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ATLANTA— Kimberly Dukes is a mother of 10 children and has been familiar with the operation of the Atlanta Public School (APS) system for years. She is co-founder of Atlanta Thrive and currently serves as the executive director. For many years she believed her children were receiving a quality education in APS, until she learned that her children were attending the school with the lowest grade report.

Upon learning of her children’s failing school, she took the initiative to educate herself to find out what was taking place in APS. In 2016, she learned that her children’s school had been the lowest graded school for 25 years.

“I didn’t know that schools had grades, I really didn’t know how to read data,” Dukes told The Black Wall Street Times. “I had to learn, because my children’s school were added to Georgia’s take over list, and that meant that the state was going to come in because we needed support.”

Atlanta Thrive co-founder Kimberly Dukes (second row, third from the left) with the group’s first fellowship class, which trains and educates Atlanta Public School parents in activism. (Facebook)

Atlanta Thrive was born out of necessity and was formed to help empower parents to disrupt the inequalities in APS. One morning, while dropping her children off at school, Dukes noticed the teachers had staged a walk-out. Dukes was unaware of what was taking place, so she called the news. Later, she contacted the school board to get answers.

“I challenged the school board to basically hold my hand and walk me through what was happening, because the parents were out of the loop,” she told the Black Wall Street Times. “I pushed the school board to educate us and give us tours of great educational options that were in Atlanta.”

The birth of Atlanta Thrive

In 2016, Dukes and a group of parents began going door-to-door throughout Atlanta to educate parents and get them involved with Atlanta Thrive. The organization has now knocked on more than 10,000 doors and has acquired a database of 5,200 parents. A six-week program was created to provide parents with tools and resources to help them understand their children’s needs and how to advocate for those needs.

 “We offer a six-week class that gives parents the support from the fellowship director, the parent counselor and create action plans around what’s going on individually in their child’s life and education.” Dukes said. 

“We sit down with parents that are in crisis situations, parents that need help with IEP. We help those parents get the IEP started,” she added. Dukes also mentioned that other parents are allowed to sit in on meetings to get hands-on experience of how an IEP meeting is conducted.

Dukes is passionate about her work and wants parents to know they are not alone. She has children with special needs and has had to fight the system to get help for them. “I had to fight about three years to get my babies’ IEP started,” she said. “So, I know the struggle, and I know the fight, so I always put myself in the parents’ shoes, because I am them. My organization is for parents by parents.”

A parent advocacy organization

Through Dukes’ time as an advocate, she mentioned that parents are often left out of the conversation when it comes to their children’s needs. “I think the biggest problem is the teachers or the staff sitting in the decision maker’s position, saying let me fix it for you,” she said. 

“When you think about IEP, it is supposed to be a team, and you cannot exclude the parent from the meeting. You should want the parents to be the number one person there.”

Atlanta Thrive seeks to help parents fight for quality education options for their children.

“We engage and educate parents, and we’re building a movement to create great educational options in Atlanta,” Dukes told the Black Wall Street Times. Moving forward, Atlanta Thrive aspires to expand beyond APS to the surrounding counties of Atlanta.

To learn more, visit their website.

Eddie Washington grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, matriculating through Tulsa Public Schools. He graduated from The University of Oklahoma with a B.A. in Journalism. He was a contributing writer for the OU...