“Oppressed people, whatever their level of formal education, have the ability to understand and interpret the world around them, to see the world for what it is, and move to transform it,” said civil rights and human rights activist Ella Baker. She may not be viewed as a pioneer of equitable implementation, but her outsize impact on the civil rights movement was grounded in her ability to listen and support the leadership and wisdom of people most affected by racism.

My name is William Jackson and I’m the founder and a team member of Village of Wisdom, an organization leveraging the collective wisdom of Black families to support advocacy and organizing for racially just schools. Baker’s approach was unknown to our team when we founded Village of Wisdom (VOW) in 2014, but the spirit of her approach informs everything we do. Indeed, it wasn’t hard to convince us, as the children of Black parents ourselves, that Black parents—a Black child’s first teachers—might know best how to facilitate learning for Black children.

VOW’s solution was simple at its core: Leverage the cultural wisdom of Black parents to affirm their children’s Blackness as an antidote to a world that actively depletes their self-worth through systemic racism and interpersonal racial discrimination.1 Our work was initially informed by strength-based racial socialization research, which traditionally focuses on how Black parents communicate the idea of race to their children.2 We aimed to create spaces where Black parents shared racially affirming messages they used with their children and how they used those messages to prepare their children to cope with the racism they would experience in school. We drew upon the research of scholars such as Enrique Neblett, Stephanie Coard, and Howard Stevenson.

We initially called the workshops we developed to support Black parents in assisting their children Family Learning Villages. We gave families space to develop their approach to navigate school settings dominated by white teachers and plagued by white supremacy (such as devaluing and erasing the contributions of Black people, prioritizing white teacher comfort over Black student learning and rights, and villainizing Black student language, hair, and clothes). The name we chose for these sessions reflected our team’s instinctive beliefs as the children of Black parents who had helped each of us navigate American schools.

Read the full article about listening to Black parents by William Jackson and Kristine Andrews at Stanford Social Innovation Review.