NEWARK, NJ - Local elected officials informed parent advocates how to take their advocacy to the next level by running for public office -- and winning.
Officials from Essex, Union, Passaic, and Camden counties spoke on a panel to a room of politically-curious parents at the fourth annual NJ Parent Summit.
Before being elected to the Newark Board of Education School Board, members Shayvonne Anderson and Asia Norton started as active and concerned parents.
“I was always very present,” Anderson said to the room of parents. When she learned that her son was labeled as emotionally disturbed in school, Anderson went above and beyond to make sure that her son was supported.
A mother of 10, newly elected board member Shayvonne Anderson ran for school board earlier this year because she wanted to advocate for the social-emotional needs of all Newark children as fiercely as she did her own.
“Teachers didn’t come looking for me, I went look looking for them,” she said. “That was the day I went from parent to parent-advocate.”
Anderson ran on a politically backed team endorsed by Mayor Ras Baraka and other elected officials. Though Moving Newark Schools Forward team won by a landslide, campaigning was not always a cakewalk.
She visited schools, spent evenings and mornings speaking with residents. Anderson expressed that she was committed to serving in the best interest of all children, but her advocacy record for the charter school movement earned her the label of “charter parent,” one that she could not shake.
No one said bad things once voters heard her story and realized how authentic she was, said Anderson.
“Sometimes it's not always about the vote, but the respect,” she said.
Boardmember Asia Norton, a parent to a six-year-old son and a third-generation Newark educator, ran with a similar purpose.
When Norton was in fifth grade and unable to read well, her mother was Norton’s biggest advocate.
“Because my mother was a teacher, she knew how to advocate for me,” said Norton, who eventually went on to college in Boston and earned a master's degree from Columbia University.
Though not every student was fortunate to have an advocate like her mother, does not mean that they do not deserve to have all they need to be academically successful, said Norton.
“It is their constitutional right,” she said.
Public officials advised parents to gather a great team. Many emphasized the importance of building new relationships and leveraging existing ones.
Norton encouraged parents interested in running for the school board to be more active in local parent-teacher associations and build out their support base from there.
Volunteering and attending community events should not be overlooked, she added.
Above all, panelists reminded parents to always remember their purpose.
“The way I advocated for my children...I made sure that I was their strongest advocate,” said Anderson. “So on the board, I said I am going to advocate for all the children of Newark, New Jersey.”