Parent & Family Engagement: Building Up Families and Community

Parent & Family Engagement: Building Up Families and Community

Parents in attendance listening to Rodney Brown’s presentation.

To have someone – a parent, a grandparent, an aunt, an uncle – show up to Teamwork Englewood for a Parent & Family Engagement workshop is an incredible gesture of faith. The program’s success is dependent on parents having faith in themselves as well as today’s hosting P&FE staff: Senior Family Engagement Specialist Della Ezell, Senior Family Engagement Coordinator Rodney Brown, and Family Engagement Specialist Alice Hill. All together, everyone’s involvement becomes a process of learning, healing, and a desire to know how to be the best parent they can be for their child.

The workshop’s  instructors are incredibly assuring. Instead of policing, or chastising, or condemning, they are open. They radiate warmth, kindness, and understanding, in an environment where parenting, particularly parenting in the African-American community, has its own specific, unique set of challenges that necessitated a new evidence-based model: B-PROUD. B-PROUD (Black Parenting with Respect, Order, and Discipline) is a curriculum developed by Northwestern University professor Dr. Jelani Mandara, and is tailored to the cultural hurdles of racial socialization, adolescent development, and discipline styles. Rodney Brown poses the question to the audience: “What does it mean to be an African-American person growing up in this country? How do we navigate it in such a way so that you can carry yourself well?”

Frequently, the workshop turns from pedagogic to Socratic. Della and Rodney depend on asking questions and opening the floor to their parents’ experiences, making them confront their own biases, fears, and hopes for their children. They never turn the question into provoking a defensive response, but instead gently rephrase and return to PowerPoint slides as a means of inspiring new perspectives. Sometimes, all it takes is a label to introduce a new profundity: one of today’s words, “authoritarian,” was used to describe the parenting style that is over-demanding, under-empathetic, and often coupled with harsh disciplining. It turned out that many of the parents in the audience were raised that way, even Rodney himself.

The parental style graph – “uninvolved” is also known as “neglectful.”

“This is not what we want to aim for,” pointing to a parenting styles graph. “Here is a good balance between being high in responsiveness – a parent with an authoritative style has their children know that they are loved. The children know they can’t get away with everything!” He has them repeat another new word together: “Authoritative.”

He points again. “That’s what we want to be.”

Della walks the room, projecting her voice to involve her parents with call-and-response, invoking cheers from the crowd. She proclaims these chants into something self-affirming, uplifting. “Repeat after me: Parents!” Parents!  “Make a difference!” Make a difference.

“I’m so ready!” I’m so ready. “To continue!” To continue. “To learn,” To learn. “To grow,” To grow. “And develop.” And develop. “To make a difference.” For the parents who are handling one child, five, or even taking in kids from their neighborhood church (as one parent revealed), to declare it with conviction, in unison, is a surprisingly simple and small gesture to self-empowerment.

A parent in attendance takes studious notes; another parent listens attentively.

Alice Hill, meanwhile, sits with the parents and supports Della and Rodney in their presentation. A soft-voiced presence, Alice was able to present another perspective for parents who might be quick to assume. The topic of housing projects and the displacement of low-income families, had some parents in support of public housing demolishment, though also admitting their fears of the mentally ill and potentially criminal coming into their community. Englewood has the third-highest rate of foreclosed properties among Chicago’s neighborhoods, making their fears palpable. However, the P&FE team is quick to confront the stigma that arises from the intersecting complexities of a socioeconomically-depressed neighborhood: untreated mental illness, high crime, joblessness, low resources.  

Patiently, they discuss these issues without ever making their parents feel uninformed.

“The projects, initially, were fair and affordable. Sometimes, we as adults can make things bad for our community…they were built too quickly, and no one was there for upkeep or care. You then had people and children – who can be cruel, just like adults – frown upon you for living there. Now their self-esteem is torn down. Now they’re looked at in a different sight as opposed to being looked at as a human being.  We have to encourage and teach compassionately,” Alice said.  

The parents, reflective and quiet, eventually nodded in agreement.

Della turned the conversation back to semi-Socratic, expressing sympathy to the displaced: “What ever happened to giving them some resources, mental, job offers, resources? They needed that. They needed counseling! We didn’t even offer that for many of them. I remember working over there and many said, “they didn’t even try to help me.” Nobody dealt with the soul, the mind. The worst thing you could lose is your mind. The mind is a terrible thing to waste. Nobody give them adequate resources for housing, no jobs, no nothing! That’s just Ms. Ezell’s opinion…”

The parents agreed, murmuring to each other.

To finish the trifecta, Rodney added: “We want to talk about how these situations starts children off on the wrong foot before they even get started. We’re trying to talk about, ‘How do we get them started on the right foot? On the right foundation?’”

After having every participant in the room – instructor, parent, GetIN Chicago guests, the MarComm associate – Round Robin a list of simple, yet effective ways to promote warmth, bonding, and care between parent and child, the group came together in a circle.

“We are a unity circle. We are a sense of family.”

To close today’s workshop would only be appropriate with Della’s call-and-response.

“It takes a village!” It takes a village. “To raise a child!” To raise a child. “I’m so glad!” I’m so glad. “To be a part!” To be a part. “Of this healthy village!” Of this healthy village.

Alice Hill grasps the hand of a fellow parent in attendance during the workshop's closing unity circle.

See more photos from the workshop.

Read more about our Parent & Family Engagement program.

Contact the team for more information on future workshops and the next Parent Leadership Conference:

Della Ezell

dezell@youth-guidance.org

(312) 404-3202

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