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A Continued Fight: The Group That Combated Racial Inequity in BUSD For 20 Years

Parents of Children of African Descent will soon be dissolved, leaving behind an inspiring legacy.

Parents of Children of African Descent (PCAD) will be dissolved on December 31. For years, PCAD continued to hold the district accountable, packing board meetings and bringing to attention the many racial inequities within Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD). PCAD’s legacy is a positive one and will continue to bring hope for parents.

PCAD was founded in 2000, when a completely different generation of high schoolers were facing similar issues as what they are today: the achievement gap between white students and their Black and Latinx peers. Three of PCAD’s founders clearly had the same motivation when creating the organization: the students. 

In 2000, almost 250 ninth grade students were failing one of their core classes. Parents like Vikki Davis, Michael Miller, and Raychelle Lee saw those statistics as unacceptable and wanted to make it clear that something was wrong. PCAD started showing up at School Board and City Council meetings, demanding action. When nothing was done, they decided to create their own solution: the Rebound program.

The Rebound program is considered to be PCAD’s most successful initiative. The $500,000 program was one of a kind, meticulously thought out, and executed with tooth and nail determination. Miller, a founding parent, explained, “We kind of did whatever was needed. It was that sort of organization… we were very hands-on.” That mindset is reflected in the Rebound program.

The program was designed specifically to help the 70 students of those 250 that were failing three or more classes and needed “total intervention.” According to Davis, the plan was ambitious. She said, “In January, when they came back to school, … we wanted to restart their whole ninth grade year.” The program was incredibly intensive, with parents and teachers working closely with students. 

The Rebound program was expensive and grueling for those involved, but also shifted the direction of many student’s education. It was only made to last a year, but it gave PCAD well-earned recognition. “When I see those kids that were a part of the Rebound program … they are who they should be; who they wanted to be. And that’s a great thing,” said Lee. She also believed that the program could hold promise today if it were brought back again. “If Berkeley readapted that program, it would make a big change,” said Lee.

Nonetheless, PCAD will be brought to a close by the end of the year. Miller said that the School Board “had talked for the last two or three years about dissolving the organization.” Davis explained the decision, “Parents move on. Things change, and that’s okay.” She said that in the last six years, the organization had more short-comings than wins, even mentioning that some individuals had used PCAD for their own personal gain. “PCAD was always about the students, not about my student personally.” As members started to step away from the organization, it was better to allow parents to continue their individual advocacy than to try and hold the organization together. 

However, it is important to remember that the end of PCAD does not mean the end of the activism at Berkeley High School (BHS). Inequities are being addressed — now more than ever. The number of Black students enrolled has been steadily dwindling due to gentrification, which means the administration must work harder for the students still remaining. 

PCAD has proven that a radical change is needed in our institutions. According to Davis, the issue does not lie in the teachers, or even the school. The problem is that BUSD and many other school districts continue to hire the same people with the same institutional knowledge. “Meanwhile, the state throws out all this money to have all these different programs… but if you have the same people thinking the same way, not much is gonna change. All the programs are gonna fail,” said Davis.

Babalwa Love, a Black parent at BHS, said, “The PCAD legacy has left a clear pattern for any affinity-based parent group to follow.” Love is a part of that legacy herself. She continues to be an active parent at BHS, along with Miller, Lee, and Davis. Love believes strongly in the power of youth. She said, “No change has ever happened, in any society, without the voices of the youth being the first spark.” For this reason, she encourages students to be advocates in their communities. Especially during distance learning, reaching out to peers and the administration can be daunting. But in order to combat inequities, students must “continue to speak up, share their experiences with the administration, and help suggest solutions.”  

Leslie Bowling-Dyer is another active BHS parent. At a Black affinity town hall in June, she said, “Unfortunately, we all are inheriting a history in which — even with the best of intentions — Black voices are not at the table. When we are not in the room, our perspectives get lost. As the decisions are made going forward, it’s really important we are at the table.”

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