The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Why black parents of Arlington are joining forces

Washington-Liberty High School in. Arlington. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)
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Amina Luqman-Dawson, Adora Williams and Whytni Kernodle are founding members of Black Parents of Arlington.

There is a whirlwind of change afoot in Arlington Public Schools: The appointment of an interim superintendent and the search to fill the position permanently; the hiring of the newly approved chief diversity officer position and of several senior staff positions vacated in the 2018-2019 school year; the anticipation of Amazon adding students to already overcapacity schools; and ongoing debates about education policy and practices in Arlington County. We seek to project a unified voice about shared concerns and have come together to form Black Parents of Arlington.

BPA seeks to organize, galvanize and empower black parents for the purpose of improving the lives and education of black children in Arlington. We seek the elimination of race-based discrimination, implicit and explicit bias and to ensure the health and well-being of our children and of all children in our community, regardless of race or ethnicity.

We invite you to get to know us. Black Parents of Arlington’s next meeting is at 3 p.m. Sept. 8 at Alcova Heights Park. We represent a tapestry of black families in Arlington. We are diverse in our experiences and in the breadth of talents and gifts that our children offer this community and its schools.

We are native Arlingtonians with families dating back to Reconstruction. We are transplants from all over the United States. We are new immigrants from East Africa and beyond. We represent a plethora of educational and socioeconomic backgrounds, and we want to add our unique perspectives to the discourse on education in Arlington County.

Arlington schools were named best in Virginia, but a growing chorus of black parents is disrupting that narrative

We have coalesced to advocate for the elimination of disparities our children encounter in APS and to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline. We send our children to school knowing that they are overrepresented among suspended students and underrepresented in gifted programming relative to their white counterparts. For example, according to the 2017-2018 data from APS, although black children represent 10 percent of the population in the county’s middle schools, they represent 30 percent of the students receiving suspensions. Similarly, black children are 11 percent of the county’s high school students but represent 35 percent of students suspended. Our children are unlikely to be in a classroom with a teacher who looks like them and are unlikely to graduate with an advanced diploma. The disparities are real, and often the county’s efforts and remedies, though presumably well-intended, have yet to meet the lived experiences of our children.

We see the irony of the Arlington County School Board espousing concepts of equity in its Strategic Plan while failing to embrace this value in its budget. The board should always seek to support and fund resources and programs that promote a more equitable school system. We seek political leaders who are willing to listen, engage in honest dialogue, offer substantive policy proposals and take bold, courageous action to benefit our children.

Through BPA, we come together to speak with a unified voice to improve the lives and education of black children in Arlington. Rather than suffer in frustration alone, we unite to energize and support one another as we work to secure equitable treatment for our children in schools and in the community and to improve their access to opportunities and resources. To that end, we seek allies within the community, on the school board, in bounty government and with other elected officials willing to find solutions and join our mission and labor of love for our children.