By Larry Fondation, Director of Community Engagement
Unequal education is a serious barrier to social mobility in the United States, one that exacerbates historically high levels of inequality. The social justice question in education is not whether five poor kids get to attend Harvard this year. They always have and they always will. The real question is whether millions of poor kids can escape menial and minimum-wage jobs through better education and every other means possible, including community organizing. Community organizing is crucial to addressing the inequalities in education.
Finding a Solution through Community Organizing
You’ve heard it before, but it remains true: Give people some fish, they will eat for a day. Teach them to fish, they can eat for their lifetimes. Social services alone are too often merely a BandAid. If a student needs glasses, of course, give her glasses. But, chances are she’ll need a new prescription and a new pair next year.
It’s a partial answer, but not a solution. Every mother and father wants the agency and ability to buy their own kids’ glasses—and their food and their lodging, and, yes, the cost of their child’s college education.
From a community perspective, powerlessness precedes poverty. In order to defeat poverty, we must build power.
Giving that child glasses, or giving people fish, is an answer to a problem. But it is not a solution.
One long-term solution – by no means the only one, but an important avenue – is to give families the skills they need to advocate for themselves, to earn a living wage, to wield their own power and influence. The vehicle to do this is to organize through efforts such as United Parents.
Long term, the goal is to scale United Parents and to create a permanent edifice of engagement – not bricks and mortar – but an astute and active network of organized people. Accordingly, we launched the Green Dot Votes campaign to increase the level of civic participation and engagement among our families, especially among our students. Green Dot Votes aims to raise voter registration and participation within our communities.
Voting, especially at the local level, is a critical component of transformational change. Our charge is to exercise a strong voice within our communities by leveraging the power of the ballot. To date we have registered to vote nearly 1,000 of our high school seniors. We look to expand and continue this effort in the coming years.
United Parents Leadership Team
Green Dot Public Schools has embarked on a robust strategy of community engagement. Since 2012-13, more than 40 Green Dot parents have joined the United Parents Leadership Team. More than 1,800 Green Dot parents attended our founding assembly in December, 2014. Green Dot engages parents as vital partners in student success, providing adult education programming and self-advocacy training to empower community members to be agents of long-term, sustainable neighborhood revitalization.
The program gives parents—many of whom are first-generation Americans with little history of political engagement—an opportunity to voice their concerns with city leaders; presenting a platform focused on increasing the minimum wage, creating safe passages to and from school, encouraging greater job opportunities, and stopping illegal dumping in the communities’ streets.
Our core work is teaching low-income families how to develop power and influence in the public arena.
And, as we remember Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy this weekend, it is particularly special that we will launch United Parents in Memphis, Tennessee on February 19, 2016. Memphis, where Dr. King's life and work are memorialized, is an inspiring and fitting place to help prepare more Green Dot parents to organize together to improve their lives and the conditions in their communities.