Parent Advocate Virginia Walden Ford on Civil Rights, School Choice, & the D.C. Voucher Program

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This week on “The Learning Curve,” co-host Gerard Robinson and guest co-host Derrell Bradford talk with Virginia Walden Ford, education advocate and author of Voices, Choices, and Second Chances, and School Choice: A Legacy to Keep. She shares her experiences growing up and desegregating high schools in Little Rock, Arkansas in the mid-1960s, and the lessons she carried forward in her school choice advocacy in Washington, D.C. She describes how her role as a student, mother, and grandmother informed her leadership in the nation’s capital, and the steps it took to mobilize parents, work with politicians and policymakers, and successfully launch the city’s school voucher program. She offers insights on what school choice advocates need to do today to expand educational opportunity at a time of heightened partisanship. They also discuss what it was like working on her two books and 2019 film, Miss Virginia, based on her involvement with the civil rights movement and the fight for educational equality. Ms. Walden Ford concludes the interview with a reading from one of her books.

Stories of the Week: In New Jersey, school districts will no longer require mask wearing for the first time since the pandemic began – leaving the decision up to hundreds of local school leaders. In Boston, school superintendent Brenda Cassellius has announced plans to step down at the end of the school year, amid growing calls for state receivership.

Guest:

Virginia Walden Ford is one of America’s leading advocates for parent empowerment. As a student, a mother, an advocate, and a grandmother, she has spent her lifetime fighting to create new educational opportunities for children and families. A native of Little Rock, Arkansas, and the daughter of two public school educators, Virginia and her twin sister, Harrietta, were among the first 130 students chosen to desegregate Little Rock’s high schools in the mid-1960s. As a single mother, Ford helped mobilize thousands of parents in support of school choice, which culminated in Congressional passage of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program in 2004 and its reauthorization in 2009. In 2008, the Alliance for School Choice honored her with the John T. Walton Champions for School Choice Award in recognition of her achievements. She is the author of the books, Voices, Choices, and Second Chances and School Choice: A Legacy to Keep. Virginia’s work inspired the 2019 film Miss Virginia, which is now available to view on over 1,000 platforms, including Apple TV, Amazon Prime Video, and Netflix.

The next episode will air on Weds., February 16th, with Dr. Mark Bauerlein, Senior Editor at First Things, Professor of English Emeritus at Emory University, and the author of The Dumbest Generation Grows Up.

Tweet of the Week:

News Links:

N.J. Governor to End School Mask Mandate in Move to ‘Normalcy’

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/07/nyregion/nj-school-mask-mandate-murphy.html?searchResultPosition=1

Boston Public Schools Superintendent Brenda Cassellius announces resignation

https://www.bostonglobe.com/2022/02/07/metro/boston-superintendent-brenda-cassellius-announces-resignation/

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[00:00:00] Gerard Robinson [GR]: Hello listeners. Welcome back to another wonderful week of The Learning Curve. As you know, we bring on wonderful guests every week to have conversations about education K-12 and higher ed, as well as conversations about literature, philosophy, the classics, politics, and other good subjects. You’re going to be joyous this week.

[00:00:59] [00:01:00] Why? Because Cara’s gone and who do we refer to? The real Derrell Bradford.

[00:01:09] GR: We want her to hear this because when I’m often replaced in the show, Derrell will come in and do a better job than I can, and they’ll bust on me. So this gives me opportunity to get back at Cara. But the Can Man! Good to have you.

[00:01:21] Derrell: Yeah, that was classic. It is delightful to be here. How are you doing?

[00:01:26] GR: well, man, now the weather’s better today in Charlottesville than it was for the past couple of weeks. So what is it like in your part of the woods?

[00:01:34] Derrell: I mean, it was. frosty up here to, to save, to say the least, but we got to we’re cresting a little bit.

[00:01:39] So some of the trees that feel as schizophrenia, we’ll see how it plays itself up.

[00:01:45] GR: Well, someone like you who’s grown up in the Northeast say is frosty though. That means something I still, although I’ve lived on the east coast and particularly in the south for the last couple of decades, I’m still a California boy at heart.

[00:01:57] And so when I see, automatically think that it’s [00:02:00] warm. I walk outside and the Hawk welcomes me and says, no, it is cold. Can you

[00:02:05] Derrell: believe you went with the throwback? I haven’t heard the cold called the Hawk in like a minute.

