The Round Rock Black Parents Association champions racial and educational equity in public schools.
By Darby Kendall, Photos by Charles Glenn Photography
Stories of successful efforts to stop book bannings in Texas schools have recently seemed few and far between. So, when a book championing diversity and equity remains on library shelves, the win feels very much worth celebrating. Last year, the Round Rock Black Parents Association (RRBP) helped win a battle against the banning of a book on anti-racism, Jason Reynolds’ Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You, within the Round Rock Independent School District (RRISD). As state governments and school districts across the South condemn books focusing on race and the LGBTQIA+ experience, advocates for equality and Black success could take a page from the association’s book.
Formed in 2015 in response to a 14-year-old Black student being chokeslammed by a RRISD school resource officer, Round Rock Black Parents Association is now over 400 members strong. These parents provide indispensable support to Black children and teenagers across the district. Within the organization, leadership is collective. With duties spread across a handful of women, each leader is assigned roles that play to their individual strengths.
“The organization was really born of pain. But it has become a source of hope and joy and connectivity for so many,” explains Tiffanie Harrison, who serves as both chief innovator for RRBP and a school board member in RRISD. “Black students are only 9% of the student population in Round Rock ISD. And even though it’s a small group of students, those students deserve representation. They deserve to feel safe going to school. We focus on unifying, mobilizing and uplifting parents of Black students on behalf of all the students in Round Rock ISD.”
Round Rock Black Parents Association: Champions for Students
Members of RRBP have been champions for Black students at school board meetings well before the debate over banning Stamped was raised in the district. So when the book ban was brought up last year, they were ready to fight it. Tanjour Bowman, a founding member of RRBP, has been a driving force behind having parents at the board meetings since 2015. As the official disrupter for the association, “I don’t think my title needs any explanation,” she laughs.
Within her role for RRBP, Bowman has spent countless hours at board meetings, organizing parents to speak on behalf of their children and the issues they face. Often these meetings run late, sometimes until 3 or 4 in the morning, but they stay until they can speak. Thanks to the dedication of Bowman and the rest of RRBP, their voices are heard. But it’s not without tire and struggle on their behalf.
“Instead of it being a partnership, it feels like the district is creating the situation where they want you to get tired and leave. Not having to address what your issues are, and that is unfortunate,” Bowman says.
With their countless late nights put in, along with backing from organizing groups like Anti-Racists Come Together and a petition supporting the book, made by former RRISD teacher Aidan Larson, the attempted banning of Stamped was unsuccessful. The book remains on the shelves of RRISD schools, a physical manifestation of the association’s hard work.
“I feel like having any book banned in Round Rock ISD sets a dangerous precedent for what that means for the curriculum going forward. It was kind of imperative that we fought that one and continue to fight anything that tries to be banned,” says Natosha Daniels, chief systems navigator for RRBP.
From the Mouths of Babes
As someone who worked within RRISD for 13 years as both a teacher and school administrator, Daniels gained her title within the association thanks to her knowledge of the ins and outs of the district. Another member of the association, Chief Community Catalyst Keiawnna Pitts, jokes that Daniels’ title should instead be chief joy navigator as she’s such a source of happiness for the whole group. It’s undeniably apparent how fond these women are of one another. That mix of closeness combined with their unique strengths is what has led to the association’s success in whatever they set out to do. The children of RRBP members seem to benefit greatly from this support system. Several have formed Black student unions in partnership with the organization. They’ve also created book clubs that focus on the uplifting parts of the Black experience.
“Keiawnna’s second oldest and another member’s son have started a book club within Round Rock Black Parents so other kids can join in, and they read a new book every month,” Daniels says. “It’s just a beautiful space. We often talk about Black suffering, and really to focus on Black joy is such a beautiful thing.”
Clearly proud of her children for having helped to form such an impactful group, Pitts expands on the idea that the kids seek out books featuring new narratives. “One thing I found interesting was that they wanted to find books that had characters that look like them. They wanted to have books that just didn’t talk about slavery. They’re done with that; they were like, ‘We’re more than that,’” she says. “By wanting to find themselves in books, things that they can relate to in their love of reading, and wanting to share that with other students, they created a safe space.”
Let the Kids Learn
While raising children of color in a state like Texas, where critical race theory (CRT) has recently come under fire from the government, the moms in this group are grateful for the community and conversations that RRBP provides for their children. Last June, Governor Abbot signed a “critical race theory” bill into law. The bill defines how teachers can discuss current events and prohibits students from receiving credit for participating in civic activities.
Up until last year, mainly scholars and academics used the term CRT, regarding how the intersection of race and law in the U.S. has shaped various practices and institutions. Now, the term has been warped due to its frequent usage in politics and media. It’s often used as a way to represent fears that children are being taught to demonize U.S. history. However, at its scholastic roots, the word simply serves to represent a fair analysis of how race and law impact the American experience.
Often the rhetoric around CRT, anti-racism and book bannings focuses on the children and their ability, or lack thereof, to process complex information. However, Harrison, who won two Teacher of the Year awards during her time working at Round Rock High School, asserts that these kids are ready for conversations around race.
“The children are awesome. Even on their worst day, the world hasn’t ruined their outlook. I’m talking about all these students, even when they struggle. They have such empathy and such curiosity around the things that they don’t know and they don’t understand,” Harrison says. “I think what keeps us from curiosity is often our fear, our lack of understanding. And because of that, we don’t want to pursue more knowledge, we just want to stay in our fear. The students are ready to learn, all the way down to preschool. If we can move past this anti-CRT stuff, then we can make a better and a brighter world.”
Another part of RRBP’s efforts to make the world better and brighter includes helping Black students make the leap into higher education. The association has now hosted two annual historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) fairs. The second was held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, this change in format allowed for new opportunities within the fair. This included a panel of former RRISD students who answered questions about HBCUs for the current class of seniors.
“These are students that we have walked side by side with since their freshman year of high school, maybe even eighth grade. And now they’re at HBCUs. They were sharing their knowledge and experience with the students that were now entering university,” describes Harrison. “They were speaking their own truth and talking about their own lived experience, and I thought that was really powerful.”
From taking on book bannings to promoting Black student unions, the supportive message of RRBP is starting to reach other parts of the state. Pitts is excited for the growth. “That’s why we’re here fighting for our community, uplifting the voices of Black parents, Black families,” she says. “I feel that there’s a need for Round Rock Black Parents. When we get outreach from Hutto, from Pflugerville, from Austin, I know that we’re onto something. What we want to do is to help bridge other communities to speak up for our children.”
Round Rock Black Parents Association: A Community
Along with the community the women have helped grow in the district’s schools, they have also found kinship amongst each other. Daniels describes her first time visiting Bowman’s house and feeling overjoyed to meet this group of women. “It was immediate. And it was a breath of fresh air in my life just to have people that I loved and cared for so deeply in such a short amount of time,” she expresses. “They have just been my ride or die from day one.”
“I think we educate each other as well. We continue to want and have the desire to grow even in the work,” Bowman adds. “We’re exchanging information and lifting each other while we’re trying to lift the community.”
Despite the challenges they’ve faced, thanks to their mutual support and the backing of their families, the members of Round Rock Black Parents are only further motivated to continue their mission to unify, mobilize and uplift Black parents, students, educators and stakeholders.
“I feel grateful. This is a space of uplift, love and support,” Harrison says. “I think we’re modeling what we want to see in our school system. And that’s persistence and love, and care and compassion, and so many other things. It’s not easy. But we’re committed.”
If you’re interested in joining or giving back to the Round Rock Black Parents Association, visit roundrockblackparents.org.