Editor’s Note: The Early Learning Nation Studio recently attended the 2023 National Black Child Development Institute’s annual conference in Charlotte, NC. We had rich and illuminating conversations with early learning researchers, policymakers, advocates and practitioners of all ages. The full collection of video conversations can be found here.
From the area they call “The 757,” BCDI-Hampton Roads is focused on literacy and parent engagement – from giving away books to holding parent workshops and beyond. And President Darlene Walker leads the way.
Chris Riback: Darlene, welcome to the studio. Thank you for coming.
Darlene Walker: All right, thank you for having me.
Chris Riback: So, tell me about Hampton Roads. What is the community like and tell me about your affiliate.
Darlene Walker: Well our Hampton Roads area is really what we call the 757. There are eight cities to include Williamsburg. Virginia Beach is included in that as well. So we have Hampton, Newport News, which is all of what we call the Peninsula. And then we have Norfolk, Portsmouth and Chesapeake. And so we are military based. I don’t know how many bases and everything in that area. Our ships are there. Newport News ship building is there.
Chris Riback: There’s a lot going on.
Darlene Walker: NASA Langley. Yes, and everything has that military tone to it a little bit. So it’s a military town for sure.
Chris Riback: Why is your affiliate your BCDI Hampton Roads affiliate needed?
Darlene Walker: We are so needed, number one, because there aren’t very many, if any, organizations in our area that really address the issues of what’s going on with African-American children and their families. And so there are lots of organizations that deal with children, but not necessarily with a focus on our African-American children. Even as we focus on the kids, we don’t leave anybody out. So wherever we go, everybody benefits from whatever it is that we’re doing, whether we are giving books away, having parent workshops and things of that nature.
Chris Riback: So let’s talk about a couple of the areas that your group really hones in on. I think the first one is literacy.
Darlene Walker: Literacy and parent engagement are the two things that we focus on immensely. The parents are really engaged in what’s going on with their children, where they are, where the school, they know who the teacher is, and things of that nature. They’re more apt to come out to those parent workshops, more apt to come to PTA and things of that nature. So when they’re seeing what’s happening, it makes it easy for them to engage in that, and then pull away from that how I can help my child or what part of that is going to help our family.
And so that’s one of the things that we want to boost is that engagement factor. So with BCDI-Hampton Roads, we want to be sure that we are doing that. Hosting the workshops for the parents and things of that nature, along with the literacy factor. So at this point we probably have given away about 15,000 books throughout our Hampton Roads area. We want to promote that in-home reading library factor. Because with that in place, children can go right in their room, pull books off their little shelves, and read comfortably, and it doesn’t turn into a punishment or banned to the basement almost kind of thing.
Chris Riback: Yes, it’s something to look forward to.
Darlene Walker: It is. It is. And some of our parents, we have to just remind them that children do know once they’re in school, the preschool programs, they know how to handle books. They’re taught that.
Chris Riback: And I just wanted to confirm, do you find that music just seems to follow you wherever you go?
Darlene Walker: I’m glad. It keeps us upbeat and going.
Chris Riback: Yes, it keeps a little bit of energy. With the parents, because you talked about how when parents are involved, when they’re engaged, the kids do better. What’s the biggest question that parents have for you about how to help raise, engage children?
Darlene Walker: They don’t really have a question for us as much as they have the reasons as to why they don’t. The reasons why they don’t sometimes because they want to, is because they’re working. We have lots of parents that are working two jobs. We have parents who work the late shift so that they can get kids off to school in the morning.
So their shift is a little bit later so they’re not off until 5:00, 6:00 or 7:00, and those are the 6:00, 7:00 timeframes that we’re hosting parenting classes. So they’re explaining that. They know they should be. They just don’t have the energy to be. I know I have two sons myself and it was a challenge for me as well.
Chris Riback: It takes a lot of energy.
Darlene Walker: And I knew. So it took a lot to push through because I know I need to be there. They prepared for us. We need to be there. So the challenges are them working. We do always have those parents that just don’t worry about it. But mostly it is parents working and transportation.
Chris Riback: And it really shows how to raise a community of children, the way that the efforts that you’re involved in. It’s not just schools, it’s parents, it’s infrastructure, it’s work, it’s transportation. It takes everything.
Darlene Walker: It is. It’s a lot of things. Sometimes people try to pinpoint and say what the one key thing is and it’s not. There are many factors there.
Chris Riback: What’s next for BCDI-Hampton Roads? What are you going to really focus on, let’s say in the next six to 12 months?
Darlene Walker: In the next six to 12 months, we’ll still be aligning ourselves with the eight essential outcomes that are part of our strategic plan for the national organization. And so we’re just making sure that we’re in line with that. And then some of the projects that we were just having some bright ideas about, do they line up with that? Sometimes we got to keep the main thing, the main thing, and not stray too far off the path. So we’ll just make sure that we are on that track.
Membership is a big whoop-de-doo for us. That’s the year-round. Because we’re a membership organization and so individuals join us to do the work. That’s a challenge as well, because we are still looking for those people who are out there working, who are out there working two jobs, who have kids, other obligations and responsibilities. So they have to figure out if they can carve a little niche to be able to come into National Black Child and be supported.
Chris Riback: There’s a lot of work to be done.
Darlene Walker: It is. We look forward to it.
Chris Riback: I’m sure you do. Thank you for coming by the studio.
Darlene Walker: Oh, no problem. Thank you again for having me. Appreciate it.