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.
Kamren Rollins wears multiple hats, serving as BCDI-DC President and COO of the Southeast Children’s Fund. Both roles, however, share the same mission: Advancing opportunities for greater learning among—and enhancing development opportunities for—D.C.’s children, from the classroom to wraparound services.
Chris Riback: Kamren, thanks so much for coming by the studio.
Kamren Rollins: It’s a pleasure to be here with you.
Chris Riback: So you wear a couple of different hats around the early learning, community development, advancement areas. Let’s talk first about BCDI DC and your role there. Tell me about the community and what’s your key mission in that role?
Kamren Rollins: Yes, so I serve as the President of the Black Child Development Institute of District of Columbia. It’s actually a new role. We just reestablished the affiliate. So the main goal of BCDI DC ties into the mission of NBCDI, which is to create communities and enhance the development opportunities, whether that’s in education, health for Black children in the area.
Chris Riback: What inspired the revitalization of the affiliate?
Kamren Rollins: I had the pleasure of being in the policy fellowship with NBCDI, which was an amazing transformative leadership opportunity for me, and being so integrally, connected with NBCDI at the time, and then knowing that the affiliate had not been active for a few years, I think it was really important for me and some others to work together to reestablish it, just to make sure there’s a level of advocacy, programming, and policy work that’s being done in the District.
Chris Riback: What are some of the key issues going on? Tell me about the community. What makes now a particularly important moment to restart the NBCDI division in DC?
Kamren Rollins: Definitely, so there’s a few things. One, when we look at what’s going on nationally as it relates to education for children across the spectrum, but specifically Black children, there’s a great need for the affiliate in DC to be able to speak on behalf of the national organization, but also with that local perspective. But then also when we look at the advocacy that’s happening for the workforce, for early childhood educators and ensuring pay equity, it’s really important. I think DC continues to lead the way and ensure what’s happening here doesn’t just stay here, and it expands to states and other cities.
Chris Riback: Obviously you are in the District, you are in an environment where getting your message out, there’s the potential that it could reach federal policymakers.
Kamren Rollins: That’s the goal. I think what DC Council and so many other stakeholders in Washington DC have been able to do on behalf of early childhood education has been incredible, from mentioning the pay equity to ensuring that early childhood educators have full tuition scholarships to obtain their associate’s, bachelor’s, and even higher education degrees is extremely important that everywhere else, every other city, every other community has those same opportunities.
Chris Riback: Yes, pay equity is a topic I’m hearing a lot about at the conference, and we say it’s something important then that’s something that perhaps needs to be addressed, doesn’t it?
Kamren Rollins: Certainly. We have to make the investment into not only the children, but when we talk about the children, I think individuals oftentimes forget about people that are day-to-day working to ensure that the children have a better quality of life, have a better educational experience. What I’ve found is it’s really difficult or it’s challenging when we center conversations around the children, which we should, but the educators, the individuals that have families as well are oftentimes forgotten.
Chris Riback: Yes. They’re the ones we put our children in their hands every day.
Kamren Rollins: Exactly.
Chris Riback: Now, this is not your only role. You’re also Chief Operating Officer of the Southeast Children’s Fund.
Kamren Rollins: Yes, sir.
Chris Riback: What is that organization?
Kamren Rollins: Southeast Children’s Fund is a nonprofit organization. It was founded by Ms. Frances Jay Rollins in 1994 and since then, it has been one of the largest providers of workforce development opportunities, such as the Child Development Associate Program in the district, and then also have had several childcare facilities in the southeast area, but also in other areas of Washington DC.
Chris Riback: What are you hearing from parents? What do they need most?
Kamren Rollins: They need support. They need guidance. When looking at the development of young children, we can’t just look at what it looks like while they’re in the center or when they’re in the classroom, but it’s so important for them to have wraparound services. The reason why I’m so connected to the organization, but also it’s important for us to continue to expand the work that we do because we focus not just on the child while they’re in the classroom, but also ensuring that parents and families have those wraparound services.
Chris Riback: Well, there’s a lot of work to be done. Thank you for what you’re doing. Thank you for coming by the studio.