[00:02:10] GR: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. Oh yeah. You know, this is also black history month. And so the ability to be able to bring back things to space and time is what we often do.

[00:02:23] We’ll look, man. So glad to have you join me today to cohost. What’s your story?

[00:02:28] Derrell: mine was in the New York times. cause, uh, you know, I pay my taxes in New Jersey. Somebody pick on the region, titled New Jersey governor to end at school, a mask mandate and move to air quotes, normalcy. and, it’s about, the state’s governor, Phil Murphy, setting a timetable, ostensibly to lift his mass mandate, first week in March.

[00:02:51] So almost two years after. The pandemic started and just like, a couple of things, like one has been really [00:03:00] frustrating to me. It seems like New Jersey is a local control state with almost 600 school districts. So for the governor to lift his mask, man, Actually means it’s meaningless. It just means now there are 600 mandates, right.

[00:03:16] Of varying varieties that change based on what school district you’re in. I’m not taking a side, like for, or against a mandate. I’m taking a side for clarity and not acting like you’re doing something that would be a significant change. to K-12 education and the state given, you know, the last two years when what you’re really doing is punting it to the locals and letting them sort of fold under the weight of it.

[00:03:41] so that’s the first thing, the second thing, which is maybe hardening is, I think the last time, we talked Gerard, you know, it was right after the gubernatorial races in, , New Jersey and in Virginia. And there were lots of theories about, why. you had your outcome down there [00:04:00] and Y Murphy almost lost to a Republican challenger here in a state with a million more Democrats and Republicans, and that Bybee took with 60% of the vote and what Virginia and New Jersey have in common is that they are in the top 10, basically for having the schools closed the longest, , during the pandemic.

[00:04:19] And so maybe. Democrats has started to get the message on this. Like maybe they’re like, yeah, we, can’t keep overriding our authority and making normalcy something that we experienced, but it’s like significantly difficult for regular folks to get on board with. and if we keep doing that, there might be an electoral price, don’t know.

[00:04:39] hope that might be part of what the thinking.

[00:04:42] GR: New Jersey is a really fascinating state because most people. Aren’t aware of how many school systems you actually have. I mean, it’s a lot and it’s a heavy look control, state St here in Virginia, I used to, live in Jersey city and for a couple of years, I work with students in a [00:05:00] weekend program for students at high schools in Newark and Jersey city.

[00:05:04] And when I think about the politics that people often look through, women to try to figure out what to do, I think you’re right. This could be Look at, well, maybe we should think about it. one thing that comes to me, when any governor makes a decision like this, a have you had a conversation or your team with, the local health department experts?

[00:05:24] And the reason I say that is because prior to pandemic, COVID-19 a schools closing. Most people could probably name. His or her superintendent. He has a, her school board member. If you said who’s the health director or commissioner for your city county or township, most people would have no idea. Well, if you were to ask that question today, more people could answer that question now than they could even two years ago, because healthcare commissioners and experts in their teams, really have.

[00:05:56] On the ground work. We see that personally, here in Charlottesville, [00:06:00] lower Morrow county with our people. So that’s number one, number two, even if you’re looking at this through the lens of electoral politics, what does this say about the teachers and about the principals and the superintendents where they consult it, they may be mixed pro or con you know, we’ll figure that out over time, but you’ve got to make sure the frontline people who are delivering education to our students, I’ve got a voice in this and then third.

[00:06:23] What a families have to think. So I’m going to follow this , with much interest in, for those of you who did not read derails article after the election. Now you can tell you the publication, definitely one of the top 10 articles that I read about a post election analysis and what role the pandemic, but also what role families and politics, race played in it.

[00:06:44] So thank you so much for sharing the story and also thank you for your good work. So my story is a little further north than you. It’s about a Boston, and we know that the pioneer Institute, is, , the host for our show. The Boston superintendent, Brenda [00:07:00] Cassellius, has actually announced that she’s going to step down at the end of the academic year from being the superintendent of the school system.

[00:07:08] She joined in 2019 previous life. She was commissioner in Minnesota, doing her tenure there. She had a lot on her plate. COVID-19 is one thing. Number two was trying to close the achievement gap in the city. And then the third was the big push dealing with funding and making sure schools have what they need.

