20 Mar Creative Pick! 5 Questions for Empower DC’s Parisa Norouzi
Parisa Norouzi. She is the co-founder and executive director for Empower DC. She has over 12 years of experience working with nonprofit organizations and organizing communities. Parisa co-founded Empower DC in 2003, and previously served as the lead organizer of the Child Care for All Campaign and the People’s Property Campaign, as well as led organizing efforts in the Ivy City community and created the Ivy City History Project. Currently, Empower DC is raising funds to support a lawsuit against the recently announced school closures. A fundraising event, An Evening for Education Justice, will take place on Friday, March 22 from 5:30pm-8:30pm at Park | 920 14th Street NW-WDC. Click here for more details.
I recently asked Parisa five questions about Empower DC’s effort to halt the proposed DC school closures. This is what she had to say.
Risikat Okedeyi: In a few words tell me about Empower DC and what you do.
Parisa Norouzi: Empower DC is a city-wide community organization working to uplift low and moderate income DC residents by enhancing their ability to confidently advocate for themselves, and by building collective political power through grassroots campaigns aimed to bring about improvements in quality of life.
RO: There has been a great deal of controversy around the school closures announcement. What has been Empower DC’s response to the announcement?
PN: Because Empower DC’s members have been impacted by previous school closures, and because our organization has paid close attention to the issue of public property (like schools) being given over to developers for high-end condos, we are very concerned about more closures. The Mayor (who is in ultimate control of DC’s schools) and the Chancellor have shown no educational improvements as a result of the closure of 29 schools since 2008. In fact, studies have shown that educational performance decreases when students are displaced.
Even the financial arguments have been debunked. It turns out it costs very little more to operate a so-called “under enrolled” school then a larger school, and the city actually loses money in the first year when schools are closed. One-third of the over 2,700 students who will be displaced by the proposed closure of 15 more DC public schools have already been impacted by closures in the past. All but two of the students impacted will be students of color, and the majority are low-income. Our members demand a moratorium on closures until a full, inclusive study is conducted to identify the impacts of previous closures on students and communities.
RO: At what point did Empower DC realize that a lawsuit would be necessary? What do you all hope to accomplish?
PN: We realized that a lawsuit was necessary because of the lack of leadership on the part of the DC Council to respond to residents’ concerns. When we win, this lawsuit will make history and have national impact. Groups like Empower DC in other cities across the country are also fighting closures which are promoted as part of a move to privatize public education. We hope to halt the current closures, engage hundreds of directly-impacted residents in organizing in order to take control over the decisions impacting their children’s education, We also hope to change the debate and discussion about school closures in DC and beyond.
RO: Besides the families directly affected, why should others support your cause?
PN: Everyone should be concerned about school closures because our communities are losing the choice and opportunity to attend walkable, neighborhood schools. For decades these schools have served as the heart of communities – not only do they educate, but they house summer programs, community meetings, and other events. Public space is vital to community life and closures have been used in the past as an opportunity to transfer our public spaces into private hands.
RO: In addition to Friday’s fundraiser, how else can people support the organization?
PN: We encourage people to get involved by contacting Empower DC at (202) 234-9119 or me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Donations towards our legal fund and our ongoing community organizing work are appreciated, as is participation in our campaigns. More information is available at www.savedcschools.org, www.empowerdc.org and www.facebook.com/empowerdc.
Risikat “Kat” Okedeyi (@Kat_at_LSP) is the lead cultural architect and founder of LiL SoSo Productions. She also hosts The LSP Effect weekly on The Flow online radio station.