Father’s group in Bend is working for racial equity for BIPOC kids
Marcus LeGrand is among a handful of Black fathers in Bend who got together to support each other as they saw their kids experiencing racism at school. LeGrand says what formed as a support group grew into a mission-driven nonprofit after last year’s murder of George Floyd. The group plans to launch an after-school leadership program for BIPOC high school and middle school students. LeGrand is a board member of The Father’s Group, a school board member and a college and career coach at Central Oregon Community College. He joins us to tell us more about the impact The Father’s Group is having in the community and its future goals.
This transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.
Dave Miller: This is Think Out Loud on OPB, I’m Dave Miller.
A nonprofit born in the early days of the pandemic had a kind of public coming out recently. The Father’s Group started when a handful of Black fathers in Bend came together. They were concerned about the experiences their children were having in school, and also in the broader community. They officially incorporated as a nonprofit after George Floyd was murdered in May of 2020, and a few weeks ago, the group held its biggest event to date, a Juneteenth celebration.
Marcus LeGrand is a board member of The Father’s Group and a new member of the Bend-La Pine School Board. He joins us now to talk about his work. Marcus LeGrand, welcome to Think Out Loud.
Marcus LeGrand: Hey, good afternoon. How are you doing?
Miller: Doing very well. Thanks for joining us. You are the father of two kids, a nine year old and an 11 year old, if I’m not mistaken. I’m curious how much their experiences in school motivated you to take part in the founding of this group?
LeGrand: Well, I don’t think per se it was their experience. I think it was experience of the many fathers who we speak to or talk to on a daily basis, because I’m truly involved in my kids’ educational process. The teacher and the principals at my kids’ school want to be very inclusive when it comes to looking at students of color and trying to help them out. And also, I think most of the people here, not only because I’m on the School Board, because I’m actively involved in the community, know where I stand when it comes to those things. And we don’t tolerate a lot of that. So if anything did happen in my kids’ school, I think they would get Papa LeGrand before they would get school board member LeGrand. Just want to let you know.
Miller: But that sounds like a kind of privilege that you have because of the power you yield in the community, it seems. But that’s not the kind of power that everybody has.
LeGrand: No, everyone doesn’t have that power, and there’s a lot of family members that don’t have that power. I’ve had many families walk up to me who have adopted kids, or mixed race kids, who have never identified with their own culture, who live here and say they’re struggling because their kid hears the n-word on a daily basis, or the teacher doesn’t interrupt something. Knowing that those people exist allowed us to be able to try to build that foundational thing that is needed, not only to interrupt, but at the same time, give people insight on how they can combat a lot of the things that they deal with.
Miller: That seems like one clear example, kids hearing the n-word at school. What other kinds of stories did you hear, or did others of the founders hear, that led you to come together?
LeGrand; I think it was a culmination of things. If a student has a teacher in class and says “Hey, this kid has said something to me”, or “they’re talking about a subject matter” and all of a sudden, no one speaks up for that kid. Or the teacher says “Hey, well, Jimmy, you identify as this,” and they look to them for it to be the subject matter expert. You can’t put that kind of pressure on a student. Or something would happen, and our kid would get disciplined, but the student who perpetrated the offensive thing never got in trouble, or the parents of the student who had the issue would not come and have the opportunity to be able to deliberate with that teacher, with the administration and with the parents to be able to talk about these things.
I think the one of the largest ones was that we had a young man by the name of Deshaun Adderly, who committed suicide because of this. He visited one of the schools here, and unfortunately he was being bullied by many of the white students, and he committed suicide a few years ago. That’s unfortunate that we have to have a student of color, even when he was outwardly trying to communicate to the school “Hey, this is happening to me.” And unfortunately, that young man is no longer with us.
Now that being said, that allows us to understand that we have a lot of work to do when it comes to race relations, with just being able to be sensitive to students’ needs.
Miller: So on your website right now, you have a pretty ambitious set of goals, from removing barriers and helping kids be successful in school, to supporting racial equity in law enforcement or helping minority owned businesses thrive. What would you say your group is most focused on doing right now?
LeGrand: Academic success for students, and giving them the understanding that their culture is first. Because if they know who they are, and they basically feel comfortable in their own skin to be able to combat many of those things, that’s first.
The next thing will be working with police, and saying how to identify many of the culturally relevant things, like helping them understand, hey, everyone is not a thug. Everyone is not the stereotype that you see. And working with them to be able to also improve their hiring practices. Working with them on interrupting racism, and having sensitivity training to understand mental health. I think that’s a lot of the things that a lot of people are asking for when it comes to those things.
And then finally, being able to teach financial literacy to families and students, to be able to understand how they can take those resources and build the things that they need, if that’s through business, if that’s through entertainment, whatever they choose to do, it allows them to be able to have access to those things.
