The Green Book Was An Informative Survival Tool. Parents Of School-Aged Children Need Something Similar

From the mid-1930s through the mid-1960s, the Negro Motorist Green Book was an essential travel companion for any Black American venturing far from home—for business or pleasure. 

Indeed, in Jim Crow America, the Green Book, as it was commonly known, was a survival guide for Black roadtrippers.  Arbitrary arrest and sundown towns, where Black people were subject to violent abuse, harassment, and physical expulsion for simply being outdoors after dark made travel physically dangerous. A scarcity of public accommodations from hotels, restaurants, to car repair garages that would serve Black people also made venturing into unfamiliar places logistically challenging.

Hollywood put its spin on the Green Book in the 2018 film of the same name, but history will recall that it was a Black New York City postal worker, Victor Hugo Green, who created and published it for all those decades.  The Green Book is another example of how Black people, with fewer resources and in the face of intense discrimination, have used self determination, creativity, and brilliance to build their own means of safety and liberation throughout history. 

The Green Book’s creation was a response to the spread of automobile ownership among the growing Black middle class. Though Black people faced discriminatory barriers to owning a car and then risks while on the road, these challenges were often deemed still preferable to the segregation of public transportation.  

Years ago, Colin Seale, Citizen Stewart, and I were attending an Education Leaders of Color conference, discussing how there is a clear resonance in that history—Black folks embracing autonomy, access to credible information, and self-determination to navigate systems that far too often willfully and gleefully disadvantages them. Black and Brown families too often must choose between a learning environment where their children can receive a stellar education that includes developing a positive racial identity and sense of self and a schooling experience that amounts to little more than well-resourced racism.

But what Black and Brown families do not enjoy is the education version of a Green Book. Yes, of course, we gain valuable insights from our children’s (and our own) experiences, small networks to share information, Black, Brown, and Indigenous educators to give us the scoop, but a comprehensive system, we lack. As families traverse a public education landscape where they are just as likely to encounter lead, vermin, asbestos, and racism as they are to find a school that meets the aspirations and God-given brilliance of their students, the need is as great as it is self-evident.

There are examples of what a public school Green Book can look like and its potential to effectively support Black and Brown families.  In Washington, DC, Parents Amplifying Voices in Education (PAVE), has created a wealth of resources from policy summits and a parent bill of rights to budget town halls and meetings with elected officials to empower Black families and ensure that systems of public education and choice are centered on their needs.  

Similarly, the Oakland Reach Virtual Family Hub is empowering Black and Brown Bay Area families with virtual programming, community support, enrichment, and technical training.  Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the Virtual Family Hub provided Science of Reading-based literacy instruction that propelled participants to real academic gains.  Here again, Black and Brown families, facing disproportionate burdens and dangers created their own systems of liberation and means to thrive.  

Imagine then, if we had a nationwide model for an Education Green Book, localized to be useful and actionable for all families, free and accessible to all who needed it.  What a powerful thing this could be, what a difference it could make in the trajectories of young Black and Brown students, their families, their whole communities. Legacy civil rights organizations, as well as newly established ones, should be working in coordination to develop this resource – state by state, city by city, town by town.

If Black and Brown families had ready access to information about student outcomes, staff diversity and representation, curriculum and cultural resources, along with the latest in funding and facilities information, Black and low-income families could easily and consistently make the kinds of informed decisions that they too often have to fight and claw to make today. 

Sharif El-Mekki
Sharif El-Mekki
Sharif El-Mekki is the principal of Mastery Charter School–Shoemaker Campus, a neighborhood public charter school in Philadelphia that serves 750 students in grades 7-12. From 2013-2015, he was one of three principal ambassador fellows working on issues of education policy and practice with U.S. Department of Education under Secretary Arne Duncan.


  1. Love this. Let’s chat about what we’re doing in K-12 to support teachers, administrators & parents, and explore potential collaborative options in building a credible pathway to 21st century opportunities for students.


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