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.
In 2015-2016, Black teachers entered teaching through an alternative certification route at a higher rate than any other group and a staggeringly low 7 percent of public school teachers are Black while 80 percent are White.
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.
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.”
Glass’ sobering dialogue shifted the discussion of the meeting.
“That was a brave thing for this young man to stand up and be heard,” said NNPA President Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr.
Another young person asked what could be done to encourage more students to participate in discussions about education.
“The question came up about how to get young people more involved in events like this and the right answer is to ask that young person who asked that question is: what is it that he thinks should be done,” said Gregory Huskisson, the vice president of content and audience for the Wave newspaper in Los Angeles. “We need to do a better job of getting young people involved. The second thing is what kind of structural thing can you build into the program that would be more enticing for young people.”
Huskisson said it was a privilege to take part in the town hall from Los Angeles.
“The issue is critical to organizations like the Wave and the NNPA and we need to be focused on getting together and collaborating on getting solutions, because we are solutions-based organizations and we’re involved in a lot of community-based programs and projects,” Huskisson said. “Anytime the NNPA creates programming that’s focused on solutions in our community, especially ESSA, we are all about it and I applaud Dr. Chavis and the NNPA. I look forward to the next ESSA town hall.”