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Symposium focuses of reframing the narrative

Donovan M. Smith | 10/23/2013, 12:27 p.m.
African American parents and other parents of children of color gathered for a symposium Saturday to find new ways to ...
Charles McGee

African American parents and other parents of children of color gathered for a symposium Saturday to find new ways to elevate the academic achievements of their seeds.

The 5-hour symposium hosted by Black Parent Initiative was held at the disbanded Marshall High School campus in southeast Portland. It was the fourth year the group has sponsored a range of workshops promoting equity and excellence in the classroom through increased parental involvement at school and at home.

Speakers included the director of curriculum and instruction for the Oregon Education Investment Board, Dr. Doris McEwen, BPI board member Andre Herring, and a video message from Sybrina Fulton, the mother of slain Florida teenager Trayvon Martin. Fulton was scheduled to attend the symposium, but cancelled due to an unforeseen emergency.

Brown, who’s been heavily involved with the organization for a number of years, says he was compelled to speak at this year’s event when asked by BPI founder Charles McGee.

A father of a 4-year-old girl himself, a sizeable portion of Brown’s speech aimed to enlighten parents and teachers that though African-American children are often portrayed as the face of underachievement in schools nationally, that it is statistically impossible to say black students in Oregon bring down the relatively low scores the state schools receive.

He said that nugget of information was important to how black parents view problems of achievement with their own kids in terms of self image moving forward.

“We think about school closures, we think about problems in the city, or violence, and it’s always posted as black kids and brown kids – that these are the ones messing up the schools, the reason that the scores are low,” he says. “But we’re not bringing down the numbers, the state of our numbers in themselves are bad, but we’re not the problem in America, we’re not the problem in this state.”

McGee, a proud father to a young son, says the symposium was primarily meant to serve as a kind of “educational commercial.” He says he is more anxious about the work that gets done with people after the event.

“I think it’s easy for people, generally, to come to something for one day. A lot of people came for a couple hours in the morning then they left, and then some came for the afternoon then they left. But it’s who comes to the classes, right? Because I really believe that we are at a point of an emergency. If black men were salmon, the EPA would be out, and the Fish and Wildlife would be out and they’d be testing us and trying to figure out how to get us to reproduce. We are at an emergency point. And I am really hoping and praying that as a community we stand up and step up and take care of our own,” McGee says.

More information on the work of BPI can be found on their website thebpi.org.

--Donovan M. Smith