Finding My Voice, My Power, and My Path
by Lety Gomez, Senior Education Organizer, Rocketship Texas
*This post originally appeared in CharterFolk
Growing up in East San Jose, low expectations were the norm for many of us. My freshman year in high school, I was struggling in science. One day, I learned about a Latino student group planning a field trip to a local college. I went to my teacher to get a permission slip signed, but when my white, male science teacher saw my permission slip, he didn’t sign it. He looked down at me and said, “why do you want to go on this field trip, it’s not like you are going to college?” I stood there blankly, without a voice. I didn’t share this with anyone. I felt ashamed.
In that moment, I didn’t realize the harm my teacher did to me. I didn’t realize that it was NOT okay for him to treat me the way he did. In my culture, we are taught to respect our elders and authority figures, but it wasn’t until I became an adult that I realized the power I have to create change. Little did this teacher know that one day, I would advocate to open a school so that students didn’t experience something like this and organize other parents to do the same. I would become part of a movement at Rocketship Public Schools and beyond that unleashes grassroots power from within communities to create enduring change.
I am a daughter of immigrants who trusted our public education system. My parents insisted that I learn English and made sure that I never (or at least, very rarely) missed a day of school. What my parents didn’t know is that the system was set up for us to fail. When my two oldest children started school, I knew that our zip code determined the schools they would attend, so I moved. I didn’t want my children to attend the same schools I had attended. I wanted them to have a better school experience. Unfortunately, I found out that even in our suburban neighborhood, in school districts that were ranked high, schools don’t provide all students with the respect and support they deserve. A school administrator talked down to my son during an IEP meeting, in front of me. In that moment, I flashed back to my science teacher during freshman year. All the feelings of shame and vulnerability began to overwhelm me once again. But I didn’t allow them to silence me, I spoke up and loudly, and made sure that they would never talk down to my son again!
So, when my youngest daughter started school, I advocated alongside other parents to bring Rocketship Fuerza Community Prep to East San Jose. I honestly felt like a millionaire when my daughter’s name was picked in the lottery for a seat at the school! But I remember that feeling turned to anxiety when I attended a community meeting on a cold chilly night in February 2014. That night, we found out that our charter was held up in litigation – likely delaying or even stopping our school from opening. But there was another option – we could start over and submit a new charter application to the local district. But it was going to take parent power. So, I raised my hand.
I had no idea how that moment, how that simple gesture of raising my hand, would transform my life and my journey
As a parent leader, I learned more about the education system. I learned where to go for data and how to understand that data. I researched the elected officials on my school board and learned about the importance of being civically engaged, of sharing my story, and using the power of my voice! I learned the tools to organize my community. I learned how to chair research meetings with elected officials, how to prepare a research meeting and how to share my story at board meetings. In advocating to open a new school in my community, I also developed relationships with other parents and our school leaders and teachers. We started to develop a school community before we even stepped foot into our school building.
We requested meetings with each of our local school board members, but not all of them responded to our requests. I quickly learned how much politics is involved in education. Our charter application was denied by our local school board, but we appealed to our county board of education, and we received unanimous approval! After our school was approved, we parents didn’t stop advocating and organizing our community. In October 2014, we held the first parent led mayoral candidates forum in San Jose, CA. I chaired the event, in front of over 1,200 people in attendance. I never imagined myself speaking in front of so many people, but my organizer provided me with the tools to be able to do it. That night, I realized the power we have when parents work together. Being a parent leader ignited a passion for organizing and social justice.
At our parent organizing committee meetings, I learned more about the achievement gap, the inequities in the system for Black and Brown students, low-income students, and students with learning disabilities. The more I learned, the more I reflected on my educational journey, and I realized that not just my science teacher failed me, but the education system failed me, my older children, and had been failing communities of color for generations! But now I was no longer the shy Latina freshman student that couldn’t speak up to advocate for myself. I was a parent leader advocating not only for my children, but for my community!
As a Rocketship parent leader, I learned to speak up, share my story publicly, and worked with parents on many issues to inform our community. The community organizing tools that I learned also helped me to advocate for other issues in our community and to mobilize families at the state capitol to fight against bills that were trying to take away our right to school choice. I also learned the importance of building relationships with not just our school leaders and teachers, but also with our local elected officials. I learned how to hold leaders accountable.
Rocketship Public Schools has parent organizers in every region whose roles are to work with parents to unleash their power to advocate for their kids and their community. This has allowed parents to feel supported by staff members in the organization and building a sense of a joint community movement for change. Parents are deeply involved across our school communities and network. Parents serve on our governing board of directors, they serve on school site councils and form our parent-led regional advisory board, and they create parent organizing committees at their school site.
And now, I am the Senior Education Organizer for Rocketship Texas. I work with parents to organize and raise their voices for educational equity in Fort Worth, Texas.
This is why I was excited for the opportunity to work with families to launch Rocketship Texas in Fort Worth and give parents the opportunity to unleash their potential, just like the Rocketship organizer did for me as a parent leader. Seeing the inequities in the community of Southeast Fort Worth reminds me of where I grew up. I quickly realized that the need for equity in education exists across our country, but I also know that parents have the power to bring prominent change to their communities. This is why my role and parent leadership work are so important in communities whose voices often go unheard. When communities learn to organize, they hold the power to create change.
Parents brought Rocketship to Fort Worth, and they are currently informing the community of the importance of voting and working on identifying their next campaign. They are on fire to bring important change to their communities. As one parent mentioned in our parent organizing committee, “once you unleash the power in the community, there is no stopping us!”
If you want to learn more about Rocketship harnesses parent power, hear from our parents in Texas, Milwaukee, East Bay California, South Bay California, Nashville and Washington D.C. You can also read Daiana Lambrecht’s CharterFolk Contributor Column – Rocketship’s Vision: Unleashing Parent Power Can Transform Communities.
Published on March 2, 2022