Hundreds of black parents from northeast Denver attended the Black Empowerment Summit on Saturday at Shorter AME Church to discuss strategies for advocating for their children inside Denver Public Schools.
The summit was organized by the Our Voice Our Schools (OVOS) movement, whose leadership says it was an important step forward in providing parents with the tools necessary to create equitable conditions within the district.
The OVOS movement is focused on demanding accountability for how public education models are functioning in the near northeast and far northeast, including neighborhoods in both Denver and Aurora. They are taking on concerns voiced by parents in those areas, like the effectiveness of co-location practices, the frequency of school closures and large equity gaps.
Leaders of the summit have stressed that the event was the initial phase of a movement that looks to reform the largest school district in Denver. Going forward, OVOS plans on hosting bi-monthly meetings specifically for parents from different neighborhoods within the northeast Denver area that will continue to work on parental engagement with the district.
The inaugural Black Empowerment Summit attracted a crowd of nearly 400 people, including members of the school board, district employees, concerned parents and community members, all of whom acknowledged their respective roles in addressing concerns expressed by OVOS.
The Bailey Report serves as the basis for the OVOS movement. In the document, author Sharon Bailey writes that black faculty within the district experience high levels of institutional racism in their jobs, which forces many of them out or leaves them unhappy in their positions.
Hasira Ashemu, chief executive officer of OVOS, said it’s important for OVOS to organize with and protect black employees that he sees as change agents within the district, and that the group’s intention is to send a strong message to the district that any unjust treatment of black employees will trigger resistance from OVOS. He was glad to have the involvement of district administrators like Cultural Equity Leadership Team (CELT) Associate Chief Allen Smith and Program Manager of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Sharon Bailey.
Participants were grouped by region, and each group selected the three highest-priority topics for schools in their area. Common suggestions for reform included removing of police officers from schools, remedying the hostile racial environment outlined in the Bailey Report and enforcing a curriculum that includes black, brown and indigenous histories.
LeRita Cavness, director of the nonprofit Adolescents Know Your Rights, used her time at the forum to teach parents their rights,and important language, policies and procedures they need to know when advocating for their kids within the district.
“It’s exciting to see a variety of organizations coming together to work on the problem without just protesting what’s going on. We’re coming together to create a solution. It is definitely going to have a profound positive effect on DPS,” Cavness said.
Quincy Shannon, a student support coordinator at DSST-Green Valley Ranch, went to the summit because although his charter school is excelling, he understands many parents do not feel very confident in their children’s schools.
“Coming to an event like this, I like to soak in some of the challenges and difficulties happening around town,” he said.
Charter schools have been a point of contention for OVOS leaders, but they’ve said any school that does a quality job of educating kids deserves to stay.
Ashemu believes parents will need to keep confronting the district’s leadership to get the change they want to see, and OVOS is calling for new leadership entirely. The group proposes ousting Superintendent Tom Boasberg and Deputy Superintendent Susana Cordova.
They’d like strong community input on who fills those positions, and also to see administrators like Smith and Chief of Family and Community Engagement Tameka Brigham get more resources to work with.
OVOS’ next summit will be held Aug. 4, right before the school year starts.