Observing the isolation faced by Black students in predominantly white, upscale institutions, one proactive mother sought a solution. She envisioned and developed the “Private School Village,” a community aimed at providing the support and sense of belonging that Black students in exclusive white schools require.
Private schools’ lack of diversity is not a new phenomenon. It can be challenging for Black families to provide their children with a great education while also guiding them through the residual consequences of being “the only one” in a classroom.
“In many high-achieving schools, where children’s mental health is impacted by the pressure to achieve, anxiety and depression can be up to six times the national average. Coupled with the fact that many Black students are frequently the only or one of a small number of students in a private school classroom, it’s no wonder that suicidal behaviors, thoughts, and mental health issues among Black high school students in public and private schools far outpace those of their white peers.”
Lisa Johnson recalls attending an independent school in Atlanta, Georgia, for the majority of her middle and high school years as one of only two Black pupils. Now a woman and mother of two children in a private school in Southern California, she was naive to see that little had changed since she was in school.
“As an independent school graduate, current independent school parent, and trustee, it was evident to me that the generational experience of Black families in private schools was not being addressed,” says Johnson.
In the spring of 2018, Johnson communicated her worries with her mom-friend Kawant to Brown, who was experiencing the same problem at the private school where her children attended. “We wondered when someone would bring together all the Black families attending private schools so we could socialize,” she says.
Instead of waiting on others to take action, Johnson and Brown decided to be the change they desired. That summer, Johnson enlisted a few parents to sign an Evite for a park playdate. They collectively reached out to 75 friends whose children attended private schools in Los Angeles, and word of mouth did the rest.
In addition, they reached out to the Independent School Alliance for Minority Affairs, an organization that collaborates with families and schools to help students of color gain access to independent school education, and requested them to sponsor the event. To their amazement, 500 people answered, representing over 30 private institutions in the Los Angeles area.
The event was so successful that Johnson formally launched Private School Village (PSV) three days later by filing the necessary papers. Today, it is the first-of-its-kind parent-led community of support formed for Black and brown families by Black and brown families in order to positively improve the private school experience for Black and brown children outside of school through community-building activities.
During the global pandemic, PSV shifted from in-person events to Zoom sessions focusing on mental health, financial literacy, summer reading, virtual talent showcases, and cultural speakers. The founders could not have predicted this shift’s significant impact on PSV. “In the midst of a raging epidemic and a continuing racial reckoning in the country, PSV responded promptly to the needs of Black independent school families,” says PSV member Amber Rainey, whose three children attend two private schools. “My family has appreciated the much-needed cultural education, friendship, and leadership chances provided by online programs given by specialists in their respective disciplines. PSV is our extended family.”
This has always been the objective. “Many families appreciate the simplicity of providing a way to get together—without expectations or requirements other than having someone in the family who identifies as Black, having someone in the family affiliated with a private school, or simply by being an ally who wants to support Black families and their experience better,” Johnson explains. No prerequisites or applications are required; only a dedication to keeping things easy, social, engaging, instructive, and enjoyable.
PSV events include the Good Trouble Institute for Equity & Justice/Racial Literacy Skill Building. This workshop helps parents of 3rd-8th graders navigate the private school experience, the Black Hair-itage Celebration that highlights the beauty of Black hair, a Mental Health & Well-Being initiative, Back-to-school/End of Year gatherings, and the Parent Ambassador Program. PSV also sponsors an annual adults-only Sneaker Soiree to raise money for its activities and services.
And this summer, PSV expanded its reach with the introduction of Somos PSV, a community for Latino families to share an affinity space. In addition, it established a Student Advisory Council comprised of a select group of high school students from various private schools who collaborate to expand chances for socialization, develop community pride, and empower and motivate all students to fight for greater equity and justice.
“Our children must know that a larger community that looks like them is behind them, raising them up and providing support in a way that can only come from our group,” adds Johnson. Ultimately, “it takes a village.”
Visit www.privateschoolvillage.org to discover more. Private School Village can be followed on Instagram and Facebook at PrivateSchoolVillage, Twitter at VillagePrivate, and LinkedIn at Private School Village. For details about Somos PSV, please visit.