We had the pleasure of hosting a chat with the filmmakers Joe Brewster and Michele Stephenson onChatty Guest about their documentary American Promise and book Promises Kept.
The filmmakers gave us a glimpse into their life as an African-American family that navigated through the elite private school experience. The chat on Chatty Guest allowed parents of color the space to express their views on the film and their experience as parents of children going through a similar experience.
The film resonated with my family because feeling a part of the school’s community is not as easy as we envisioned.
On the chat the filmmaker Joe Brewster brought up the fact that they felt “special” in the recruitment of their son to the school. And that comment made me pause because that is exactly how my husband and I felt when we visited private schools in our area.
I am a product of a public school education so walking the halls of this shiny, incredible school with so much to offer including very small student to teacher ratios I was like a moth to the light. I immediately thought how “lucky” my children would be to have this kind of educational experience.
Through the years we have realized that even though the school has developed a great diversity statement and recruitment plan to enroll children of color, they are defienct in the diversity experience. They struggle with how to make children and families of different backgrounds feel a part of the fabric of the school community. They were all speaking the right words of change during the recruitment process but lacked and perhaps do not know how to implicate change.
So as I watched the struggles of Seun and Idris as they matriculated through Dalton I thought to myself… am I doing more harm to my children than good? Did I fall prey to the recruitment and the reality is far from the “we are the world” message they preach.
To be fair to our school they have embraced having a dialogue with all families of diversity and are willing to engage in a way to bring on change. Thus I applaud them for giving all parents the opportunity to have a dialogue on Chatty Guest to express their thoughts around their experience at the school.
The message around the film is that parents have to engage and be present at the school. As an African American parent I have to advocate for my children and not fall to the belief that sending them to the “best school” they will have the “best” experience.
Stereotypes and labels are still preilvant today. The black male is still viewed as “dangerous”. Not to mention a persistent mother can quickly be labeled an “angry” black woman when she challenges a teacher on the unfair treatment of her child.
The choice to send our children to a private school is one that we do not regret. It is the right choice for our children and the education they are receiving outweighs the fact that I may have to educate the school on making sure my children are not invisible and they see themselves and their background in the curriculum.
I cringe when I read stories like in Washington Post titled "School apologizes for Black History Month lunch of watermelon, fried chicken (www.http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/02/06/school-a…)
So I applaud parents like Joe and Michele that allowed us into their lives in order to remind us that we cannot get caught up in the recruit but we have to engage in the experience.
Joe gave great lessons for parents of color to navigate thru the experience: 1) develop a positive family narrative 2) push back and discuss false/inaccurate perceptions 3) a presence in the school will help 4) mentors (non parents) help students to define themselves
Maybe one day the schools wont need a diversity statement because it will just be embedded in the way they run the school.
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