By Kaitlin Hoskins, News Editor
Parents across the state will have an opportunity to gather and learn together in Gadsden on August 12.
Thanks to a Gadsden native and 1995 Litchfield graduate, Neonta Williams, the first annual Parent Symposium will be held at The Venue Saturday, August 12 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Williams, who founded Black Alabamians for Education (BA4E), said the original registration goal for the event was 250 people, but the interest in the program has grown and the original goal has now been surpassed.
The Parent Symposium will feature local leaders, like Gadsden Councilman and pastor Steve Smith, as well as Ruth Moffat who works in the Gadsden Mayor’s Office.
The day starts at 9 a.m., with a welcome from Councilman Smith. Then, beginning at 9:30 a.m., breakout sessions start.
The first group of sessions include Faith Leaders; Leading from the Front, 3D Lab: Dream, Discuss and Design Lab, and Leveraging Emerging Technologies for Improved Academic Achievement.
Next, at 10:30 a.m., attendees will have a networking opportunity until 11 a.m., when the next sessions start. From 11 to 11:45 a.m. College PrepU and Come on Ref! Blow the Whistle sessions will occur.
Next, from 12 to 1:30 p.m. lunch will be served and keynote speaker Roland Martin, a journalist, speaker and author, will deliver his speech. Directly following the lunch, attendees will be given an opportunity to meet with Martin and network with other conference-goers.
Next, from 2 to 2:45 p.m. concurrent sessions of Alabama College and Career Readiness Standards and Behind the Walls will be open to guests.
Next, a workforce industry panel discussion will take place from 3 to 3:45 p.m.
Finally, at 3:45 p.m. the closing session will begin.
The Parent Symposium is free and open for any adult to attend. According to Williams, the registration deadline has passed, but they will not turn anyone away who wants to attend, not even the day of.
“We want everyone to come,” Williams said. “We really just needed registration to know how much food to prepare. But people can come the day of the Symposium.”
Williams moved to Birmingham in recent years and now serves as the District 2 representative for the Birmingham Board of Education.
In 1996, she received a full academic and athletic basketball scholarship to Miles College, where she graduated in 2000 with a Bachelor of Social Work Degree. She holds a Masters in Public Administration from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She is also a veteran of the United States Army with four years of active duty as a Preventive Medicine Specialist.
Williams is not a parent herself, but she feels called to help parents get involved in their child’s education.
She served in Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) before funding for their Alabama operation was halted. BAEO was founded in 2000 and was a national nonprofit nonpartisan organization whose mission was to actively support parental choice in school. The group was pro-voucher and pro-charter school and endeavored to empower Black families and improve quality education options for Black students.
Though BAEO and BA4E both advocate for Black families, Williams said the choice in name was intentional but not limited.
“We are inclusive to all,” Williams said. “It’s not an us against them sort of thing. I looked at data points with families of color and wanted to work with Black families. I looked at why children of color were underperforming in school. There is a crisis in education. Parents and the community aren’t connecting the dots on why.”
Williams said that God has always been good to her and she felt the need to find a way to help families.
“I was making more money than I had ever made,” Williams said. “I was making six figures and I still wasn’t fulfilled.”
She hopes bringing parents together with educators, clergy members and industry leaders will help everyone involved learn how to support students through their education.
“We need parents involved. We need the community and stakeholders invested in students and education.”
For more information on the Parent Symposium or Black Alabamians for Education, visit www.blackal4edu.org.