[00:07:27] Naturally. When you hear that a superintendent in Boston, is leading. Everyone’s going to ask why? Well, one of the things that she said upfront when she was, surrounded, , or accompanied with the Boston mayor, Bayer, Wu, and the Boston school committee chair, Jerry Robinson, she said, quote, nothing is pushing me out of the door.

[00:07:46] I’m still here for five months. I’ll still be here for five months and rolling up my sleeves. Getting this work done each and every day. So I’ve always said that one of the toughest jobs in education is being a superintendent [00:08:00] because you catch all the arrows and all the darts, but yet when praise is needed to go around equitably, uh, superintendents often don’t get it.

[00:08:09] I had a chance to work for Arlene Ackerman when she was superintendent of schools in DC and had a chance to see some of that firsthand. With superintendents I’ve worked with in a couple of states. So first and foremost, let me just say thank you for your commitment to the work as a superintendent, but there are some underlying questions that the article didn’t go into and maybe could, we know for a fact that there’s a conversation right now, taking place at the state level over whether or not Boston should go into.

[00:08:38] And as we know that Boston going back to the night early 1990s was one of the early school systems to be a part of the mayor or takeover model. the mayor decided through legislation, , had the opportunity to appoint members to the school board while it was so significant to a place like Boston is that Boston actually had elected school board members going back to [00:09:00] 1822.

[00:09:00] And so to make that shift was very , monumental. But Boston was a part of the conversation in New York city, where they had a marrow takeover. You also had Detroit and other cities. So is the receivership a hint that if we take it over, we’re likely going to appoint a new trustee Harbor master commissioner.

[00:09:20] They’ll come up with the appropriate term. So that could be one factor. Number two, Boston voters have decided to return. The city back to a locally elected a school board system. That could be a factor as well. When you’re an appointed, , city, superintendent, and you report directly to one person like the mayor, there’s a mayor and the school committee.

[00:09:43] There’s a lot of cache that comes along with an appointment process. When it reverts back to electoral politics, you have board members either elected by ward or elected at large or combination. It changes dynamic of accountability. Third, when you [00:10:00] have the possibility of a receivership, it also raises the question of, or what does that mean for accountability?

[00:10:05] What will it mean for funding? Will it mean now that I have, , a school board? Yes. Possibly still a mayor. Yes. But now I have a third rail and that’s the state. And there are a number of dynamics that go along with. local relations, you know, derail you’re in New Jersey, New Jersey was one of the early leaders and school takeovers going back to Jersey city in 1989.

[00:10:26] Then you had Newark even before then. you had, challenges and Trenton. So, , this is going to be both a challenge for Boston, because you now have to. And we basically have to find a new superintendent. I think the Boston superintendency is one of the most coveted positions in the country. it’s a school system in a city and in a state that’s considered one of the smartest in the country based upon the number of people, 25 and older who have a bachelor’s degree.

[00:10:52] And yet you have. Untold gaps by class by race, zip code. So for someone who’s a [00:11:00] reformer, this is an opportunity given the fact that they hire someone who was a former state chief, here’s an opportunity either for a sitting state chief or a former state chief to take her or his name. About state to local government and bring it to Massachusetts, including people who are already in the state who were former state chiefs of secretaries.

[00:11:20] But third, this is also an opportunity for all parties, local state, and the philanthropic community. To say that if we want to reimagine what Boston public schools can look like post pandemic with a whole lot of money from cares, what could we do? So I want to wish her. but also one to watch this with great interest in.

[00:11:41] can I

[00:11:41] Derrell: jump on that real quick? Absolutely. So a couple quick things, I absolutely agree with 0.3, that this is, that. I just reject the entire discussion about return to normalcy, especially in any quasi large or very large urban school district, given the amount of money that is in play from [00:12:00] cares other COVID release packages.

[00:12:02] and knowing that without a pandemic. In this nation, only 20% of black fourth graders are reading at or above proficient on the Nate. Right. So absolutely think this is the moment to, fledge the school system of the future. And I hope whoever the next person is there. thinks that too, just one other it’s one and a half interesting things up.

[00:12:23] So like you said, you get a Jersey city Patterson Camden at one point. new work obviously. And, we’re all, you know, all places would stay takeover. but to varying degrees of, efficacy, but really like I can remember when bill de Blasio took over in New York after what many would.

