Local business seeks to bring equity and anti-racism to schools and businesses

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In addition to racial equity-based education, PAREL also began dealing in handmade housewares such as their Black fist candle holders, hand-carved by the Makonde people of Tanzania, and handmade fans. Credit: Courtesy of Bertha Obayuwana

Parents Advocating for Racial Equity and Liberation, a Columbus-based initiative, seeks to dismantle racism in schools and workplaces.

Founded last year by Bertha Obayuwana, PAREL aims to help people identify and combat racism, discrimination and microagressions. Obayuwana said the organization empowers participants to be agents of change by offering courses and facilitated programs tackling difficult-to-talk-about topics in an open and palatable way.

“When we’re talking about racism, it’s not a pretty topic,” Obayuwana said. “There’s no getting away from that. We have to be honest and we have to be willing to hear the truth.” 

PAREL began as Racial Equity Parent Advocates, a smaller initiative introduced into a local elementary school around 2019, Obayuwana said. Obayuwana and her husband noticed a disparity in the access to certain resources, prompting the effort.. 

“The common denominator with those disparities were race,” Obayuwana said. “The exposure to certain opportunities, the access to certain opportunities were seemingly available, but then it seemed like we had to advocate — like we had to take that extra step — to get those services or opportunities.”

Obayuwana said she put her full energy into PAREL after she felt her voice was being silenced in her own workplace. She said her supervisors and coworkers had jumped on the diversity, equity and inclusion “boat” until she started sharing honestly about racism and its effect on her in the workplace.

“My husband and I started PAREL, which is work that we were doing in the school already through REPA,” Obayuwana said. “So I was like, ‘Let’s just make this official — do all of that through our own company.’”

In addition to racial equity-based education, PAREL also began dealing in handmade housewares such as their Black fist candle holders, hand-carved by the Makonde people of Tanzania, and handmade fans.

PAREL offers a range of services for families, businesses, executive leaders, community and religious leaders, teachers and students. 

Nicole Jackson, who operates in consulting and course design with PAREL, said they designed a curriculum to engage people in their own spaces and give them the opportunity to learn the value of creating equitable, inclusive spaces.

“It really is a social justice-oriented consulting agency,” Jackson said. “So, the opportunity to interface with companies and other systems to really talk to them about cultural inclusion and raising awareness at the first stage, so that people understand there are power dynamics at play, that there’s a historical context.”

When thinking about how to engage children, Jackson said it mostly revolves around developmentally appropriate ways to break things down simplistically and accessibly.

“I will say the bigger push is to not shelter kids from the reality of what our history has been,” Jackson said. “Just have those conversations plainly and not feel like we have to shield our children from them.”

Obayuwana said PAREL isn’t as explicit about racism with children, instead driving in ideas of fairness, empathy and compassion. 

“We talk about it in ways they can understand,” Obayuwana said. “We don’t hit them with big words like ‘microaggression,’ but we do hit them with, ‘How would you feel if someone treated you less than you are?’” 

Obayuwana said PAREL is also passionate about its Empowerment series for Black and brown individuals and families, focusing both on teaching allies, but also the healing, restoration and celebration of Black people.

“They’re more geared towards self-loving and looking into our history,” Obayuwana said. “Mostly it’s oral history, like asking the oldest member of your family questions, that we curate for them and help guide them on how to have that conversation with the elders.”

The Empowerment series includes services like Breaths for Black Lives and coming-of-age ceremonies, which Obayuwana said are her favorite moments.

“You’re sharing with the younger generation what you see in them and what you hope for them,” Obayuwana said. “That really speaks to our Empowerment series of what it is to be a beautiful Black or brown child entering this new phase of life.”

Obayuwana said PAREL will have a booth at the Columbus African Festival Sept. 18 and is currently working on a Fall and Kwanzaa collection to launch around the same time including handmade Kinara’s, bookends and housewares.

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