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Centering the Epistemologies of Black People, to Support Students

Updated: Jul 26, 2021

An excerpt from a book chapter from School-University-Community Collaboration for Civic Education and Engagement in the Democratic Project.

Written by Drs. Yvette C. Latunde, & Cynthia Glover-Woods

Many schools still use conventional partnerships. These involvement or engagement initiatives and practices place schools in a position of power over families and communities. Conventional partnerships reinforce structural racism and inequities (Aceves, 2014; Alfaro et al., 2014; Reynolds et al., 2015). These social arrangements within schools normalize Whiteness as the standard by which all students, families, and communities are measured (Ishimaru, 2020). They devalue the nuanced and complex ways Black families and communities support learning. Rather, they promote anti-Blackness and reward the imitation of Whiteness.

Conventional partnerships have “othered” Black people, leaving bifurcated communities within schools. To make matters worse, they permit people to avoid real conversations about race and ignore the deep violence done to Blacks in schools and society, thus creating dehumanizing situations in which Black students continue to be compared to students who have not experienced the same treatment in society. When conventional partnerships are replaced by equitable ones, racial equity and justice are at the center (Ishimaru, 2020).

Centering racial equity and justice to create equitable and humanizing schools starts with acknowledging the wealth resident in Black families and communities. The epistemologies of Black students, families, and communities were used in this project to disrupt White supremacy, structural racism and anti-Blackness in school partnerships and in schools. This project, in its third year, seeks to interrupt the status quo by situating Black people as the leaders and decision makers in schools. To this end, a county office of education director, a university researcher center co-director, school personnel, and community members have partnered to inform, design, deliver, and assess more equitable family-school-community partnerships. This project draws from literature on Black families, student achievement, equity, critical race theory, hospitality, structural racism, and the authors’ own experiences.

The project, in its third year, has the following goals:

· To increase awareness of the treatment and state of Black students and their families in schools and society

· To increase the use of evidenced-based strategies for creating safety and a sense of belonging for Black students and families

· To increase the utilization of evidenced-based strategies for partnering with Black students and their families

· To promote the use of student and family stories as data points to inform decision-making related to teaching, engagement, and school governance

· To increase the application of African and African American-centered values and practices to the classroom instruction and school environment.

The AAPAC Academy

The Academy is situated in the County Office of Education, which supports 23 school districts. The Academy supports both districts and their respective school sites in creating and expanding AAPACs. The consultant used research and literature on student achievement, critical race theory, black capital, validation theory, and Black students and families as a starting point in the design of the Academy. The Academy is student-focused, community-centered, critically reflective, data-driven, research-based, culturally responsive and sustaining, and strategic. Features of the Academy include developmental, interactive, and culturally affirming capacity-building experiences; opportunities to socialize and network; and community and school engagement.

Black Families Situated as Leaders

Black families are the leaders of the AAPAC work. Although the teams engaged in capacity-building are diverse, this project situates Black families as the leaders of the work in schools. The Academy uses the epistemologies, practices, knowledge, preferences, and values of Black people to drive the work. Black parents attending the Academy are acknowledged as leaders of the work and the team is invited to support them at the district and school site levels. One example of how AAPAC situated Black families as leaders can be seen in the 2019 Association of California School Administrators Leadership Summit. The county office leadership proposed a panel discussion of this project to the association, an organization that supports California schools, districts, and county office administrators, and the proposal was accepted. The panel was composed of five Black parents, the consultant, a family liaison, and two to three County Office of Education administrators. The goal of the session was to highlight how school data is used to create a strategy (Blueprint and AAPAC) to address the needs of Black students.

The Academy seeks to build background knowledge and increase the use of evidenced-based and culturally-informed practices for engaging Black families and supporting Black students in schools. It utilizes two main frameworks in creating more equitable school partnerships: dual capacity-building and hospitality.

Dual Capacity-Building

Dual capacity-building—developing the knowledge, skills, relationships, and confidence of both educators and families toward a common goal—is recognized by the United States Department of Education as an effective model for engaging diverse families in the education of youth. This model situates families as active partners in the education of youth but also realizes that school personnel and families have not had targeted capacity-building around effective partnerships with Black families.

The Academy focuses on three areas in which to build capacity, prioritizing them in this order: connections, cognition, and capabilities. Black people value connections and relationships first; thus the Academy established that value as of first priority. Two of the key capacity-building experiences are building background knowledge (cognition) and developing common language around student achievement and Black family engagement (capability). Lastly, teams are exposed to the eight evidenced-based teaching and eight evidenced-based leadership practices that support student academic success in schools with no gaps by socioeconomics, race, gender, or ethnicity.


The Academy centers the hospitality, or safety, of Black people. The idea of safety is not limited to physical safety, but encompasses emotional, spiritual, and intellectual safety and a sense of belonging (Palmer, 2007). Black people often have to conform and ignore their feelings and reality in order to make those they perceive as having power feel comfortable. This is especially true in “mixed company” or the team context used for this project. This project takes what is known about the stress and trauma experienced by Black families in schools and society as a result of structural racism and other violence (Steidle, 2017), and embeds practices that prioritize the safety and belonging of Black people in schools.

Look out for more in our complete chapter. Stay tuned

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