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.
BCDI-Seattle has been advocating for local children and their families around public policy, education and change for 50 years. The many tactics that President Kimberly Early and her colleagues have put into place include a parent hotline where families can get immediate help and guidance when navigating school issues, including the challenge of suspensions and expulsions of Black students.
Chris Riback: Kimberly, thank you for coming by the studio.
Kimberly Early: Thank you for inviting me.
Chris Riback: So tell me about BCDI-Seattle. What’s the community like?
Kimberly Early: So, BCDI-Seattle, we are an advocacy organization. We were founded in 1973 and our founder, she’s passed away, but her name is Bunny Wilburn. We advocate for public policy. We advocate for best practice. We advocate for change. And how does it impact African-American children and families? We want it to be in a positive way. We have a couple different fields that we’ve worked in. One being education, of course.
Chris Riback: Of course.
Kimberly Early: And one of the things that we’ve done in the past, we used to have an African-American hotline, parent hotline. So there’s so many children that are suspended or expelled from school, oftentimes Black children and you don’t know how to-
Chris Riback: Boys in particular.
Kimberly Early: We would have somebody who’s a trained advocate and help them. They would go to the meetings and help them go through the system.
Chris Riback: What a great resource that is, because I will say that concern, the suspension issue, which we’ve all read about, we’ve seen the data is such a challenge. And for each parent, there’s the emotional component. It’s totally new. They don’t know the system, the administrators know the system.
Kimberly Early: Yes.
Chris Riback: What a great resource that is to offer someone to help guide the parents through that system and advocate.
Kimberly Early: Yes, that was huge, because you don’t know. And then they’re a small printing and you’re like, “What am I supposed to do? Where am I supposed to be at?” So that was one of the programs we had with education. Another program we had is juvenile justice. And at Greenhill School it’s a juvenile rehabilitation center. We help folks who maybe they want to go back to school and pay for their college education. Another one was childcare, of course, because a lot of our members are in childcare and or education.
So we have a yearly conference that focuses on best practices. And we always have somebody who is African American or of African descent leading a workshop because oftentimes people will go, “Oh, I couldn’t find anybody. I didn’t know anybody.” So we don’t have that problem. And another one was child welfare. And one of the things that we’ve done in the past is have Black foster parents come together and we want to have this go through the legislature. So here’s some information we want to get done. So that’s some of the programs we’ve had. And I just want to say our tagline is like, “Who, if not us, and to take care of our children.”
Chris Riback: It sounds like not only a really robust platform, but really actionable and practical. It sounds like you’re combining the ideas and the education and the empowerment that comes with education, but with practical ability to attack the problems. Is that part of… Am I understanding it correctly?
Kimberly Early: Yes, because you want to make it simple. What can I do as a parent to push against this, push against the system and make it easy.
Chris Riback: To help my kids.
Kimberly Early: To help my kids and not make it easy. That’s something I can do, not something somebody else has to do. Because you want the parents or the community to advocate for themselves. Not, “Oh, somebody is going to save you,” you save yourself. And we’re there along the way to help you with that.
Chris Riback: Do you think that some of that has to do… Some of the advancement that it sounds like BCDI-Seattle has made and the practical tactical help that you give the parents? 1973 is a long time. I mean, you guys were at the forefront and Bunny was really something I bet of an innovator.
Kimberly Early: Yes, she was something else and was like, “This is what we are going to do for our community. And if it’s who not us, we need to be responsible for ourselves and our children.”
Chris Riback: So what’s next? What’s next for Seattle?
Kimberly Early: So one of the things that we’re working on now is working with our childcare providers of African descent. And I’ll give you a little history with that too.
Chris Riback: Please. I would expect so.
Kimberly Early: In 2018, National Black Child Development got in touch with us and they said, “We want to do a State of the Black Child Report Card.” And they were trying to do it in each state. And so in order to make that happen, they were like, “We’re going to come out there, we’re going to help with this, and we’re going to talk to politicians, we’re going to talk to community members, we’re going to talk to organizations and agencies,” and be like, “What are some issues you see? What are the issues as far as what Black children are concerned that you see that are impacting them in negative ways?”
So that was about 2018 through 2019. And then in November 2019, we released a State of the Black Child Report Card. So when we released that, it was at Miller Community Center and they said there’s these five different areas that are impacting children’s health, wellbeing, social welfare, and I’m going to read it from here real quick because I don’t remember all five.
Chris Riback: Go ahead.
Kimberly Early: And they were like… They highlighted racial disparities. So increased access to early childhood education for Black children. Number two, increase financial support for early childhood education programs. Three, ensure teacher diversity reflects the diversity of young children. Four, support positive discipline, practice in harsh discipline for Black children. And five, eliminate the racial achievement gap by equipping educators to respond to the needs of Black children.
So this day that we did the report card, we released it. We said, let’s look at these five things and let’s break it down even more. Like what would we do to increase access for early childhood education for Black children? What would that look like? So people got in groups and they talked about it some more, what can we do? What are some things we need to focus on? And so we took this information, we call it the purple wall, because it’s all this information on the wall and put that together.
And they said, “Let’s have a State of the Black Child Report Card task force to work on some things.” And one of the main things that came out, there were a couple different things, but they were like, “We want to take one of these or more than one and move forward in the community and work on it.” So that one was called educating decision makers in order to create a strong constituency. So what happened? And that was 2020 when Covid started. So they had to switch like everybody else, what we’re doing and how we’re going about it?
So for a year they met and they were like, “What we’re going to do is we’re going to send a survey to Black childcare providers to ask them, how is this impacting you as far as race is concerned, COVID is concerned, what are some issues that are coming up for you?” And we also gave the results of this survey to them as well. And there were three things that came out of this. One was what they wanted to do as a provider is they were saying, “We want to have open, transparent, and accountable work and needed to reverse institutional racism.” The other one is champion better in dynamic benefits for childcare providers. And the last one, the third one was stop the information overload.
Chris Riback: So that’s the childcare side. I want to hear quickly about what you’re doing on literacy.
Kimberly Early: So on literacy, we have Read to Succeed, and that’s another program from National Black Child Development Institute. And with that one, it’s about having children have cultural relevant books, being able to build their own libraries. And I’ll, oftentimes the children’s books can be pricey, like 20, $25. And we want children to see themselves reflected in ways that maybe they don’t see themselves at school.
One of the things we’re doing is adopting different childcare centers and family homes in Seattle and dropping off books like once a month, which we’re going to start next month. And also going to be doing some parent workshops and how do you make stories come to life? Another thing that BCDI Charlotte has, they have something about how do you see where your child is in reading? So we want to work with that program and adopt that one as well to bring that into life.
Chris Riback: The power of a conference like this, you get to learn from others and I’m sure plenty of people are learning from BCDI-Seattle. Kimberly, thank you so much for joining the studio. Thank
Kimberly Early: You so much. Appreciate your time.