I often describe Massachusetts Parents United as the "charter school" of parent advocacy organizations. Yes, we do things a little differently. We might be a little unconventional and think outside the box. But we get real results and MPU works.
MPU is a union of parents and over the past year thousands of parents have joined — 6,687 in fact.
2,210 have signed on as parent leaders willing to step up and help build our organization.
That’s a lot of parents. And to make real change in communities, in our politics and our schools, you need an army of folks ready to work. Having a couple of dozen parents doesn’t get anything real done.
So what is Massachusetts Parents United?
Here’s our fancy paragraph:
"With more than 6,500 members, Massachusetts Parents United is the largest urban parent advocacy organization in the Commonwealth, harnessing the power of parents to advocate for safer neighborhoods, affordable housing and equitable access to high quality education. Within it’s first year, MPU emerged as the independent and authentic voice of parents across Massachusetts by establishing a powerful statewide parent-led organization with chapters in East Boston, Dorchester, Lawrence, Lowell and Springfield with plans to expand to Fall River, Lynn and Holyoke in 2018."
The bottom line: Whether it’s during our in-person meetings or online, Massachusetts Parents United is building an incredibly powerful union of parents who are ready to get real and get involved with changing their neighborhoods and their schools for their kids.
How did you get to 6,500 members?
You don’t send a plumber to fix the roof. We let parents organize parents organically and have authentic conversations about what’s important to them. It’s pretty simple. We send our parent leaders and organizers to actively canvass and engage parents in their neighborhoods, at schools, at baseball diamonds and bodegas. We don’t parachute into a community with a pre-baked agenda and tell folks what they should care about. Parents set the agenda. We give them a safe space to join the conversation.
(The coolest part of this video? The parents of the Springfield Chapter of Massachusetts Parents United made this video themselves. No one asked them to do it. They decided they wanted a video to help recruit more people to join, took direct action and send it over to me. That’s it.)
Why do they trust YOU, Keri?
Frankly, because I’m one of them — and a member of MPU. I go to their meetings. They know me. And trust me to be their ambassador. I’m a single mom to three little boys and understand how real the struggle really can be. You won’t find me having a three hour brunch in Brooklyn on Sunday mornings, you’ll find me folding laundry and washing little people’s bums. There is real solidarity between me and our members and they know I’ll fight for them.
This has all been tried before. What makes Massachusetts Parents United different?
We recognize that trust and relationships are seriously broken between school systems and parents in communities where schools are failing. Parents want to help. They want to be a part of the solution, but often times parents are sending their children to the same schools that failed them the generation before.
(Do you think these parents want to take parenting advice from these folks at Brightwood Elementary in Springfield?
Uh, no. In fact, they don’t want anything to do with the folks in the building. How do you fix this? We have some ideas.)
When schools and other organizations have problems engaging parents, they automatically go into defensive mode and assume parents don’t care about their kids and need instruction on how to be better parents to their children — both of which are incredibly offensive to families and immediately shuts down any hope of a relationship. Starting off an interaction with a parent who is already highly skeptical of your intentions by asking them to join your "parent academy" so they can learn how to be the kind of parent the school THINKS they should be is not a good way to engage. Yet we do this over and over and over again.
And frankly, the demographics of our organization sets us apart. 98% of our members are from communities of color — 71% being Latino. We understand the cultural context of why some parents aren’t used to engaging in their communities in shared decision making or advocating for their children at school. We get it and help build a bridge to make parents feel empowered.
Why do parents love Massachusetts Parents United?
The answer is simple: We listen.
We respect parents.
We trust parents.
Massachusetts Parents United works on the issues parents bring to the table on a neighborhood level, bringing together other parents to make a real impact and get things done. Not another "dialogue" or a "focus group." Action.
Once parents build power on the neighborhood level, all the chapters unite in solidarity with the parent chapters in other parts of the state to take on the tough statewide issues that impact communities across the Commonwealth. Issues that include the Safe Communities Act, increasing funding for our vocational and technical schools to increase participation from communities of color, the Innovation Zone Partnerships Act, the Fair Share Amendment, fighting for family affordable housing and getting guns and violence off our streets and out of our communities.
So spread the word. Show some love. And join the movement.
What do you think?