[00:12:40] describe as a stellar tenure and partnership, , between Joel Klein and Mike Bloomberg. And I went up , , to Albany and some state Senator who I could tell disliked everything about me, wanted to know why I was there because everybody knew that the mayor, bill de Blasio was not a friend charters or anything [00:13:00] worthwhile.

[00:13:01] and I had to paraphrase Winston Churchill. I was like, you know, mayor all control is the worst form of governance, except for all the other ones. I do think that one of the things that people need to continue to, analyze is that like, mayoral control is as good or as bad as the mayor.

[00:13:20] Right. so that sort of like an M and a and important thing, but regardless of who’s in control, Families need leverage. I think even in charter world, you’re seeing sort of like some people that are luminaries of the past two decades go on and do other things. Right. And they leave huge vacuums in institutions that we knew and understood, and that families felt pretty familiar with.

[00:13:44] And now they don’t know. And so it’s like, what optionality Do we give them if there’s a smooth transition in Boston, like more. if it turns into a political feeding Fest, which suppose is also possible, I hope there’s some options on the table for families so they can do what’s right.[00:14:00]

[00:14:00] GR: And so glad to hear you talk about families because you and I have been involved in this work, you know, over two decades at different levels. And we really know that families really could care less about the political fighting. They could care less who’s on the right and the left, give their children opportunities to make decisions for themselves about what.

[00:14:21] Left right. And the middle and the pandemic expose what we’ve seen for years. Just not only issues of poverty, but true beliefs in some adopts worldview that these kids just can’t. And so this is really the opportunity for Boston and really be light on the shining hill. And since you mentioned, Churchill are mentioned another philosopher.

[00:14:45] Mike Tyson once says everyone has a plan until you get hit in the mouth and COVID hit all of us in the mouth. And we thought we had a plan. Well, for the first time in decades, Won’t be the reason we can’t move with some very [00:15:00] interesting ideas. It’s really going to be political will imagination and the ability to have the courage, to think unconventionally, hopefully close to that in Boston and to REL next, we’re going to have an opportunity to speak to our guests of the week, Virginia Walden Ford.

[00:15:18] the one who we learn more about, in a movie. Miss Virginia. We know her well, but I look forward to the rest of our listeners. Get to know her even better. We’ll be back.[00:16:00]

[00:16:43] .

[00:16:43]

[00:16:43] Derrell: , So I’m delighted , to introduce Virginia Walden Ford. I’m going to read her bio, but I should probably just call her, like mother of modern school choice advocacy, because I know that she’s been like a mom to me and I consider.

[00:16:59] her one of the people I’ve always looked up to and learned from. So it’s a personal and professional privilege to have you on today, Virginia, it’s all true. So, Virginia is one of America’s leading advocates for parent empowerment.

[00:17:18] She’s a student, a mother and advocate, and a grandmother. She spent her lifetime fighting to create new educational opportunities for children and families. I native of Little Rock, Arkansas and the daughter of two public school educators, Virginia, and her twin , sister Harrietta were among the first 130 students to de-segregate Little Rock’s high school in the mid 1960s. Then as a single mother, Virginia helped mobilize thousands of parents and supported school choice, which culminated in congressional passage of the DC opportunity scholarship program in 2004 and its reauthorization in 2009 in 2008, the Alliance for School Choice honored her with the John [00:18:00] T.

[00:18:00] Walton champions for choice, award, and recognition of her achievements. She is the author of the books, voices choices, and second chances. And school choice, a legacy to keep, Virginia’s work inspired. The 2019, it pops up this film, miss Virginia, which is now available to view on over 1000 platforms, including apple TV, Amazon prime, video, and Netflix.

[00:18:26] And it is a very good movie. again, Virginia, I am delighted to have a chance

[00:18:31] GR: to talk

[00:18:31] Virginia: to you today. Thank you, Derrell. I am delighted to be here. You and Gerard of course are two of my favorite people in the world. So this was easy,

[00:18:41] Derrell: yeah. And that was like, don’t let that get out. So you’ve lived, I mean, uh, I’m understating it, you’ve lived a remarkable and heroic life. but , advocates, families, politicians, whatever, all, agree on this. from growing up in little rock Arkansas and desegregating the high schools there [00:19:00] deleting school choice efforts in Washington, DC and inspiring people across the country.

[00:19:04] would you share with our listeners what it was like to be in little rock in the mid 1960s? And the last one she carried for with you and your school choice advocates.

