I recently had a chance to lead a rally at the National Charter Schools Conference (NCSC) alongside other keynote speakers Howard Fuller, an icon of social justice activism, and Myrna Castrejón, who’s leading the fight to protect educational access in California. Below is my address to the educational leaders and activists who were in attendance, in full:
My name is Keri Rodrigues – and I’m Matthew, Miles and David’s mom.
I’m here today because moms like me and families like mine need your help.
I’m a reluctant warrior. Five years ago I had no idea what a charter school was.
I got into this fight after my child with special needs was suspended 36 times in kindergarten, and his district school refused to adequately implement his IEP.
My child became the victim of being underserved by our public education system and I refused to sit by and accept it.
I wanted another choice — the ability to opt out of a district system that had already opted out of my son — and I wasn’t backing down without a fight.
Since that day I’ve had to learn a whole new language and join a fight I never knew existed until my family ended up in the middle of it.
You see — I have devoted my entire life to helping to build the Democratic party — as a leader and activist. As a union organizer working on campaigns across the country — I thought I was about as progressive as you could possibly get. I was a professional advocate but I couldn’t win a campaign for my own child.
I’ve been forced to watch my party fail me and my children time and again by failing to be the champions of public education and turning a blind eye toward the generational institutional racism that has created crippling achievement gaps.
And watched them cower to those who benefit from the mediocrity of a system that leads our most vulnerable down a path toward poverty, incarceration, and death.
I’ve watched the labor movement launch a campaign with a goal to maintain a status quo that’s nothing more than a fast lane to the school to prison pipeline for kids like mine — while trying to lecture ME about equity and justice.
I’m here today to make one thing clear: THIS MAMA — AND MAMAS ACROSS THE NATION HAVE HAD ENOUGH.
The time has come to put CHILDREN back at the center of this conversation — and families are ready to make that happen.
Some folks have taken to calling me fearless for the fights I’m willing to take on … but let me assure you — it’s quite the opposite.
I’m a former foster kid. I grew up in a home dealing with substance abuse and addiction.
I was a gifted and talented student who ended up expelled from my district high school.
I have lived the direct consequences of what happens when adults do not put children first.
And like so many other parents across the country — I’m determined to make sure my kids have a better life.
I didn’t read about it in a book.
I didn’t attend a workshop about it.
I didn’t study it in grad school.
I lived it.
Now the woman who stands before you is a fancy grown-up lady and these days, I don’t scare too easy. Not because things aren’t scary sometimes — but because I’ve seen worse than you could ever imagine and I’m still here.
This is life and death. And that’s why we built Massachusetts Parents United — the largest, most powerful parent advocacy organization in the Commonwealth.
We are fierce — and we did not come to play.
We’re not here for education reform.
We’re here for the education revolution.
But we’re not here to be your on-call army — or your sideshow.
We’re not interested in being indicted for not showing up the way you “think we should” or when you wag your fingers— you need to build a real relationship based on trust and respect with us.
And understand that the lived experience of those who have been victimized by our education system cannot be dismissed — especially when we’re expected to hand over our most prized possessions when many of us barely survived the experience.
There are thousands of parents who are ready, willing and able to stand up and fight. But we need all of you to stand up and fight with us.
Charter schools — and education innovations of all kinds are under attack — but too many are scrambling around showing up to a knife fight with book reports and wondering why we’re getting killed in politics.
If we were going to win this fight based on data and white papers, this would have been over long ago. Because the facts are on our side. But in politics, it’s not about facts, it’s about power.
I know, I know — you didn’t start a charter school or become a teacher so you could get involved in advocacy or politics, but I’m here to tell you — if you don’t start getting serious about getting into the game, you’re not going to have schools to run.
The national teachers’ unions have made you public enemy #1 and they won’t stop until you’re dead and gone. Period.
My state — Massachusetts — loves to brag about being number one in the nation for education — while being 47th in the nation in educating Latino children.
Then turns around and denies them a world-class education at the country’s best achievement gap killing charter schools.
All because of ridiculous political turf wars and lines drawn by special interest groups.
The same folks who have the audacity to talk about being the arbiters of “equity and justice” while pushing our children into the school to prison pipeline.
We need each other. You as leaders, educators, and elected officials — us as the most powerful, misunderstood and underutilized constituency in politics — parents and families.
We’re ready to get to work. That’s why we are building the National Parents Union — a movement of parents who are here for education justice.
For kids like my Matthew, Miles, and David.
On your seats, you’ll find cards to fill out and help us build this movement. DO IT.
Enlist in this fight — show your love and support — and help us make this happen. TODAY.
And tomorrow — we need your best work.
We need the outcomes your schools provide for our children.
We need your passion to make this happen.
The days have been tough. But we are tougher. And without you, many of our kids are destined for the school to prison pipeline and a life that leads to poverty, incarceration or even death.
So we need you to STAND UP. No whining. No crying. It’s time to start putting your dukes up and getting in this fight.
Now is not the time to cower in fear — now is the time to dig deep, work harder and build a movement that puts kids and giving them opportunity — back at the center of this work.
Our children need all of us — and our time is now.
Watch the entirety of the general session from day two at the National Charter Schools Conference below: