It is my honor to name our first recipient of our Parent Champion Award. We have established this award to honor someone who has gone above and beyond in championing the rights of parents in their children’s lives.
There is a parable that says “For such a time as this…” a leader emerges, prepared for the moment by all of that person’s life experiences before.
First, I want to ask you:
- How many of you have felt alone—even scared — over the past year as you have tried to speak to your school boards?
- How many of you have felt marginalized as you have tried to speak to school principals and teachers about concerns that you have in the classroom?
- How many of you have been muted?
- How many of you have lay in your bed, your head up on the pillow but your mind racing with thoughts of how to make sure your children get a proper education?
Just like you, a year and a half ago, on June 7, 2020, I became an accidental activist.
The principal at my son’s high school — Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology — told our mostly immigrant, mostly Asian parents that we needed to check our “privileges.” And with that label, our concerns were dismissed.
Who were our parents?
- Moms like Yuyan Zhou who survived China’s Cultural Revolution. Yuyan literally stood in front of tanks in Tiananmen Square to challenge government tyranny. She fled China to come to the United States to pursue the American Dream.
- Moms like Suparna Dutta who emigrated from India and literally walked on a street in Tennessee as a college student with quarters in her pocket, unable to afford a meal at Taco Bell.
- We have students whose great-grandparents had to read the signs that said, “Irish need not apply.”
- Dads like Harry Jackson, the first Black student from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, selected to the U.S. Naval Academy.
We are all people connected by our humanity. For such a time as this….
But, somehow over the past year and a half, we the parents became the enemy, didn’t we?
- The time allowed for us to speak at our school board meetings went from two minutes to one minute.
- School board officials began to film our school board meetings from behind us so that nobody could see our faces.
- School board officials edited us out of school board meeting videos.
But then, as we struggled as parents to be heard by our elected leaders, somebody emerged who actually listened to us — we, the parents. For such a time as this…
He was a man who chose in the summer of 2020 to run to become governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia.
This was happening as parents across the country started to recognize the important role of local and state governance in education.
- We learned the names of our state board of education members. We learned the name of our state superintendent.
- We learned the names of our state education secretaries of education.
- We came to know our school board members.
- We filed Freedom of Information Act requests. Many of them.
In Virginia, we knew that we had to find a leader for our state who would listen to us and hear us. And that is how this parable rings true today:
“For such a time as this” a true leader stepped forward, and then stepped up.
That man came in the form of our first recipient of the Parent Champion Award. A man by the name of Glenn Youngkin.
A newcomer in politics, Glenn Youngkin built his career working in business.
Beyond his resume, there is something important that courses through him. Someone important.
She speaks to all of us.
Glenn Youngkin was born in 1966 in Richmond, Virginia, to a young mother in her late 20s — Ellis Youngkin — who had just become a nurse when she had her son, her second child.
Through the trials and tribulations of ordinary life, she and her husband, Caroll Youngkin, raised their family in Virginia with the values of hard work, excellence and resilience. In high school, to help make ends meet at home, her young son flipped burgers at a local restaurant, as he went to school.
As her son attended college on a basketball scholarship, Mrs. Youngkin became Dr. Youngkin, in the spring of 1990 earning her PhD in nursing.
She is the original mama bear. For such a time as this…
Strong, resilient and determined — with a deep sense of value in education.
In the summer of 2020, she was a beloved memory that inspired her son as he crisscrossed the state meeting parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and neighbors who care deeply about children. For such a time as this…
After winning the Republican nomination to become governor of Virginia, Glenn Youngkin‘s first event with parents was at an Indian restaurant here in northern Virginia — with so many of the families from our Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology community there to hear from this potential new leader for the state.
And he did something remarkable.
- He began by listening to the son of Suparna Dutta, the mom who had come here to pursue the American Dream.
- And he listened carefully and patiently to all the other parents.
- There was no mute button.
- There was no time clock.
There was just a father in a shirt and slacks, who hoped to lead our state, and wanted to better understand the realities of Virginia’s parents and families.
- All of a sudden, defending advanced math became one of the greatest applause lines at Youngkin for Governor rallies.
- So too did these words, as Glenn Youngkin declared them to parents: He would make sure schools teach students how to think — not what to think.
- He heard us when we said that we wanted political indoctrination out of Virginia’s classrooms.
- He heard the cries of parents who want school choice, who want to be able to invest their tax dollars in charter schools and build merit-based opportunities for children all across the state.
Then on Election Day 2021 something remarkable happened. For such a time as this…
The mama bear and papa bear movement not only spoke. We voted.
That night, I — the accidental activist — became a war reporter, reporting from the watch party for the Younkin campaign, reporting from the trenches in our struggle for the soul of America. I wore my mama bear movement shirt with all its bling.
But most of all — so many of us wore smiles on our faces.
- For the first time in so long, we felt heard. We felt represented.
- Notes of congratulation started pouring in from across the country as if somehow we the parents had won as governor and, in fact, we had.
- Representatives of those parents are here today in this room.
- From Beaverton, Oregon, to the suburbs of Boston, Massachusetts, we are here.
You — Governor-Elect Youngkin — gave parents something we so desperately needed: hope. For such a time as this…
You understand something very clearly.
There is nothing more sacred than a child. Thousands of miles away in a different time and place, a poet named Khalil Gibran wrote these words that are timeless and eternal and speak to parents in a way that you also embody.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.
We give this Parent Champion Award to you, Governor-elect Youngkin, because you make stronger our country’s parents — the bows from which our children spring into the world.
When you make families and parents stronger, you make our children stronger.
For this, we thank you. We thank your mother and her memory for raising a leader with such character and commitment to truth.
Thank you very sincerely for the hours and days you have listened carefully to parents and our children across Virginia, and for your deep commitment to work hard on our behalf, to fight indoctrination in the classroom, and promote the restoration of a healthy, non-political education for our children.
We are honored to award you our first Parent Champion Award, Governor-Elect Youngkin!
For such a time as this….
Asra Nomani is the Vice President for Strategy and Investigations at Parents Defending Education. This column is republished with permission from her Substack newsletter, Asra Investigates.