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.
As part of their effort to target early childhood from ages zero to eight, BDCI-Colorado President Jalen Taylor is working to expand their reach across the Rocky Mountain state – with a special focus on mental health and wellness.
Chris Riback: Jalen, welcome to the studio. Thank you for coming.
Jalen Taylor: Yes, thank you for having me.
Chris Riback: So tell me about BCDI-Denver. What is your community like? Why does your group need it?
Jalen Taylor: Yes, so BCDI-Denver was founded in 2015 and we are currently transitioning to BCDI-Colorado so that we can serve-
Chris Riback: Growing.
Jalen Taylor: … the entire state. And so we’ve been seeing a lot of movement with the influx of people coming into Colorado. So we just want to make sure that we’re serving a larger net of community now.
Chris Riback: Your model, I believe is called Empowering Bright Beginnings for Thriving Tomorrows.
Jalen Taylor: Yes.
Chris Riback: What does that mean?
Jalen Taylor: Yes, so we know that a lot of brain development and things happen ages zero to three, and our market that we target is early childhood from ages zero to eight. So we want to make sure that we’re investing as much of our energy and time into young children so that they can have successful
Chris Riback: Futures. So let’s talk about some of the areas that you’re really focusing on. I believe one of them is policy and advocacy.
Jalen Taylor: Yes.
Chris Riback: How are you working with Colorado policymakers and how good is their listening skills?
Jalen Taylor: So currently we have a lot of coalitions that we sit on, including Child Care Awares, Alliance for Early Successes grant that they did for different states to make sure that we are empowering families. So providing policy and advocacy that looks for FFN providers, making sure that we’re prioritizing mental health and wellness and looking at holistic services that really hit some of the things that our children and families need.
Chris Riback: Tell me more about the mental health and wellness, such an important area. How do you talk to parents about that? What are some of the challenges that families are seeing in that area?
Jalen Taylor: So we’ve seen an increase of mental health needs, especially post COVID with depression and just increases of different mental incapacities. And so we not only focus on the child, but the wellbeing of the entire family. So we run programs like family empowerment program that helps empower family members depending on their access and needs. And then also looking at policy and advocacy that we can implement to make sure that healthcare is covered for mental health wellness and screenings and things like that, and just really pushing that forward. I’m also a mental health therapist, and so making sure that I’m doing some work in the community that supports that as well, directly.
Chris Riback: As a mental health therapist, what are the biggest challenges that you’re hearing from any patients or families or people that you’re meeting with?
Jalen Taylor: The biggest thing is just wanting to be seen and heard. Their stories are very complex and the themes are relatively the same. You just need somebody who gives them the space to process and work through that.
Chris Riback: What is the Literacy Bootcamp?
Jalen Taylor: Yes, so the Literacy Bootcamp is our annual camp that we do every year since we started, where we have children ages three to eight come in and do all different types of activities from mindfulness meditations to reading different mirror books. And it’s just a great space for families to come and engage in all types of programs and activities.
Chris Riback: How long does it run for?
Jalen Taylor: So it runs for three weeks in the summer, every summer because we saw that statistically children, especially African-American children, were experiencing the summer slide in which all of the information that they were retaining during the school year was being lost during the summer. So we wanted to have something that engaged them at that time as well.
Chris Riback: So I imagine the answer to this might be trying to get our arms around all of Colorado?
Jalen Taylor: Yes, we are.
Chris Riback: But what’s next for BCDI-Colorado?
Jalen Taylor: Yes, we’re moving into a state model. We first started out with direct programming and then moved into policy and advocacy with the goal that we would meet the needs of the community on the ground and then also do work to have systemic and institutional change so that we no longer have to exist. And so our biggest thing is moving affiliates into other parts of the state so that we can serve more people and then contracting with bigger organizations and institutions and districts so that we can start implementing culturally competent practices and making sure that our children are being seen across the board.
Chris Riback: Now are you from Colorado originally?
Jalen Taylor: Yes, born and raised.
Chris Riback: Okay. So you know how big the state is, you know what’s ahead of you?
Jalen Taylor: I do. So I’m grateful for all of our partners and supports that we have, and so I’m pretty sure that we can get this work done.
Chris Riback: Well, good luck with the growth and thank you for coming by the studio.
Jalen Taylor: Yes, thank you for having me. It was so nice.