[00:19:14] Virginia: I had, the Little Rock Nine desegregated central in 1957, but between that time and when I went in the school, black kids went back to black schools and the schools did not continue a strong desegregation process.

[00:19:30] So in, when I got ready to go in high school in the sixties, we were told that we were going to be the group. We were going to take the big group of kids. And I didn’t want to go. I know I don’t want to go. I want to go to the blouse black high school follow my oldest sister, but my dad said to me, I was 14, you said you have a responsibility to go to central, to do well, to take [00:20:00] advantage of everything that school has to offer you.

[00:20:03] And you know why little girl he said, because you have two younger siblings and how are they going to look at you? If you don’t have the courage to do this. And even at 14, that just stayed with me. It stays with me today. And, even though it was tough and, , there were only about 300 black kids at a school that had over 2000 students and sometime we went visible and sometimes we had to really struggle to get our voices heard.

[00:20:36] I’d always remember. I had two little sisters at home and, I had to do well. So, , it’s that the tone, if you will, of my entire life, my parents were teachers. My father was the first black sister superintendent, a little rock school district for personnel. My mother was one of four teachers that integrated white schools here in little rock.

[00:20:59] [00:21:00] So I had these wonderful role models. I’ve just looked up to and it made us strong. They always told us that I laughed should be one of service that no matter what we do in our lives always serve your community. And that’s what we did, but it was rough. I mean, we’d go to school. It was clear. People didn’t want us there.

[00:21:21] Sometimes teachers wouldn’t call on us. , the black students would meet at the end of the day to walk home together. So we wouldn’t get booked. it was hard. It was hard. But when we graduated from central, we graduated with such incredible pride. we got through it, we did it, and it really helped us in our choices to go to college.

[00:21:46] And, this group went to college and many of us, I wasn’t first celebration, but many of my classmates were first generation college bound So it was, tough, but [00:22:00]

[00:22:01] Derrell: obviously as a student, like you just talked about, a mom, a grandmother, you have been a champion for greater educational opportunity.

[00:22:09] Can you talk specifically about being a mother and advocating for your own children in DC and the barriers she faced there as you were trying to lead and sort of like organize parents in favor of school choice in the

[00:22:23] Virginia: district, I can’t, I have three children Michael Myesha, William.

[00:22:29] My two older kids were really academically, well, every parent says this, but academically gifted and they were easy as long as I was, they knew I was by their side. Then they did their homework and they worked hard as they, made their way, they found role models. They found, we found programs that would benefit them, but it was still hard, but it was, it could be done, by the time my youngest child, women to middle [00:23:00] school, I started seeing changes in the traditional public school system and how they were receiving kids and how kids were doing.

[00:23:08] I lived in a community that was tough. It was pretty tough. a lot of drug problems, a lot of crime, you know, and additionally, there were just numbers and numbers of single mothers that were trying to make it. And even though we try to help each other, it was hard. but I knew as I watched my youngest child hit the streets and I watched the drug dealers.

[00:23:33] For him and buy him things. I knew that something needed to be done. Didn’t know what to do, didn’t know how to do it, but I did know that I wasn’t going to allow my 13, 14 year old child to be pulled into the streets that the district and become just another. Oh, boy, that was a statistic he’s in jail, dead or string out or whatever.

[00:23:59] [00:24:00] And, it’s really interesting because I was the behind the scenes mother drought, and I know people obviously they’re right, but I was, was not a speaker. I was not that person. That was the president of the, anything. I would take the cupcakes up there out. Have little parties for the kids, but I wasn’t, aggressive.

[00:24:22] I was a bit of an introvert, but all that said, when I looked at my youngest child and I saw him not able to survive in what the society was, offering him at the time. I had to learn how to use my voice. It was terrifying for me to stand in front of people. at that point we started going to PTA means education, any kind of education meeting.

[00:24:49] We started the Tinder and I had to say something because we were all sitting there watching our two. And that’s kind of how I got into it, talking to [00:25:00] other parents in the neighborhood. We leave that we had to fight for our kids. And don’t know, somehow I got elected leader. I figured that when I, yeah, but, you speak on our behalf and, we’ll be there with you.

[00:25:13] We’ll stay as shoulder to shoulder with you, Virginia, but we need you to be the person it speaks. I had to learn how to do it. I had to learn how to open my mouth and tell people how I felt. And then as we began to talk to people and talk to local elected officials, most of the time, just us or we talk to educators.

