When your back is against a wall, become an advocate

By Reggie Barbour

Most of my blogs are about things that are happening in my life with my children and wife. Today, however, I want to focus on an incident that is currently happening with another parent I know. He happens to be my best friend so I know all about this particular issue.

He’s a pretty new dad. His only son will be three years old soon. He’s a bright, smart, happy kid who has been the center of my friend and his wife’s world since he arrived. He has a nanny by day and parents by night who have been teaching him all that he needs to know as a baby and toddler.

However, the time has come to choose a school. And my friend is scared shitless.

“Reggie,” he said, “How did you all do this man? How did you choose which school to send your children to?” “It wasn’t easy,” I told him. “It’s work. It involves research, visits, asking questions, and lots of prayer. But you will know when you know.”

One month ago – The Beginning…

So, my friend and his wife started on their journey of visiting schools, making calls, asking questions, and creating a list of possibilities. In doing all of this I noticed my friend was becoming more and more agitated. Actually, it was more than that. I noticed that he was ANGRY.

I asked him about it. He told me that the more he visits schools and can compare who has what and who doesn’t he gets angry. “Why are our kids continuing to get less? What happened to separate but equal,” he asked me.

How do you answer that when you know what he’s saying is absolutely true? I see it all the time and have been seeing it for a long time.

Two weeks ago and it’s getting rough…

“Ugh! We can’t find shit!” he screamed at me one day. “I mean we’ve seen a lot of great schools but we haven’t found the perfect school. This is so frustrating!”

My friend is finding out that while there are great options, there are no silver bullets. The trick is to find the school that works best for your child and add reinforcements as needed. Found a school with excellent rigor but little to offer in terms of extracurricular activities? If high-quality academics is on your list of must-haves for a school, enroll in this school and find after-school activities outside of school to get your child involved in.

Or do what my friend did – become an advocate.

Yesterday – BINGO!

“We did it! We found a school!” he told me. “Not only that, they didn’t have a chess club so I volunteered to start one next year! And I’m going to start a mentoring program for the boys of color at the school who just need to have a positive male in their lives.”

And that’s not all…

“What I’m most excited about is I helped two other couples who are in the same situation as us navigate this school choice system in DC and now they have also found schools for their children. I called our Council member and the school board and I told them how hard this is. They want me to be a part of their Parent Task Force.”

He was beaming. And so was I. My friend who, five years ago, wasn’t close to thinking about school options or becoming an advocate. Today not only is he doing both but he’s excited about it!

His experience reminded me of my old saying “When your back is against a wall, become an advocate.”