Message to Parents Introduction

Parents are the First Teachers and Home the First School

Above, Message to Parents Contributors (l-r): Atum Azzahir, James C. Burroughs II, Dr. Wendy Johnson, Gevonee Ford, Eric Mahmoud and Carolyn Smallwood
Above, Message to Parents Contributors (l-r): Atum Azzahir, James C. Burroughs II, Dr. Wendy Johnson, Gevonee Ford, Eric Mahmoud and Carolyn Smallwood

MSR aims to improve the educational success of our youth through their parents

Welcome, MSR readers, to our latest effort to keep the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder’s journalism focused on the most critical issues affecting our community. This new section, which will appear every other week, supplements the reporting we have done and will continue to do on the devastating educational achievement gap that is leaving so many of our youth ill-prepared for the challenges of the modern world.

Our reflections on what has been done and is being done by many individuals and organizations to address the achievement gap led us to conclude that our most helpful role in this effort would be to apply the mission that has carried the MSR through more than 80 years of community service — to listen, record and share what we learn with the community, specifically with the parents and other family members of our school-age youth.

As we have been reminded by our partners, parents are the first teachers and homes the first schools. With this focus in mind — the need for parents to have as much information and as many tools as possible to fulfill their roles as their children’s first teachers — we have assembled a group of partner-advisors with expertise and experience in just this kind of parental support. In the weeks ahead they will share what they have found most helpful to parents and other family members in ensuring our youths’ educational success.

One of our partner-advisors, Elder Atum Azzahir, is the founder and director of the Cultural Wellness Center. As such, she explains, “The expressions in our articles [to be written for this section] are from a repository of notes consciously written as well as spiritually absorbed over almost three decades. In my views and approaches, I am offering a look at the challenges we as a people face in attempting to commit to the education and development of African American children within the European-directed public school systems.

“These institutions have maintained, through perpetuation of popular ignorance, a lack of knowledge of African Americans having a human history, a mode of thought, a sacred beginning, and a language,” says Azzahir. “I am now able to catalogue and compile a set of concepts in these writings which speak to a set of fundamental studies for and from African scholars who have been invisible or made irrelevant in the dialogues on the African conception of education toward the development of human potential.”

Another of our partner-advisors, Carolyn Smallwood, is the executive director of Way to Grow. “Faith, hope, hard work, and education have always been the cornerstones of communities like ours,” says Smallwood of her participation in this effort. “As a young person growing up, I watched my mother work six days a week with my little brother, who was labeled as ‘special education,’ to ensure he succeeded in school. She was told it couldn’t be done.

“My hope is that we can inspire and encourage you with tools to help you move forward with preparing your children for the future, and that as a community we can make sure that every child has an equal opportunity to succeed in school and life. I assure you, it can be done.”

Another of our partner-advisors, Gevonee Ford, says, “As a representative of Network for the Development of Children of African Descent (NdCAD), I am honored to be part of MSR’s effort to lift up our community’s long-standing commitment to and value of education, with special attention given to the role that parents play in our children’s educational process.

“I am pleased to contribute some of what NdCAD has and continues to learn about the important issue of literacy development and how it affects not only our children’s schooling but also how literacy is connected to forming healthy cultural identity — in children, parents, and all members of our village.

“While it certainly takes a village to raise and educate our children, an important issue that drives our work is paying attention to how we heal, prepare and equip our community so that the village can raise our children. Forming healthy cultural identity and teaching truth about the history and heritage of our people is central to this community- and village-building work.

“Literacy is a critical key to this work,” says Ford. “As we share our contributions to this MSR education section, we will attempt to use a broad and comprehensive definition of literacy.

“We define literacy as consisting of seven individual skills that are interconnected and work together. These seven literacy skills are: Reading, Writing, Speaking, Listening, Viewing, Thinking and Applying.

“Our work has taught us that when we help our children make the connection between each of these literacy skills and the importance of gaining knowledge of self and community, they become self-motivated to learn and achieve in school, at home and in the community.

“Again, we look forward to sharing stories from our work and lessons we have learned about working with our children, parents and families in the pursuit of self-knowledge and educational success.”

Also partnering with us to get this “Message” out to parents is Dr. Wendy Johnson, who plans to contribute by “educating parents on what it takes to effectively communicate, interact with, and build relationships with the teachers and administrative staff” of our public schools.  “I have worked in education for years and have a nonprofit organization that works with students and parents. I understand the academic dynamic and what it takes for parents and staff to productively exist so that students can successfully matriculate through the academic process.”

We look forward to additional contributions from Shatona Groves of the Black Parents Group, Eric Mahmoud, President and CEO of Harvest Network of Schools, and James C. Burroughs II.

Sharing the wisdom of our partner-advisors as well as information provided by our own writers, the MSR dedicates our “Message to Parents” to the upcoming generations who will inherit the earth from us. We want all of you to become as literate and well-educated and fully prepared as possible to take up the life challenges ahead. To that end we are reaching out to your parents with the best information and advice we can find to support your first teachers as they help you discover and achieve your highest potential.


Questions or comments about Message to Parents may be directed to Jerry Freeman, MSR senior editor,, 612-827-4021.