[00:25:36] didn’t want to deal with us. So we talked to talk to people in the community and said, oh, y’all do this for a while. And then you’ll back off. Who cares? What happened to these kids? after we stopped that happened, it became clear that we had. And, uh, we had soldiers, and I used to tell the parents all the time, don’t get confused.

[00:25:57] We are soldiers and the more [00:26:00] we talked and the more we visited with people, and the more often that people dismissed them, the stronger we got the tougher. And by the time I started talking to members of Congress, we would talk, we thought we knew something and we would add to it. we knew a little bit and we keep adding people to it.

[00:26:21] And at one point we were out in the community and parents, primarily low income black and Hispanic parents would say, here comes the educational.

[00:26:36] I thought that’s great because their recognizing me as somebody that they could work with. You know, I mean, too many people go into poor communities are safe. We want to help them. And then they never come back or they want too much from them. I just wanted to stand shoulder to shoulder with them and help their children.

[00:26:56] And so we built army. We did it. [00:27:00] DOR how’s that house barbershop, that barbershop, that community center back community solar, we built an army. So

[00:27:09] Derrell: you have one more for me, and then I’m going to let Gerard chime in. And I know he’s going to say he likes you as much as I do, but he’ll be lying. Cause he can’t.

[00:27:23] you’ve received national attention for being among the prime movers with the DC voucher program. Would you discuss the steps that took to mobilize DC parents working with policy makers, politicians that successfully getting congressional support? I know it’s a little bit of what you just talked about, but can you like dig in a tiny bit more for the

[00:27:43] Virginia: list?

[00:27:44] I will draw, one of the things about it is once we have started, and once we built this group of people, we didn’t know where to go with us. And so at that point we found out that there were national groups, they assi, it towards Freeman foundation or [00:28:00] others who were looking for parents, they could stay in.

[00:28:06] They had wonderful ideas and wonderful hopes and dreams. They were, , talking about policy and all this stuff, but what they didn’t have was the pair people that will be in the beneficiaries of anything they were trying to, that would be the beneficiaries. And so I believe in coalitions, I really do don’t know where it came from, but I do, I believe that you got to align yourself with people that believe as you.

[00:28:32] And so we did, we talked to, supporters all over the country, actually, DC is the fishbowl. So once a group of parents were engaged and involved in getting the word out that this was something they wanted, it was not difficult to , talk to people. so we talked to all of those groups and then.

[00:28:55] Uh, member the card was, which is kind of a funny story. I have, we’ve got decided with [00:29:00] members of Congress. We got a call from a member of Congress. Jeff, like actually, and he called and said, I’m thinking about poses scholarship program for DC. And I said, okay. And he said, I heard that you have a group of parents that understand what this is all about now.

[00:29:19] And yeah, he said, you think you can breathe five or six? Our teen parents to stand behind me while I made this announcement about this program. And I said, absolutely hung the phone up and was not sure how we were going to do this. getting people up on Capitol hill. Most of them that never been there before at nine o’clock in the morning, but we put a call out to the parents.

[00:29:43] We had been working on. and then prayed. And in that morning, the next morning at nine o’clock, there were a hundred parents there and I think it was right at that moment that members of Congress who had some interest in providing a [00:30:00] scholarship program or a voucher program for DC took a seriously, you know, when a hundred parents.

[00:30:07] So. And nine o’clock in the morning to say we want something different for our children. We want something better for our children and this man. Who we didn’t know, said that he could do this. And at that point, other members of Congress contacted us, but we provided the hill. we put on our little DC parents for school choice t-shirts and we went to them.

[00:30:30] It wasn’t a house, we made ourselves clean but I think it was such a collaborative effort. and that made a big difference for us when you are trying to make a difference in the world to change something or you’re on a quest or whatever. When you notice that there are people that believe in you, that support you, really helps move it along.

[00:30:53] Hey,

[00:30:54] GR: Virginia. Good to hear your voice.

[00:30:55] Virginia: I heard you

[00:30:58] GR: doing well happy new year, [00:31:00]

[00:31:00] Virginia: happy new year today. So Virginia,

[00:31:03] GR: let’s talk about the days you just mentioned these days. There’s a lack of bipartisan consensus on K-12 education policy while DC seems as divided ever. Could you talk about your experience with DC politicians and what school choice advocates need to do today to build on the work?

