Grassroots Organizing Efforts

Who’s involved?

Image 1. Chicago public school students boycott first day of classes September 2, 2008 to protest school funding inequities.

Many local leaders, community members, students, and families make up the diverse groups of people working with grassroots organizations in Chicago, Illinois to combat the racial achievement gap and advocate for education equality for all students, regardless of race.

Grassroots organizations exist in many other areas around the United States, fighting the same fight and working against the racial achievement gap, and all of the different intersecting issues that manifest in each and every community. This website explores the efforts of such organizations in Chicago, New York City, Denver, Philadelphia, and Jackson, Mississippi.

What are they doing?

The racial achievement gap is not an issue that can be fought head on, as it manifests in multiple areas of student achievement. Because of this, many grassroots organizations in the city of Chicago have organized around specific issues in which the racial achievement gap is prevalent in African American achievement in comparison to their white peers, including, but not limited to, graduation rates, the school-to-prison pipeline, and college opportunities. Such organizations include:

  • Communities United: Organizes for improving the quality of public education, particularly for low-income students, with an emphasis on increasing high school graduation rates, college readiness, and college enrollment rates.
  • Logan Square Neighborhood Association: Organizes with the intent to lower high school dropout rates, foster youth leadership, and encourage parent engagement in school communities.
  • Teachers for Social Justice: Composed of educators advocating for social justice in the classroom, the group is committed to creating curriculum and school-based projects and engaging in activist work to give teachers a voice.
  • Blocks Together: Organizes around social justice issues relating to education, housing, economic justice, and the criminalization of youth.

Image 2. Members of the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.

The efforts of the grassroots organizations across the United States that I will explore below organize around issues reminiscent of those which Chicago grassroots organizations focus on. Similar threads can be found in the way in which many of the organizations listed below advocate for better school funding and the ending of the school-to-prison pipeline. Such organizations include:

  • Parent Action Committee: A multicultural group which works to provide all children in the New York City public school system, particularly students of color and low-income backgrounds, with equal educational opportunities. Also works to empower and educate parents about their rights in the New York City public school system. 
  • Southern Echo, Inc: Works to develop leadership in African-American communities to combat the racism-entrenched public education system (and history) of the Mississippi Delta. The group’s most recent work has focused on full equity funding for public education in Mississippi.
  • Padres y Jóvenes Unidos: Works towards ending the school-to-prison pipeline, positive school climates, immigration rights, and better preparation for college and higher education opportunities.
  • Youth United for Change: Works to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline and to demand greater public investment in neighborhood schools.

How have they organized?

The way in which local grassroots organizations have a positive effect on the community around them differs in every city. The grassroots organizations mentioned in this website have done work to encourage political action, empower surrounding community members and students, and to raise awareness about causes that are important to those involved.

Note: There are many more grassroots organizations doing amazing work in the city of Chicago and across the United States. There are also many more organizations, that, while not grassroots, are making positive impacts on the communities in which they work.

Below are some of the ways in which grassroots organizations in Chicago and across the United States are making an impact:

Communities United:

  • Secured support from Chicago Public Schools for youth-led initiatives to increase high school graduation rates for students of color
  • Worked with groups to form VOYCE (Voices of Youth in Chicago Education), a citywide coalition working to end the school-to-prison pipeline and promote educational equity both locally and nationally.

Logan Square Neighborhood Association:

  • Runs a program for parent mentors, who work daily in classrooms of nine local public schools, directly impacting over 3,800 children.
  • Runs Community Learning Centers in five local schools, which stay open until 6:00 pm and provide more than 60 academic and arts education programs to all students and their families.

Blocks Together:

  • Organized to pass the 2011 CPS Facility reform legislation that created a number of mandates that protect students, including mandatory school transition plans to create more dialogue and transparency for families impacted by school closings.

Image 3. A community accountability session held by Padres y Jóvenes Unidos with then DPS superintendent. Youth leaders delivered a report card to the district proposing areas of improvement for the 2013-2014 school year.

Padres y Jóvenes Unidos:

  • Following a six-year collaborative campaign, won new discipline policies for Denver Public Schools designed to eliminate racial disparities in discipline and stop police involvement for minor misbehavior, making schools safer by using restorative justice policies.
  • Successfully advocated to save 16,000 free student lunches as legislators tried to end the program Breakfast After the Bell.

Youth United for Change:

  • Promote leadership development programs for youth of color; allow them to lead recruitment and mobilization efforts, shape campaign and political and education discussions, and hold supportive peer-one-on-ones to evaluate the morale and participation of student members.
  • Encourage youth-led movement and activism to win concrete investments in public education.


What obstacles must they overcome?

Grassroots organizations in Chicago and across the United States face similar obstacles to their work. From class discussions in Urban Education and Community Organizing, I can surmise that some of these obstacles are:

  • Encouraging parent involvement, especially when parents work full-time.
  • Working against apathy in the community to relevant issues.
  • Geographic distance – when teachers and students attend schools in districts outside of their neighborhoods, it can be difficult to foster a sense of community.
  • Racism – while racism is entrenched in many of the practices and institutions in which the organizations advocate for change, in the case of Southern Echo, Inc, fighting against the inherently racist southern history which can hinder their efforts is difficult.
  • Maintaining hope in the face of injustice and seemed lack of progress.
  • Maintaining momentum.

What impact do they have on those involved?

Image 4. Chicago Public School students present their argument demanding a voice in administrative decisions regarding their educations.

While it can be easy to focus on the larger-scale successes of grassroots organizations and their organizing efforts, it is important to recognize the way in which involvement in activism can positively impact the individual members involved. From the mission statements and programs of the grassroots organizations mentioned above, I discern that such positive impacts include:

  • Close-knit sense of community.
  • Leadership development for students, teachers, families, and community members.
  • Development of a critical consciousness and community awareness.
  • Development of confidence in public speaking and of individuals’ voices.
  • A sense of hope.



All information gathered from websites of the grassroots organizations listed above (also linked with descriptions here).