Seeking to create greater opportunities for their children and families, many parents and caregivers join initiatives to expand their capacity to be community leaders, organizers, and advocates. Through leadership and organizing, parents fight for justice on key issues their families face—lack of access to quality early childhood education, substandard schools, toxic environments, poor health services, crowded and dilapidated housing, and limited opportunities for personal and economic development. A robust literature documents the many ways these groups make a difference. They bolster the confidence, mental health, civic engagement, and networks of parent leaders (and their families) and build sustainable power for much needed systemic change.
Yet, there is limited knowledge about the span and range of parent leadership and organizing groups across the U.S., which have tremendous potential to lead to such widespread social change. Although our research team has decades of combined community-engaged research experience alongside parent leadership and organizing groups, at the start of this project unanswered questions remained: How many parent leadership organizations are there? Where are they located? How do they support parents? Who are parent leaders? What issues do they work on? What makes parent leadership organizations distinct from other leadership development or community organizing groups?
What results do they achieve? And last, how might the children of parent leaders benefit from these groups? The Parent Power and Leadership Survey begins to answer these questions. This report shares findings from the first ever landscape analysis of parent leadership organizations across the U.S., including a survey and five focus groups with parent leaders, staff, and members of the philanthropic community. We explore two main questions:
- What is the landscape (i.e. geographic scope, spread, aim, and content) of parent leadership and organizing groups throughout the United States?
- In what ways and to what extent do these initiatives engage the children of parent leaders? We focus on parent leadership and organizing groups that develop leadership skills and knowledge to work collectively toward racial, social, or economic justice.
Parent leaders have shared countless powerful stories about how their children have benefited from their leadership and community organizing. We have heard how children gain the confidence, knowledge, and skills to also fight for social, economic, and racial justice; how children thrive when they are surrounded by a community of powerful and loving adult supporters and mentors; and how parent organizers often feel greater pride in their racial identity, their immigration history, and their languages — and share this pride with their children. Yet, there has been little systematic research on parent leadership and organizing groups nationwide, particularly how they engage the children of parent leaders.
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We are grateful to all of the parent leaders, staff, and philanthropic leaders (see Appendix) who participated in focus groups and one-on-one interviews and who helped us to create the Parent Power and Leadership Survey. We especially thank the parent leadership organizations that completed the survey. We also thank Skky Martin and Lillian Platten for their research assistance and Dr. Mark Warren for his thought partnership. We greatly appreciate Dr. Fabienne Doucet, Kate Gill Kressley, and Anne Henderson for their stellar editing of this report. Finally, we thank the Spencer Foundation for their generous support.
About Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools
NYU Metro Center advances equity and excellence in education by connecting to legacies of justice work through critical inquiry and research, professional development and technical assistance, community action and collaboration. NYU Metro Center is nationally and internationally renowned for its work on educational equity and school improvement. It brings together scholars, educators, and innovators from diverse backgrounds to collaborate on a range of projects to strengthen and improve access, opportunity, and educational quality across varied settings, but particularly in striving communities.
About the Center for Policy, Research, and Evaluation
The mission of the Center for Policy, Research, and Evaluation (PRE) at NYU Metro Center is to make research and evaluation for education that is action-oriented, liberating, accessible and results in more equitable systems, policies, and practices.
About Community Change
Community Change builds the power of low-income people, especially people of color, to win changes on the issues that impact their lives. By fusing the power of organizing, ideas, and politics, we fuel bold and enduring movements that win big. Since its founding in 1968, we have built the power and capacity of people most marginalized by injustice — especially people of color, women, immigrants, people struggling to make ends meet — to change the structures and systems that perpetuate injustice. Throughout the past five decades, Community Change has focused on strengthening the field of community organizing, working with hundreds of grassroots groups and training thousands of grassroots leaders. We have pioneered new methods to bring grassroots leaders into civic life by nurturing emerging social movements, bringing community organizing into large-scale voter turnout programs, and launching national issue campaigns.
Geller, J.D., Cossyleon, J.E, Foster, P., McAlister, S., & Perez, W.Y. (2023). Parent Power and Leadership for Justice: A Landscape Analysis. Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools at New York University.
Joanna D. Geller NYU Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools
Jennifer E. Cossyleon Community Change
Parker Foster NYU Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools
Sara McAlister NYU Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools
Wendy Y. Perez NYU Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools