Lara Bergman

Answering the Call: My Run For School Board as an Antiracist Parent Advocate

Image of a school

When I woke up on November 2, 2016 my heart sunk. Just a day earlier, I had taken my baby and toddler with me to our polling place to vote in what many of us thought would be a historic moment: the election of our first female president. 

Soon enough, like all moments of darkness when the daylight breaks again, I heard the call: If you’re a woman and you’ve ever thought about running for office, DO IT. In that season of life, navigating parenthood with two young children, barely sleeping at nights and going nonstop all day, I didn’t have the time or energy to think that that message was for me. But, looking back now I can see that it was the seed that started what would be my journey to the School Board.

I am now a candidate for the Minneapolis Board of Education and will be on the same ballot as President this fall. I’m running for School Board in a state that is ranked 49th for racial equality in education and in a district where 75% of students of color aren’t reading at grade level. Racial inequality in education, and specifically the disparities in our literacy outcomes for students, is the social justice issue of our time and I’m running so that I can be a part of a coalition of people to face this head on. 

Personally, running for office has been a deeply healing, transformative process as every decision I make and every word I say is with my values in mind. It has given me the reason to clearly articulate them on paper and out loud. It has required me to do some deep reflection and peel back the layers of narratives about myself and others I’ve picked up along the way. It has asked me to step into my power.

But this would have looked different if I had not already been engaged in the lifelong healing and transformative work of anti-racism, working to dismantle white supremacist characteristics in everything I do both personally and professionally. 

Growing up in the 90’s in public schools in an urban district meant that I was in class with kids of all different racial identities, home languages, and abilities. When I look back at old class pictures I note that, as a white kid, I wasn’t always in the majority. I believe that was a formative experience for me since explicit conversations with children ages 5-7 about interracial friendship can dramatically improve their racial attitudes. But when I think a little more, I realize that the kids’ houses I was invited to and the friends who regularly came over to mine were predominantly white, middle to upper class, and English speaking and often our friendships had been forged in the Gifted and Talented programming our schools offered at the time. That was also a deeply formative experience.

When I began teaching full-time for a Head Start program in Iowa City after college, I saw firsthand the challenges facing children and families experiencing poverty, the majority of whom were families of color. After returning to Minneapolis a couple years later, I worked in a Montessori school near the University of Minnesota campus and realized certain educational opportunities are only available to certain kinds of families. Now as a parent of school-aged children, I see the same inequities playing out in our public schools: Right now race and zip code can too often be used to determine a child’s life outcomes, experiences, and opportunities.

These observations led me to a Montessori for Social Justice Conference in Portland, Oregon in 2019. There, I not only discovered an entire community of people who felt like I did about education and racial justice, but I finally found the words to describe my experiences and how to take action to disrupt the inequities I saw. One of those actions was to join an Embracing Equity Anti-racist White Identity Development Cohort. I am not overexaggerating when I say that it changed my life.

Five years later, after successfully completing the Embracing Equity Leadership Residency, I am confident that I am well equipped to be a School Board Director who is focused on racial justice because of the preparation, skills, and lessons I have gained from these valuable learning experiences. Here’s some of the things I learned and will carry with me on my journey to the School Board: 

  1. Embrace compassion and not shame. There’s a lot I didn’t learn as I was socialized into my Whiteness and shame can be a hard roadblock to overcome. But, what Embracing Equity taught me is that it is necessary to have compassion for my younger self that didn’t know better and didn’t have the words to accurately describe the world around me so that I can hold that same compassion for others on their journey. A mentor once said, “We cannot risk losing potential allies by alienating them from the work.” That means I choose relationships over righteousness and I don’t draw lines in the sand. I lean in with curiosity and grace just as my mentors have done for me.
  2. Center our shared humanity. In the Embracing Equity Cohorts, you learn about systems of oppression and are supported to understand that we didn’t choose to be born into them but we DO have the responsibility of dismantling them. That means I have questioned every history lesson I’ve ever been taught in school, every narrative I’ve ever been told and shown in the media and throughout my life. What started out as feeling very disorienting and untethered, has now become joyful and energizing as I understand that there’s always more to our collective story.
  3. Move forward in collective. I believe for any leader it’s important to remember it’s not just about what I can do, but what we can do together. Individualism runs rampant in White Supremacy Culture and honestly, it’s exhausting. There is so much more wisdom, brilliance and longevity in the solutions and values we co-create. And it’s a different way to approach life. I am often reminded of the saying, “If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together.”
  4. Resistance takes practice. Mariame Kaba said, “Hope is a discipline,” but so are the necessary somatic practices of recognizing what my body is telling me. It takes time, persistence and in my case, years of therapy, to build the endurance to navigate the challenges of living an anti-racist life. We cannot expect those in power to pat us on the back when we name and seek to tear down the very systems that got them there, and so it requires our full body, mind and spirit to be resilient enough to withstand the inevitable backlash. 
  5. Cultivate accountability partners. It is unrealistic and antithetical to antiracism to think we are going to be perfect all of the time at all the things. By having a community and trusted relationships that you are learning and growing imperfectly with we begin to accept feedback as a gift. When I think about all the -isms we’re trying to dismantle, I am so grateful for the people in my life that hold me accountable to creating a more inclusive and just world. 
  6. Know the difference between allyship & saviorism. I admit, when I was first working in classrooms full of Black and Brown kids, I thought I was going to be able to solve all the world's problems. My Whiteness was showing. Needless to say, I had a lot to learn and the community I found through Embracing Equity created a brave space for that. I now understand when it’s time to speak up and when it’s time to pass the mic. Understanding my identities means I am able to show up authentically and has allowed me to form deep connections with People of the Global Majority. Because our liberation is truly bound together.

Those first students are the ones I think about when I think about building an educational system that meets the needs of children furthest from opportunities as the litmus test for building a system that meets the needs of ALL kids. In my campaign, I see myself as a bridge builder and bricklayer for the people wanting to learn and do more, but don’t know where or how to start. Embracing Equity challenged me to imagine “another way of being White” and I will define success in November based on how many more people are talking about the inequities in our schools and showing up to do something about it. 

I believe deeply that we are the ones we’ve been waiting for. Healing, liberation, and reparation is not only possible, but critical in moving towards a more just and beautiful world for us all.

About the Author 

Lara Bergman (she/her) is a mama to 2 brilliant kids. She is a passionate advocate for the dignity of young children and has over 15 years of experience as a Montessori-trained early childhood educator working in schools around in the Midwest and Thailand, as well as Head Start. In addition to teaching, she is a trained racial equity facilitator and founded a grassroots network of local antiracist educators called MN Montessorians for Equity. For Lara, antiracism is healing, relational, transformative work and she believes deeply in the words shared by Fannie Lou Hamer: “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.” She holds a Master’s Degree in Education from St. Catherine University in St. Paul, MN.

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