Empowered Parents in Community, EPIC, is a non-profit, 501c3, that aims to cultivate parent leadership and improve the conditions to better support family engagement and students educational needs. Our mission is to dismantle systemic racial inequities in education. We do this by intentionally engaging Black parents and empowering them through collective organization to advocate for accountability at all levels to close the educational opportunity gap. We came to life in one school and in one short year have grown to have parent leaders in 1/3 of Durham Public Schools.
How it started
It all started in one magnet school where the “achievement gap” between Black and white students had been growing for years. When the parents became aware of the inequities, they mobilized to organize resources for their children and children that looked like theirs. They began to partner with the school administrators and educators to find solutions together. As parents learned about the “opportunity gap” and what contributes to inequities, they organized programs that affirmed children’s cultural background, brought in guest speakers who spoke about the history of education and inequities, and prioritized resources towards closing the opportunity gap. This group of magnet-school parents who came together out of concern for their children grew into a collective organization of parents advocating for all Black children. Thus, “Parents of African American Children”(PAAC), as we began to call ourselves, was born.
We were supported by our school PTA to operate as a sub-committee and received support from the school to address our concerns. Parent-led leadership insisted that the school administrators follow families’ insights and begin exploring solutions to the problem of racial inequities in education within a historical context that included complex systemic roots. We created solutions together, and after one year of organizing, the school where we started had the greatest academic achievement growth for Black students in the District.
How it's going
As parents in the Durham community heard about the organizational transformation at the initial school where PAAC was founded, they wanted to know how they could make similar changes at their school. One of the founding moms, Jovonia Lewis, began to support other parents with capacity-building tools and organizing strategies designed to raise awareness and advocate for equitable opportunities and outcomes for their schools’ children.
Parents began to organize across the District with regular meetings, host community educational workshops, and brought demands to school board members. As they gained strength in numbers, they applied for grants and received local funding to increase equity in their individual schools. In 2019 with funding from Z. Smith Reynolds EPiC was created to continue the work of organizing PAAC initiatives and other capacity-building opportunities for historically marginalized parents. We knew that to create sustainability, we needed to broaden our impact to all schools and to accomplish deep-rooted, systemic change we needed to address and name racial inequities, that take into account the historic context of educational racism, and have the tough conversations necessary to create a climate and culture that is conducive to all children’s success.
Where we're going
EPiC is the non-profit parent empowerment and advocacy organization that supports the work of the PAAC initiatives throughout the Durham community, along with other programs. We share the PAAC model with parents and school administrators, including organization and advocacy tools, and offer training and consultation designed to close the opportunity gap for students who have been historically marginalized. Together, we work to build bridges, impact the climate and culture, and ultimately advocate to improve the conditions that support a culturally inclusive, equitable school system. We are excited to continue to grow in Durham County and begin expanding into our neighboring counties.
Our Small and Mighty Team:
Jovonia LewisFounder & Executive Director
Charity GunnSenior Program Strategist
Kayla StanleyIntern, Research & Policy Assistant
EPiC Core Beliefs
- Parents have a critical role to play in both supporting schools and holding them accountable.
- When parents have an understanding of racial equity in education and teachers feel supported in creating a welcoming climate and culture, then we can build bridges of collaboration for the success of all students, particularly those who have been marginalized.
- Parents who have the desire, time and resources commit to “stand in the gap” for those who do not, without judgment.
- As we engage parents and partners within the community and bring our wisdom and resources together, we can make steps towards the elimination of inequities in school and close the opportunity gaps.