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Organizing Your School Community: How These Madison Families Organized a Juneteenth Event

Updated: Jul 26, 2020

Who we are:

We are a group of parents of children attending Lapham and Marquette elementary schools in Madison, Wisconsin. We first organized to discuss issues of racial justice in our schools, and specifically to discuss the Freedom Inc. campaign to end police in Madison schools. We are currently organized as a working committee of the Lapham-Marquette Parent Teacher Group which helps support our work.

What we did:

We had been planning events and activities that were interrupted by the pandemic quarantine in March. After George Floyd’s killing and the recent uprisings against anti-Black violence started we regrouped to discuss and quickly take action. We decided to organize an event that served as part teach-in, part organizing session, part “freedom dreaming” as Bettina Love calls it. We wanted to encourage members of our school community to engage in thinking about and pressing for anti-racist schooling.

Our event began with a welcome and some brief explanation of what we mean by institutionalized racism, anti-Black racism, and the ongoing Black struggle for freedom that Juneteenth represents, since our event was held in solidarity with Black-led Juneteenth celebrations in the city. As a group we read the names of Black people who were murdered in 2020, murdered in Wisconsin, and murdered in Madison because of anti-Black racism. We took a moment of silence to reflect on these lives lost unnecessarily and too soon. We then broke into small groups designed around a set of open-ended questions designed to facilitate listening, discussing, and developing action plans. We had a list of questions for families to reflect on, and each family group was given time to speak about their vision for what an anti-racist school looks like, what it would take to bring that about, and what their own plans for actions moving forward would be.

What were the logistics you had to cover to organize this event? How did you work with other PTOs to expand the model?

We found a date, made a flyer and link, emailed other PTGs in our area, principals, school board members and other organizations in the community using our connections and social media platforms and a fair amount of googling. We distributed flyers digitally (e.g. over email and via social media) and in person to invite a wide range of participants. We also reached out to neighbors around the schools to let them know about the event and what would be happening near their homes and to invite their participation and solidarity. To facilitate the participation of other schools/school communities and ensure that the intentions for the event were clear to those organizers, we prepared flyer templates, an event agenda, and additional resources. We used these materials for our event and made them publicly available via googledocs that we emailed out and posted widely to social media.

To document youth, families, communities members, educators’, etc. concerns about anti-Blackness in schools and their dreams and visions for anti-racist schools, we also encouraged the making of signs that could be posted around the event. We encouraged the making of signs prior to, at, and after the event and the posting of them at schools or on social media. We created sign templates that have sentence starters like, “An anti-racist school feels like…” that participants could use to create their sign or get ideas for creating a sign of their own. We confirmed our rights to gather on the sidewalk in front of schools, per the first amendment and printed guidance from the ACLU, local government guidelines about social distancing, and DPI’s own guidelines about protests on school property within the state.

We had to negotiate with the school district in order to get permission for the school principals to send out the flyer. (The district wanted us to explicitly state that it was not a school-sanctioned event). Early on we knew that we wanted to connect with and support other parent groups who might want to host similar events so we created a set of resources that others could use. Those are still available here:

What were the challenges? What were the successes?

One main challenge was in getting school/school district help with reaching families in our schools. School officials raised a number of concerns that could have derailed the event, but we were very careful to be aware of relevant rights and regulations to congregate and to provide in our materials clear guidance about public gathering in the pandemic. Other PTGs who were thinking of having similar events also experienced the district first saying they couldn’t hold the event, before the district came back and explained how we could do it.

Our event was not as racially diverse as we would have liked, but we consider that a challenge that we are committed to addressing as we continue to act on these issues. We are committed to developing relationships with other organizations and building trust and learning from BIPOC-led groups and parents, families, and communities who have been minoritized in schools and our society.

We were heartened by the number of families that showed up at our events. In addition to our families we had neighbors, teachers, families from other schools, school board members, and the media attend and participate. We have received several emails from families who really appreciated the event, especially the pushes to their thinking and to take action.

What advice would you have for a school group wanting to organize a similar action?

Waiting for the perfect timing is never going to happen. We planned this event in just over a week and it might not have happened if we had tried to make sure that we had enough time, if the weather was just right, etc. Everyone really pitched in and that was extremely important. Our ability to act on this moment also reflected the fact that we had been organizing and meeting for nine months before this event occurred, so we were able to act quickly as a group.

Do you have more actions planned?

We are currently working on follow up to this event, including sharing the signs with local decision makers, including our school principals, district staff and school board members. The signs, especially as a group, were very powerful and we want those messages to be spread. So, we are discussing having a follow up event to further develop ideas and commitments for anti-racist schooling and possibly another sign making event for the start of school.

We are planning to participate in a letter writing campaign organized by the Dane County Time Bank and Freedom Inc. and we are getting into gear to participate in an event about these same issues that is being organized nationally. Parents at another school contacted us in participating in that later event-- a great example of how we are stronger when we work together and across schools.

What is your vision for this kind of school community organizing?

Our vision is to have our classrooms and schools be anti-racist places. We also want to promote schools that are more receptive to the community; where parents, students, and families are collaborators and partners in learning and decision-making. Administration and the community need to work together to meet the very different needs of each and every one of us in our schools.

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