[00:31:25] Virginia: we’ve known each other a lot of time, but been through a lot together. And I know we’re talking about, one of the first years that we were really fighting hard and really, really involved. I had the opportunity to put together a dinner with support from wonderful people and members of Congress, to bring it was 500 parents to a historically black church in DC.

[00:31:49] to talk about school choice, to talk about, what they needed, what they wanted. And I think that was one of the biggest starts to get in peoples to [00:32:00] begin to believe in us. And, there was several members of Congress, this boat, there was several heads of school choice organizations.

[00:32:07] There were lots of supporters, but the beauty, there was 500 parents and kids. and it was amazing. And so I think those kind of things, when people begin to think, you care about them enough to bring them together and to talk to them, with respect and to hear what they have to say, you can build mountains.

[00:32:31] GR: Absolutely. You can deal with mountains. Here’s a up question. You’ve written two books. Talk to us about the process and why you decided.

[00:32:39] Virginia: first book, voices choices, the second chances. I wrote, because I wanted to leave the information for other parents on how we did it. I mean, the fact of the matter is we built an army and we’re going, but we had to sit down and think about how did we get.

[00:32:57] Yeah, we had a lot of wonderful people [00:33:00] supporting us, but we realized at that time there were lots and lots of parents around the countries that this seemed to be, it seemed too much. and so they, weren’t going to be willing to step out there and do that. So I wrote the first book, which I love and, it’s kind of a, step-by-step how you get.

[00:33:23] And it’s got antidote on things that we did parents around the country had told me they have so much fun reading that as they’re building their earnings. so that was really a great book, but I wanted the world to know how strong the parents were and how hard they fought. And in that was a way , of getting that out, because I think it’s important for parents to be encouraged, but they also need to know how to do this. with. Just came out in 2019 actually [00:34:00] after the movie came out, I wrote as a. pardon to the movie, you know, movies are beautiful and I love this. I’m very proud of this Virginia.

[00:34:10] And so are the parents that I’ve worked with through the years, it tells a great story of a parent activist and, being courageous, all parents and which I love. but every time I went out with the movie to speak, somebody would say, tell us more of what happened.

[00:34:30] You know, tell us a little bit more. Can you name names? And of course I would say no, but we decided in the process of making a movie. Yeah. Then we should , write a book about it. And, another question that people always ask me is how did you get into this? And, and what gives you your inspiration?

[00:34:50] And, my family gives me my inspiration. My great grandfather was. Who bought his family out of slavery into freedom and, , [00:35:00] oh one first bakery owned by a black man in little rock, Arkansas. Hi. You know, I started with this incredible family As many of us have, and we’ve been lucky enough to be able to trace our ancestry, so I wanted to write something and I knew I was getting older and I didn’t know how much longer I was going to be out there fighting for anything.

[00:35:24] And I wanted to leave something to parents and kids and Mackie. And my nieces and nephews, that told not only a history of family whose whole purpose in life was to serve communities. My great-grandfather started church in little rock, the still exist to this day. I wanted to write that part, which is the legacy part.

[00:35:52] but I also wanted to tell a little bit more about the fight, and even though accident name everybody’s that supported us, I [00:36:00] was able to name a few people that supported us And this is a great picture of us. Gerard went to the department of education in the book. I wanted people to see that, I mean, we were soldiers, where are we not?

[00:36:16] And, you and me and Howard and Kevin, I was the only girl. And, , it’s been an amazing journey. So I wrote the second book to, recognize. And to thank all of those people who have been by my side for 20 years. And you’re

[00:36:33] GR: telling them this story during black history month and talked about your grandfather being the slave African school has been so important to us, from the beginning.

[00:36:45] So thank you for telling that here’s the last question. There is a Virginia and a Virgil in Charlottesville, Virginia and lake Charles, Louisiana, and Los Angeles in Minneapolis. Every community has a Virginia and a [00:37:00] Virgil. What do you say to them as they think about taking on this challenge for their children, knowing what you know today,

[00:37:08] Virginia: I’m so glad you said that.

[00:37:09] Cause I say it all the time. I was not. The only one doing this. So he asked me during that time, there were thousands that were around the country that were doing it, that were leading efforts to get people to speak up on behalf of their children and the fight for the children. And as similarly, nowadays, when I’m out and about, and I’m talking to parents and you know, it’s been amazing because during the pandemic people have called me and written me and found me on Facebook or somehow contacted.

