“Centering immigrant families is the heart of the work and that is never going to change.” -Regina Elmi, Executive Director, Supporting Partnerships in Education and Beyond
When my daughter started school, I imagined I would be the mom that goes to the PTA to bake cookies and run fundraisers. Right away, I was reminded of how the school system viewed me and my daughter. Since I came to America, I was repeatedly told “You can’t be in an honors class” and “AP classes aren’t a good idea because you’re just transitioning out of ESL” and “Just graduate high school, you don’t need to go to college”. Those narratives aren’t unique to me. So many other individuals and families throughout the Somali community hear the same things. I didn’t accept that narrative. So, I started doing research and figuring out how I could make a change to help those continually dismissed by the school system.
In 2014, I started planning with two close friends about what we could do to help the Somali community throughout King County. We had all come to the United States as young immigrants with our refugee Somali parents who were looking for a better life and that included better education for their children. We wanted to help Somali families embrace their culture as they navigated the challenging education system. So, we came up with creating Somali Parents Education Board (SPEB) to support families in King County. Our goal was to inspire Somali parents to become leaders and strong advocates for themselves and their children’s education.
After two years of running SPEB, it became clear that other communities were experiencing the same barriers. The same stories we experienced and heard in the Somali community were being felt in Immigrant, Black, and Indigenous communities. We welcomed these communities into our work to share their views and ideas. During our first few years, SPEB’s reach grew fast and filled a big need, but as an organization, we needed a better plan for the future. In 2017, we paused doing much of our work and did a landscape analysis; holding focus groups and bringing in consultants to figure out the long-term strategy for SPEB.
In 2018, after a year of work, SPEB unveiled its work plan for the next 10 years. We announced the SPEB Institute: Transforming Partnerships in Education. The Institute created a learning environment for parents and students to see themselves as the center of advocacy. We wanted to share the youth voice and the family voice in a new way with educators. At its core, the Institute believes effective change is done through partnership with educators and by encouraging educators to share space with families and students. When we started registering families for the Institute, it became a multicultural space instantly. We had White families, Black families, and Immigrant families. Multiple languages were simultaneously being translated, Spanish, Somali and Vietnamese, it was incredible. With all these voices and ideas, the SPEB team started thinking about how we could honor the entire community that was showing up. We were asking ourselves how our name should change to reflect our growing community and work.
In May of 2020, after talking to our community and getting feedback, we learned quickly that we didn’t want to lose either the logo or the acronym SPEB. We felt the many communities we work with might miss the change, get confused, or think we are changing our programs. We started thinking about how we can sustain our acronym but expand our meaning. The Institute and education are the anchor of our work, so S-P-E came easily as Supporting Partnership in Education, but we didn’t know what the B should be. We knew Board didn’t make sense anymore but nothing we thought of seemed right. I then started thinking about how over the years SPEB always made sure to meet the community where they were and center their needs first before anything else, even if that that need wasn’t in the education space. We also became involved in so much advocacy for POC, Black, and Indigenous-led grassroots efforts at the state level. We wanted to highlight that we are very flexible and nimble. That’s how we thought of “Beyond”. Though the acronym of SPEB would stay the same, the mission and vision will expand to cultivate multiculturalism and our growing work in advocacy. And that’s how SPEB became Supporting Partnerships in Education and Beyond.
The whole idea of the name change was just seeing the beauty of how parents who sometimes do not even speak the same language, who need an interpreter to talk, were hugging each other during the Institute, breaking bread, and laughing together. It is so beautiful when the community comes together, shoulder to shoulder, and stands in partnership to dream about how we can build a better system for our children through a global lens of anti-racism work.