SOUTH LOS ANGELES — Funeral services will be held Feb. 17 in Houston, Texas, for Shirley Ford, a longtime fighter for equal education, who died Feb. 11 after battling cancer. She was 69.
“[Ford] was extremely passionate, full of energy and willing to do whatever it took for her own children and other people’s children to have quality educations,” said Cristina De Jesus, the chief executive director of Green Dot Public Schools California. De Jesus and Ford met when Ford enrolled her sons in Animo Inglewood Charter High School 15 years ago.
And it was Ford’s commitment to improving the opportunities for others that Inglewood resident Joe Bowers held in high regard.
“[Ford’s] own advocacy, it grew from her own children to children everywhere, and that’s something I really admired about her,” said Bowers from the Education Equity Coalition. “She still continued advocating for children [even after her two sons graduated from high school].”
Bowers and his wife Margaret, a former president of the Inglewood school board, met Ford when they began their own education support for Inglewood students.
“Shirley was what you’d call good people,” Bowers said. “And beyond just being an education advocate, she was very much involved in the church. … We were really sad to hear about her passing.”
Ford was active in helping pass California’s Parent Empowerment legislation in 2010. With enough parent signatures, the law allowed parents to intervene in their children’s low-performing schools by converting them into charter schools, replacing members of the school’s administration and faculty, or shutting down the school altogether.
But before dedicating her life to educational justice and eventually becoming one of the founding members of Parent Revolution, a nonprofit that helps families at poor-performing schools in Southern California advocate for their children’s education, Ford was on a quest to find the best schools for her two sons.
“I realized there was a problem as early as elementary school,” Ford wrote in a piece for the L.A. School Report in 2016 about her sons’ low-performing schools. “Like so many young African-American boys, they were quickly labeled with alleged ‘learning disabilities’ when they starting committing normal, minor infractions in class.”
It wasn’t until her oldest son got to high school that she finally found a school she believed fully supported her son’s education.
It was then that she decided to dedicate her life to supporting other families in low-income communities in the search for the best schools for their children.
Los Angeles school board member Nick Melvoin also had praise for Ford.
“To know Shirley was to be inspired by Shirley,” Melvoin said. “What began as the quest of every parent to find the best school for their child turned into a lifelong pursuit of excellence for all children. She helped to redefine parent empowerment and we’re all the better for it.”
Though gone, Ford’s dedication to equal education opportunities for all will continue to inspire those who knew her, De Jesus said.
“Shirley is extremely loved and her impact will live on for many years to come,” De Jesus said. “She really should be an example to all of us of the power of a parent’s love and the power and need for a higher quality education for every kid.”