By: Adria R. Walker

Kilolo Moyo-White believes in centering parents’ voices.

After moving to Rochester from Pennsylvania last August, Moyo-White joined ROC the Future’s Parent Engagement Collaborative Action Network (PECAN) as a parent leader.

A year later, she joined ROC the Future’s staff as the family and community engagement specialist.

In this capacity, Moyo-White has already facilitated multiple programs and events.

Most recently, the organization held a celebration of parents. The event featured a trivia game, music and was a celebration and acknowledgment of all of the work members put in last year.

With all that 2020 encompassed, it was not an easy year for most parents and families. A bright spot was PECAN’s ability to both connect parents and families with each other and with resources.

“We do see a lot of great community resources where the community is coming together and supporting those people who are in need and having struggles,” Moyo-White said. “We just have to reach out and be able to access those resources. We share a lot of that on our PECAN Facebook page and (by) tapping into other parent networks.”

When RCSD was online last semester, and with social distancing being the safest and most responsible thing for people who are able to do so, Moyo-White said that parents relied heavily upon their various networks. She said that some created learning pods with their neighbors, while others worked through the art centers and others still utilized library book-share programs. PECAN shares ideas and opportunities with parents and caregivers.

In her role as family and community engagement specialist, Moyo-White continues to serve and work with PECAN, the first organization she joined in the city. She makes sure to point out that, even in this new capacity, she is not PECAN’s leader.

PECAN’s vision and goals are guided, she says, by the priorities and needs of the parents, while Roc the Future supports them. For instance, when parents set and form public meetings, Moyo-White supports them by facilitating, coordinating the meetings or ensuring that fliers and resources are distributed. She says that about 50% of her role is to focus on PECAN as a support staff member of Roc the Future.

“I don’t have a strategic plan (for PECAN) because it’s not about what my plan is. I’m not the director of PECAN… I am a parent leader, now a ROC the Future staff member, that is supporting the initiative that PECAN pushes,” Moyo-White said.

This doesn’t mean, however, that PECAN doesn’t have a strategic plan. It does. PECAN’s plans and goals are simply guided by the parents as a collective, and not by one individual.

According to Moyo-White, one of PECAN’s goals is to insure that parents, and often youth, are involved in all discussions about what impacts children. She said that every meeting about children’s futures or about things that impact children should include parents so that parents’ needs and wants for their children are taken into consideration.

Last year, the organization gave out Parent Leadership Awards to five parents in the community, many of whom are in PECAN.

In the spring, Moyo-White says that PECAN plans to increase the capacity of parent leadership within PECAN through professional development work. They are also planning a retreat for parent leaders.

When RCSD Superintendent Lesli Myers-Small was hired, Roc the Future was one of the first parent groups to introduce her into the community.

Since then, Moyo-White has collaborated with Khadijah Muhammed, director of Community and Parent Involvement at RCSD. Both Moyo-White and Muhammed are members of the Greater Rochester Parent Leadership Training Institute (PLTI). Moyo-White says that Muhammed reached out to PLTI and to Roc the Future to invite both organizations to help establish a parent-led engagement plan for RCSD.

In December, the team held their first meeting, which parents from RCSD were invited to attend. In 2021, Moyo-White says that the group will meet at least once a month “to craft and to hear the direct voice of parents.”

“This is what it looks like to empower parents,” Moyo-White said. “It means for parents to actually be directly at the table from the very beginning. To say, ‘What does parent engagement mean to you?’ We understand that there’s a lot of pain and trauma from former administrations of the school district that may have not lived up to the expectation of what real parent engagement means. We’re committed to changing that and what that looks like and what that means.”

She said that Myers-Small attended the meeting, though she was only there as a listener.

“She was not answering questions. That was not her role. Her role was to really show parents that, ‘I’m supportive of what you all are doing,’ and she believes in parent engagement and that parents have to drive that. That was really a pivotal moment of the work,” Moyo-White said.

In her role as Family and Community Engagement Specialist, Moyo-White also works to include and center youth voices. Last year, Roc the Future established a Youth Leadership Coalition. So far, the seventeen youth leaders in the program have had their first two training sessions.

As Roc the Future is not a youth development programmer, the youth are all already in pre-existing youth development programs, like the Mayor’s Youth Council, Teen Potential, SOAR, and In Control, along with students from incentives at private and charter schools.

“We’re really just kind of convening them together to strategize and coordinate together,” Moyo-White said. “We intentionally chose students from a number of different awesome, dynamic spaces.”

With the Youth Leadership Coalition, Moyo-White aims to truly ensure that youth voices are part of conversations about things that directly impact them. She believes that youth are also central to the organization’s Teacher Pipeline and teacher diversity work.

“We have a coalition now that we can pull youth from and make sure that they are present at these tables, where important conversations are happening about initiatives that are being crafted for them. They need to be at the table because they need to be able to vet it and say whether or not they think that that’s going to work for youth in Rochester today,” she said.

Moyo-White has a history of involvement with education and youth, one that long precedes her move to Rochester. She taught in Philadelphia as a social studies teacher for about 17 years. In 2009, she was a lead organizer in co-founding Sankofa Freedom Academy Charter School, for which she co-authored the founding curriculum. She was also a founding member of the Philadelphia Freedom Schools curriculum and JSL Project. Moyo-White has also led education workshops for Teach for America’s African American Corps. Per her bio, she has led education workshops through EdXEd NYC and Educon. Moyo-White has also written about education.

Connections that Moyo-White made as a teacher in Philadelphia continue to serve her with Roc the Future today. For Roc the Future’s Youth Leadership Coalition, the organization is partnering with SpreadKarma, a consultant group out of Baltimore. Two of Spread Karma’s directors are former students, with whom Moyo-White worked at Philadelphia Freedom Schools.

She is the mother of three children—a one-year-old girl and two boys, who are entering the 5th and 2nd grades, both of whom attend School 23. Moyo-White is a member of School 23’s Parent Teacher Association.

“I am a supporter of the Rochester (City) School District… I believe in the power of parents and how parents’ voices and parents’ decisions should be respected and honored within the decisions that are made within the Rochester (City) School District,” she said.

Moyo-White, a member of the 19th Ward Community Association, lives in the 19th Ward with her children and husband, Kevin. She is a graduate of Lincoln University and Temple University, and she holds a master’s degree in African American Studies.