African American Parent Forum
At 10:00 AM on April 21, a balmy Saturday morning, Merritt College Professor of Africana Studies Jason Seals stood in front of a group of about forty parents and students in the Berkeley High School Library. They had gathered for the African American Parent Meeting, organized by BHS Parent Resource Center Liaison Irma Parker, all with the motivation to give themselves and their children a better future.
Seals set up a powerpoint presentation, but it was his motivational speaking and energy that had the most profound impact. For the next two hours, he spoke about the vast range of topics that relate to the struggles and successes of African American parents, from parent involvement to truancy to African American culture and history. He related to the audience his own story of a poor upbringing and the motivation he had to go far in life.
Seals encouraged parents of struggling students to seek out information regularly from teachers, learn the curriculum, and follow their student every step of the way.
He also noted the lack of diversity in the school administration and in committees where parent representation is needed. “You have to be present,” Seals said. “Let them know we care.”
In turn, parents at the meeting were able to voice the very real concerns they had faced so far in their parenting careers. They spoke about their children’s specific situations, their own efforts to be involved while working long hours and leading a busy life, and the conflicts of looking after multiple kids. The trusting environment invited many to share personal experiences and worries, consequentially gaining insight into how to address them.
One of the lesser–known strategies that Seals described for building strength and motivation in children was the empowerment through culture.
He explained that “we’re in the rebuilding stages” of family, saying that the cocaine addiction rise of the 1970s set a poor precedent for African American families. “Your child should know about their family history... They need to know their legacy,” said Seals. “These are the things that start at home.”
Many parents expressed the struggle they had found in transitioning from middle school to high school; students who were focused and successful in middle school tended to slip up in their freshman year.
One mother related her own story, explaining that when her son’s teacher gave him a better test grade than he deserved, she fought to have it changed because she knew the advantage would not ultimately be helpful for him. “That’s our job--to be there, to fight,” she said.
Also in attendance among the parents were Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) School Board members Karen Hemphill and Josh Daniels.
Hemphill introduced to parents her plan to hold meetings with parents, not just to share their experiences but to take action and find solutions. “Sometimes as parents we get into complaining,” she said.
She also spoke to parents about options for keeping their children on track throughout high school, such as mentoring programs and after school homework clubs on campus.