It’s heartbreaking for a parent to feel like she can’t help her child. Keri Rodrigues Lorenzo knows that pain all too well.
Keri’s oldest son Matthew has special needs. When in kindergarten, he was suspended 30 times. “Things got so bad that I could no longer work outside of the state because my son needed daily help,” she explains.
Keri, who was previously a labor organizer and a political talk radio host, had an advocacy toolbox larger than most parents. Yet, she felt browbeaten by a system that talked down to her and didn’t listen to her needs.
She thought, “I’m the mother that should be able to get something done, but I can’t. How is a parent with less resources going to do it?”
Things improved for Matthew when Keri heard about charter schools, which Keri didn’t know were an option for her family.
Matthew got the necessary supports to be successful and skipped a grade. Keri vowed that no other parent in the Massachusetts school system would go through what she had.
With the help of Walton Family Foundation funding, Keri founded Massachusetts Parents United (MPU) in 2016, an advocacy group that brings together parents from across the Commonwealth to fight for safer neighborhoods, stable and secure homes and high-quality education for every child.
MPU is proving to be more than an advocacy group. It is now a movement.
Since its launch, more than 7,500 parents, nearly all of whom identify as people of color, have signed on to be MPU members. Approximately 3,000 of those members are considered parent leaders, which means they spend their free time testifying on Beacon Hill, knocking on doors or recruiting more parents.
MPU is currently the largest urban parent advocacy organization in Massachusetts and growing, according to Keri.
Kim Rivera was one of the many parents of MPU who once felt disconnected and voiceless. She started as a volunteer for MPU because of her past experience navigating the Springfield education system for her three children. She describes trying to navigate that system as a “lonely” journey.
Now, Kim is the director of parent engagement, where she works to give parents “hope and a voice.”
“What parents really want is to be heard. They don’t want to make cupcakes for the school bake sale. They want to have a real impact on the decision-making that will improve their children’s lives,” Kim says. “MPU helps them do that.”