Black Parents Are Ignored in the Critical Race Theory Conversation—Here's How They're Taking Action

In the spirit of parents throughout Black history, these parents are mobilizing to make sure their children receive the best education possible.

Confident African American woman asks question during a school board meeting
Photo: Getty Images

Black parents are familiar with tough decisions about their children's education. From lessons about Black history, to representation in the classroom and beyond, we know what it's like to advocate for our children at school.

National resistance to critical race theory, or the belief that race is a social construct that benefits white people and disenfranchises non-whites, has intensified what's at stake for Black students and their families. Curriculum that seems to tie to critical race theory, and discusses oppression, race, gender and sexuality, is under scrutiny. And as school leaders, parents, and state lawmakers choose to embrace incomplete—and often false— histories, Black parents are largely being left out of the debate.

But parents like Jenelle Berry-Cook and Michael Cook of Plano,Texas, refused to be silenced in the battle over their childrens' school curriculum at Huffman Elementary School in Huffman, Texas. The couple decided that they needed to do more for their children after attending an event about how to identify and challenge critical race theory.

Upon arrival at the event, they noticed the audience was mostly white and that some had on, what looked like, bulletproof vests. When Berry-Cook challenged their perspectives, the crowd soured and attendees began to yell and curse at her.

Afterwards, the couple took steps to make sure other parents' perspectives are represented, like joining the Collin County NAACP's leadership program. Berry-Cook has since fought for diverse perspectives through the Huffman Parent-Teacher Association and her husband is going to run for a trustee seat in the 2023 Plano Board of Trustees election.

Their story is one of many surfacing across the US. Black parents, who have been excluded from conversations about critical race theory, are mobilizing to battle its opponents. And opponents to critical race theory curriculum exist even though it isn't taught at the high school or primary level. They also join a long line of parents who mobilized to ensure the quality of their children's education.

The Round Rock Black Parents Association, in Round Rock,Texas, was established in 2008 before conversations on critical race theory began. Organizations like Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI), have been fighting for fairness in discipline in other areas of education since 1995. And let's not forget the Black Panthers Party's Oakland Community School (OCS) as an important example of a Black community making sure children learn.

The road to Black student success is paved with the efforts of Black parents and communities. Black students are more likely to attend college with even one Black educator. Culturally responsive teaching considering the needs of all students benefits everyone, especially students of color and reduces the achievement gap.

The tradition of Black parent advocacy began during enslavement with parents risking their lives to allow children to read, continued with Black communities building schoolhouses during reconstruction, and fighting for educational equity during the Civil Rights Movement. Conservatives' resistance to Critical Race Theory—and any effort to discuss racial injustice—hails from a long legacy, as well. Through all of this, Black parents continue to advocate for change.

Parents who want to ensure that their children are taught their own accurate, uncensored history, can take steps like attending PTA and school board meetings, contacting their district's school leaders, and, when possible, running for local school board positions themselves. If they do, they'll be following in the footsteps of other Black parents who mobilized in the spirit of their children's education.

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