculum for the child’s grade and requirements for homework. It has been proven that children whose parents are engaged are more successful than those whose parents are not.”
Banjo Olaniyan, Parent & director of Fairbridge Project International Inc

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