Welcome to our newest installment of GrassScoops: An Interview Series, in which we chat with grassroots advocacy changemakers from leading associations, nonprofits, and corporations each month. We highlight the challenges they encountered, lessons learned, and best practices they recommend so that we can all learn from their experiences.
In this edition, we are excited to be talking with Kwan Graham, Director of Community Engagement at Parents for Educational Freedom of North Carolina, about education advocacy and engaging your advocates year round.
Tell us a little about yourself and how you got into the advocacy space.
I have an extensive background serving parents and advocating for the educational needs of children. I began my journey working at my children’s school, on the executive board of the PTA (Parent Teacher Association). I then became involved with a variety of parent leadership programs.
Darrell Allison, our Founding President, and I connected as he was building out the parent outreach and advocacy arm of Parents for Educational Freedom of North Carolina. Over the last seven years, we have built a network of 80,000 and growing. We have a parent outreach team of 8-10 parents who work diligently to inform the families of North Carolina of their educational options and programs that support those options.
Has advocacy always been something you’ve been passionate about?
As a mom, I am passionate about making sure that children have the best educational experience possible. Advocating for education brings the attention needed to make sure our children are provided for, and parents’ voices are heard. A parent is a child’s best advocate.
Tell us about your current role as the Director of Community Engagement and what you do for Parents for Educational Freedom of North Carolina.
In my role, I not only assist families across the state with finding the best educational option for their child, but I also work within communities in rural and underserved areas to expand options to their children. We work closely with existing schools that are making a difference in their communities and ask if they will expand or share best practices with other schools.
Can you tell us why grassroots advocacy is so important to your organization?
We are Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, so you cannot get any more grassroots than us. We have built a network of parents who speak up about education issues, and we carry that voice to key decision makers from Main Street (every corner of our state) to Jones Street (home of the North Carolina General Assembly).
We believe that the parent voice is key to making changes that will benefit children. Parents are their child’s first and most powerful advocate. As North Carolina’s source for parental school choice, we ensure that policy makers hear from the people that are impacted by their policies.
From its start in 2005, Parents for Educational Freedom in NC built its foundation on grassroots advocacy. Our organization is always thinking locally and acting locally within communities to support educational options. Our focus has always been on people. As a result of all those years of grassroots organizing, North Carolina has enacted a wide range of school-choice laws since 2011. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find another state with so many victories for families in such a short period of time!
Education is a hot topic right now. Why is it important to gain advocates and keep them engaged?
Education is a very important topic in homes across the state. It is a topic that is close to the hearts of not only parents but also teachers and citizens across the state. We all stand together to advocate for better education (57% of NC General Fund Appropriations support education). Gaining advocates is important because they spread the message in communities. It’s the well-being of their children, or ideals, that keeps advocates engaged. We are and always will be a voice for families quite simply we owe that to them.
What are some strategies you can share about how to keep advocates engaged year-round?
Simply, we talk to families where they are. In addition to running strong phone and email-based campaigns, we hold face-to-face parent forums and facilitate social media venues to engage parents. An example would be a recent campaign for the Educational Savings Account (ESA) program, in which we held parent forums across the state. We used the feedback from those meetings, which outlined some potential adjustments to the program, to encourage our legislators to tweak the ESA to address the concerns spoken by the families directly at our events. Recently, those tweaks were presented in front of the General Assembly in the form of official legislation and were passed by the legislators. Our advocates played an engaged role in advocating for those adjustments and thanking them on the back side of the process is critical to keeping them informed and engaged. Those results all started with grassroots action!
Find out why the best grassroots campaigns use social media to engage advocates.
Tell us about the most creative campaign you have run to keep advocates coming back to engage with your organization.
Let me tell you about a pair of examples: Our Exceptional Ed campaign is a grassroots campaign engaged parents who have children with disabilities on state-funded programs that support the private school option.
Uniquely positioned to help guide families through the parental school choice process thanks to
NC Schools Around Me and innovative web-based application built with our partners at Phone2Action. They have helped us create the application. This application assists parents looking for schools within their communities, while they learn about the school’s profile and history.
What are your predictions for the future of advocacy?
Parents across the state are looking to have their voice heard. With advancements in social media venues and good old fashioned word of mouth, the power of the parent’s voice can be amplified beyond their local community. The future of advocacy is strong and advancing forward as we fight for children.
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