Miller: You mentioned academic success as the very first thing. In your mind, is the way to achieve that more by helping kids themselves, or changing the school system, talking to teachers or administrators?
LeGrand: It’s a combination of all those things. Yes, students themselves have to be confident. But at the same time too, it also helps those students who don’t look like them. If they see students, teachers, or community members who look like us, who are coming in and showing them, “Oh my God, here’s the other ways you can do this.” Or they feel more comfortable being able to relate and understand, it allows them to be able to go “Oh, okay. That student who comes to me everyday, and he’s the only one in my class, I know now how to help that student.” The next thing is to help teachers do the same thing, as well as the administration. So we would love to be that conduit to be able to help do those things, because we know over time, as people start to feel more comfortable and normalize the things that we go through, but at the same time, identify and be able to stop things before things get started. It’s a great thing.
Think about it from this perspective. I know there’s a lot of national rhetoric saying they don’t want people to teach CRT, or we don’t want our kids to talk about race. But wait a minute, we’ve been teaching colonialism since 400 years. So why can’t we start teaching ways to be able to help students to understand and navigate this world? If you could talk about “Hey, what you just said was offensive and it was not appreciated. Let’s get to the bottom of why you feel you should say that.” We always know a lot of the racial things that happen are learned experience, or from our peers who are around us. And if no one is helping these students understand and identify why these things are happening, or why they feel that these things are necessary to say, and no one’s stopping it, then guess what happens? It continues. We need to start normalizing African-American history, Latino history, Native American history, LGBTQ, whatever you would like to say, give them the ability to be able to navigate those things in a thoughtful way, and not just assume that it’s just gonna just take care of itself.
Miller: What kinds of community responses have you seen to The Father’s Group as you’ve been becoming more prominent?
LeGrand: The community is definitely well receptive of what we’re trying to do, because they see there’s a need for it. When the city manager says “Hey, we understand what you’re trying to do, we’ll support that.” We have other community organizations saying “Hey, we see what you guys are trying to do. Most definitely we’re supporting that.” But at the same time too, we know we have a lot of weight on our shoulders to be able to make this happen. We know we’re going to have failures, but at the same time too, we know we’re gonna have a tremendous amount of success. As long as we continue to stay within the tenants of what we want to try to do. And that’s back to our goals, like you mentioned earlier. Making sure that students feel culturally understood, as well as having success, not only in the academic world, but in the business world as well.
Miller: What are you going to be doing at the school itself, or schools themselves, starting in the fall when, when kids are back in school?
LeGrand: What we’re going to be doing as The Father’s Group is we’re going to be doing an after-school program. That’s going to be phenomenal. We’re going to be able to teach some of the things that I just mentioned. So if students want to be able to come and talk about “We have an issue”, we need a math tutor for student, or if need to teach leadership, or if we teach teach mentorship, or if we need to teach, how to be financially literate, we can definitely talk about all of those different things, and go from there.
Also, we’re going to be able to work with World Financial Group, to be able to teach financial literacy to the community, people who may need it. Other things we’re going to be looking at doing is continuing to do internships, talking about outdoor programming for students, music production, spoken word, many things students want to love to do to be able to express themselves. Yes, you have your academic piece where we can definitely help monitor some of the things they do. If they need a place to do homework, that’s gonna be all standard. But what other things would they need? We’re just trying to set a standard that is clear and specific to allow students to have success.
Miller: My understanding is, here, you’re talking about K-12 students, maybe in the middle to older end of that. But in another part of your life, your professional life, you’re a College and Career Success Coach at Central Oregon Community College. I’m wondering how much that work informs the work you’re talking about here, in terms of The Father’s Group?
LeGrand: Oh, it definitely goes hand in hand. Because I’m looking at how many of the students who come to us at the community college level, many of them were at the afterthoughts when it came to receiving a better education, many of those were the students who unfortunately didn’t go to college. They probably went right to work or they went into the military, but now they have a means to be able to come and try to facilitate going to school. My work there allows me to be able to provide resources for them, so they can be able to navigate not only their academic world, but still be able to survive their work world.
Many of the people who come are mothers, single mothers, single fathers, trying to navigate and go to school, trying to improve their lives. So if I can show the students at an earlier age how to navigate these things before they even get to me, and they already been built a bridge to make that happen? Oh my God, it is tremendous. And it makes the system run that much better, because they already know what some of the pitfalls may be, if we could illustrate that to them.
Miller: What’s the sign that you would look for to know that these efforts are working? How will you know this is working?
LeGrand: Easily, when I get notes, or when I see students on the street and they give me the biggest hug and say thank you. Or they, on a Facebook or Instagram post, say “Thank you for everything that you’ve done. You didn’t have to help me, but you did.” Or when I see them at graduation and they give me a hug and say “Thank you for helping me get through this.” And it’s not just about me getting credit. It’s about the whole system being in place for them to have success.
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