Surrounded by the bright and vivid colors of The Art of Living Black exhibit, representatives from a range of parent and family groups came together Friday seeking answers about how to maneuver through the complexities of the Bay Area educational system.

The event, hosted by Bay Area PLAN (Parent Leadership Action Network), was held in
the spectacular African-American Arts and Culture Complex near downtown
San Francisco on April 30.

Some attendees were politically savvy and fed up with the budget cuts affecting the educational process.  Others spoke out against the plight of immigrants whose language barriers have kept them cut off from communicating their educational needs to those in authority.  The room was packed and seating was sparse, perhaps due to the widespread belief that the system is broken in its ability to service everyone, regardless of race and/or language.

One mother who emigrated from China with limited English shared her story.  This stay-at-home mom struggled to find the most basic information in her language.  She then began to ask questions.  Partnering with Visitation Valley Parents Association, she was encouraged to train with PLAN, where she learned to lead other Chinese-speaking parents toward their right for advocacy. This “each one, teach one” concept has empowered many parents, helping them organize and strategize while strengthening communication skills.

Another parent spoke of her struggles with the system saying, “We are grassroots citizens coming together.  Our voices must be heard otherwise they do not understand our needs.”  She said her training inspired her to work with minority parents to ask City Hall to improve interpretation services and rally against the scathing budget cuts.

The meeting was, “a recruiter’s dream,” said Patricia Rocha-Fernandez, a parent organizer with PLAN.  The afternoon workshops covered a variety of leadership topics that aimed to show participants one basic idea: Parents have a right to advocate.

Melia Franklin, co-founder and executive director of PLAN, said her passion to see an even playing field has grown as she’s wastched parents come together across racial and cultural lines to learn from each other historically and build solidarity through this leadership training.

PLAN will begin an Oakland campaign in May and hopes to inspire other parents toward greater involvement in advocating for fair and equitable practices by the schools in this culturally diverse community.

Friday’s seminar was co-sponsored by First Five San Francisco, and San Francisco Family Support Network (SFFSN), and made possible by the generous support of the S.H. Cowell Foundation.

Learn more about the Bay Area Parent Leadership Action Network online.  The group’s next meeting is on Thursday, May 21.  Call Patricia Rocha-Fernandez at 510-444-7526, ext. 304, for information.