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Parents of Black Children Urged to Become Education Advocates

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Mocha Moms, a nonprofit support group for mothers of color, and the filmmakers behind the award-winning documentary "American Promise" are launching national initiatives to empower black parents to take an active role in their children's education.

Mocha Moms, whose membership is made up of primarily African-American mothers, began in Prince Georges County, Md., and now has more than 100 chapters across the nation. The group was spurred to act after a U.S. Department of Education report released last year found that black students had less access to more challenging courses in schools and that black children were much more likely to be suspended and expelled.

"The solution is not in anyone else but in us," said Cheli English-Figaro, the group's co-founder, and mother of three children. "We are going to have to save our own children."

The Mocha Moms' effort, called Occupy Schools, begins with a signed pledge from families to spend more time at their children's schools, communicate effectively with teachers and school administrators, and "hold themselves accountable" for ensuring that their children receive a high-quality education. English-Figaro said each Mocha Moms chapter will host an Occupy School activity starting this fall. The activities will range from encouraging moms to attend a school board meeting to setting up a group of volunteers to clean a local school.

Mocha Moms, which officially announced the Occupy Schools effort at its national conference in National Harbor, Md., this month, also is joining forces with the filmmakers of "American Promise."

"American Promise" follows the 13-year educational journey of two black boys as they attend one of Manhattan's most prestigious private schools. The documentary, which won the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award at the Sundance Film Festival in January, is set for a limited theatrical release beginning in October. PBS plans to air the documentary in 2014.

The film, which touches on issues of race, class, and opportunity, has grown into a campaign spawning a number of initiatives, including a book (publishing in late 2013), professional-development curricula for teachers, and a support group for the parents of black boys called the Promise Club.

Starting next month, "American Promise," along with other parent groups like Mocha Moms, will encourage parents across the nation to form Promise Clubs. The clubs' goal would be to create a place where the parents of black boys can honestly discuss and strategize how "they can empower their own children to achieve success—academically, socially, and emotionally."

"Groups like this are forming organically in many different places," filmmaker Michèle Stephenson said in the club's handbook. Stephenson's son, Idris, is featured in the film. "The idea is that the Promise Club could help provide some form of structure to what's already happening on an ad hoc basis."

Watch the trailer for "American Promise" here.

Watch an interview with the filmmakers and the two boys from "American Promise" here.

See our full coverage of parent empowerment issues.

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