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Meet Janelle Wood of Black Mothers Forum in South Phoenix

Today we’d like to introduce you to Janelle Wood.

Janelle, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I am the eldest of two daughters, our parents divorced when I was around five years old and we were raised by my mother. My mother made sure we had everything we stood in need of and supported all of our educational and extracurricular activities. We grew up in a loving home with a mother who gave her all to make sure we excelled academically and socially. I strived to operate in excellence throughout my school years and developed a love for music and theater.

I attended Arizona State University and received my Bachelor of Science in Economics and a Master of Arts in Biblical Leadership from Phoenix Seminary. I married my college sweetheart and we have been happily married for 25+ years. We have one son who is currently pursuing a professional acting career on the East Coast. I have been blessed to work in the insurance industry, local and federal government, education, church, missions, prison ministry and now run a non-profit, Black Mothers Forum, Inc.

In 2014, after coming back from my short term missions work in the Middle East, I was led to take a hard look at the state of the Black community, had we really reached our full potential as a people? As I looked around it became clear to me that our community was in a constant state of trauma, due to police brutality, crimes against one another, suicide, mental illness, drugs, mass incarceration, homelessness, poverty, welfare, domestic violence, child abuse, etc.

In light of the police brutality our Black sons were enduring across the nation, Travon Martin, Michael Brown and the list goes on, I was moved to meet with Black mothers across the valley to stop the murder of our Black sons and daughters. We initially came together for a Black Mother’s forum on August 7, 2016. We determined that we needed to form a more formal organization with a mission to get educated, get organized so that we could execute a course of action to end the traumatic events that happened all too often in our community.

The Black Mothers Forum, Inc., a 501 (c) 3 organization was officially formed in February 2017. In the midst of getting educated on those systems that have had an adverse impact on our Black children, we have focused on dismantling the school to prison pipeline. We have provided training for parents to advocate on behalf of Black children and their families throughout valley schools who face disproportionate disciplinary practices in an effort to prevent long-term suspensions and expulsions. We are focused on working with schools to create safe and supportive learning environments for Black children. We strongly believe that when our Black children are safe in their schools this is a benefit for all children.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
In our effort to create safe and supportive learning environments for our Black children, we have been met with resistance from school administrators who deny their negative perceptions of Black children and their families. Making parents, teachers, school administrators and governing school board members aware of the disproportionality of disciplinary practices of Black children has been quite a challenge due to the school district’s reluctance to release disciplinary data and act upon its findings. Providing the necessary equity and cultural awareness training is usually addressed by organizations who are often time led by white males, who profess to know what it means to be Black in America.

It has been quite a challenge to get the schools to see Black Mothers Forum as the expert on how to best teach and discipline our Black children. However, we have found partners in this work that have accepted our help to improve their relations with our Black children in an effort to create safe and supportive learning environments.

We’d love to hear more about your organization.
The Black Mothers Forum specializes in parent advocacy. We consult with Black parents and their children regarding disproportionate disciplinary practices experienced at the hands of school administrators. We accompany Black parents and their children to meetings with principals, superintendents, governing board meetings and Office of Civil Rights Mediation Hearings.

We have helped parents to understand their children’s constitutional rights in light of school policies and practices. We have provided Parent Advocacy 101 and Know Your Rights Training to multiple parents over the past two years. We have assisted school districts in the revision of discipline policies, etc. We are so proud of our mothers who have volunteered to provide support at school meetings with parents and children in their greatest time of need. What sets us apart from others is that we actually have taken the time to review school policies, educate families and accompany families in meetings with school administrators and Office of Civil Rights Mediation Hearings.

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
Our plans for the future include engaging in collaborative efforts with like-minded organizations to expand our reach and create safe and supportive learning environments in schools across the state of Arizona.

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