[00:37:40] And what I say to them is be strong, stand strong, use your voice to stand up for your children. And I have been so delighted to see so many of them that are doing it virtually, and now many getting out. And so I say all tolerate parents, believe that you can do this [00:38:00] believe, then stand strong, use your voice to speak up.

[00:38:03] You have every week. To speak out on behalf of your children and the men and women that are out there doing that. Parents, aunts, uncles, grandmas, supporters, those are the people that I say, you know, believe my motto has always been hope, love, and dignity. Always. I always said that. And that’s what I say to people.

[00:38:24] Now, hold your head up. Don’t let anybody turn you around. That’s key. And just to say, Don’t let anybody turn you around. I learned that I couldn’t do what I set my heart to do, and nobody could have told me 20 years ago that we would even be having this conversation. And there’s so many incredible things that , happened on my life journey.

[00:38:49] I would say on you. And I’ll probably be raising my three kids with DC and they’d be okay. They’d be grown now. I was privileged to fight onset all the soldiers that have, fought for children [00:39:00] over the years and continue to fight. That’s what I tell them. You know, it’s funny because I never thought of myself this way, but I become that all grandma or auntie, you know, people call and say, can you give me some advice?

[00:39:16] Can you, , , Uplift our group. Can you say something that sparks some energy and I relished that role. I love it. I mean, I, hope that I will continue for as long as I’m able to be that, to this, parents and kids, you know, because I will never stop as long as I’m able to. So like taking on the new role as somebody who.

[00:39:41] GR: We’ll share from your book, a passage to share with us the kind of wisdom you’re talking about before we

[00:39:47] Virginia: head out, I am okay. I had to reread the book and I cried all morning, but this is one thing I want to share. , this from school choice, a [00:40:00] legacy to tape format on chill. I would have done anything to give them opportunities in life, the same opportunities my parents and ancestors has struggled to give up family.

[00:40:16] When I saw invested, I fought against it just like momma and daddy had done decades before. When I saw doors closed to me or to others because of our race or income. I joined with other parents to open those doors and encouraged children to run through them and seize opportunity. And that is from school legacy.

[00:40:46] GR: Well, you’ve had a lot of moms and dads crying at night for excitement, because what you’ve done is to help open up the doors of opportunity in so many cities, in addition to DC. but there are also people who are going to read your books and watch miss [00:41:00] Virginia, and also cry because they said, well, She showed us the way, if she can do it, then we can do it.

[00:41:06] So on behalf of everyone here at, the learning curve and all the people who’ve benefited from your wisdom and your sacrifices, and we have to admit the sacrifices because there’s things you sacrifice personally, professionally and financially that we’ll never know about to get us here. So we want to thank you for your work and know you always have friends here at the learning curve.

[00:41:27] Virginia: Oh, thank you all so much for having me. This has been a pleasure, again, to my favorite people on the planet and, call me anytime, but it has been my privilege to go on this journey.

[00:41:39] GR: Thanks. Take care.

[00:41:41] GR: [00:42:00] Well, we’re now going to go to our Tweet of the week and it looks like we’re staying on the east coast. So this is from Philadelphia schools of February six. It says that the ground. Who are in CTE and S career technical education. We are offering the opportunity for you to earn an industry [00:43:00] recognized certification that may not have been obtained due to COVID-19 closures, read more below.

[00:43:06] And of course, they go into the story for students in Philadelphia. We’ve talked about your system, a number of times on the show. Cara and I have identified some of the great things that Philadelphia was doing. Also some of the challenges they are giving you an opportunity to focus on CTE, again, career technical education for thousands of students.

[00:43:25] This can be an opportunity into middle-class opportunities, and it also will give you an opportunity to make money and to do some things right after high school. So glad to see Philadelphia doing that in a hope families in the city, join that. Next week’s guest is Mark Bauerlein, from Emory University.

[00:43:43] He has got a very interesting title, somewhat say provocative, the title, The Dumbest Generation. I’ll leave it at that. Well, Derrell as usual. It’s always good to, break bread with you, , in different ways. And so glad you’re involved with the work with 50 CAN. Let us know what we can do here on the learning curve to support you, support the organization and to support the families that you consider to be important.

[00:44:07] Derrell: Always, sir, as always thank you for having me.

[00:44:10] GR: All right. Take care.

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