Profiles in Education Equity – Penny Christian
A mother of four daughters, Penny Christian has been an educational advocate for almost 20 years. She currently serves as 16th District PTA President in Lexington, Kentucky. Her passion for advocacy has provided multiple opportunities to speak on behalf of parents and families across Kentucky. Penny is a 2020 Commonwealth Institute for Parent Leadership Fellow, as well as a member of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence. One of her brightest advocacy moments is being selected to the inaugural cohort of The Education Trust Family Fellowship.
What (or who) motivates you to advocate for education equity?
My four girls are my “why.” They started me on this advocacy journey and taught me that if they needed someone to fight for them, other children did as well. From the time they were in elementary school, my husband and I taught them that they would have to work twice as hard to get half as far. This was especially obvious in education — advanced and AP classes, gifted and talented identification. Kids who look like them were not always given the same opportunities as their White classmates. That had to change.
Define how you advance education equity in Lexington.
One of the most powerful ways to advance equity is to empower others, specifically families in traditionally underserved groups. As an African American woman who understands not being heard, I use my voice to train, inspire, and encourage other caregivers to advocate for their children, from the classroom to state capitol.
What’s your favorite quote? Why?
“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong that will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”
— Frederick Douglass
This quote speaks to me both as a Black woman in America, and an advocate for education equity. If we do not demand change from those who oppress, they will continue to hold us down. In education, we are fighting for the rights of our Black and Brown babies to have equal access to quality educational opportunities with teachers who will challenge and protect, value, and respect them.
What do you think are the most pressing education equity issues right now? How can advocates address this challenge?
Our most pressing issues today began decades ago. The school-to-prison pipeline still exists, only the tactics have changed. Presently, our Black boys are being sent to private and charter schools, where they will be summarily dismissed and disciplined with a severity that sets them on a dark and dangerous path. Fighting for restorative justice is how we can protect them.
Further, the disproportionate number of children of color who are not identified for advanced programs is horrendous. We need to look at how implicit bias factors into how teachers select and recommend, because we know that by third grade, our kids begin to be pigeonholed and categorized. Advocacy begins in the classroom, with caregivers demanding our children be given the same opportunities as the majority. Ask for details on how identification happens, and believe it or not, full fund early childhood education.
What’s next in regard to your work?
Our district now has a student population largely made of students of color, yet we have an all-White school board. This is my next fight. With no diversity or representation, how do we ensure that ALL kids have a voice, while fully aware those in power are pulling your chair from the table? Stay tuned.