5 Top Takeaways from the Child Trends Conversation: Next Generation Leadership for Black Child and Family Well-Being - Early Learning Nation

5 Top Takeaways from the Child Trends Conversation: Next Generation Leadership for Black Child and Family Well-Being

While we’re taking Early Learning Nation Studio on the road less often during the pandemic, we’re offering recaps—Top Takeaways—from important conversations, town halls, webinars and virtual events from the Early Learning field. Visit our Early Learning Nation channel on YouTube for interviews with leaders from education, child development, business, politics and more.

On June 17, Child Trends hosted a webinar featuring five young Black activists passionate about a range of issues affecting American children.

They spoke about their journeys, their motivations and their strategies, encouraging webinar participants to find a cause and join forces with others in their community. As Warren asserted, “We need each other more than we’re allowed to believe.”

Here are our 5 Top Takeaways.

1. Start by centering Black experience. As a researcher trained in Youth Participatory Action Research, Jha’Niyah Holland prioritizes listening to people and making them feel they’re being heard. For example, ThreeCubed partnered with the United Way of Greater Knoxville (Tenn.) and Tennesseans for Quality Early Education on the Bright Steps Action Plan, an initiative designed “to tap the power of communities across the state to collaboratively design, implement and scale high-quality early care and education systems locally, while informing and advocating supportive state policies.”

In the course of her research, she realized “the people doing the work are underfunded and the grant process needs more equity,” and she expressed determination to address these chronic shortcomings. As a survivor of gun violence, Luis J. Hernandez understands that it takes “people who are in crisis,” as well as mental health professionals, to develop comprehensive community violence-prevention programs. They are closest to the problem, he said, so they are closest to the solution. Zonnie Thompson described a White House rally in support of a Renters Bill of Rights, where people told their own stories of their struggles to obtain and maintain housing.

👉 Why Participatory Research Matters

2. Act on data-driven strategies. The evidence is clear on a uniquely American epidemic: Gun violence is leading cause of death among children. “We need robust data,” said Hernandez, “to identify best strategies for interventions,” adding that academic research bolsters activists’ credibility.

Thompson said that “being honest about who is unhoused” means counting people who are couch surfing or living in motels, and this more inclusive data broadens the alliance advocating for reforms. Rachel Warren’s blunt viewpoint on research reflected a preference for action: “Stop asking the same question over and over,” she said. “The community has given you the answer. The data is there. Use it.”

👉 A Call to Action to Include Non-English Speakers in Pediatric Research

3. “Be impeccable with your word.” This dictum from Don Miguel Ruiz’s influential book The Four Agreements resonated with all of the webinar participants. They spoke about the importance of choosing their words carefully and earning the trust of those affected by the overlapping causes they were fighting for. Warren called this the “through line between all our work. We do what we say we’re going to do.”

Dr. Marshara Fross stated, “We shoulder not only our own burdens but the burdens of our families and communities,” and Holland added, “We need to understand how tied we are to our ancestors.”

👉 Black Women Fear Death During and Post-Pregnancy: It Isn’t Paranoia

4. “Doing nothing is not an option,” declared moderator Mavis Sanders, senior research scholar of Black Children and Families at Child Trends.  Driven by two traumatic birth experiences of her own, Dr. Fross helped launch Black Maternal Health Week of Tampa Bay. “We had to raise all our own funds,” she recalled. “I got an awesome group of people to support me.”

Surrounded by systemic and historical racism, facing odds that seem insurmountable, today’s advocates have at least two advantages over their predecessors in the Civil Rights movement. First, they have the shoulders of those predecessors to stand upon. Second, they have social media, which connects them to allies down the street and around the world.

Ultimately, today’s social entrepreneurs take action to fight injustice and to advance well-being in their communities because they don’t feel they have a choice in the matter. In other words, as Holland urged, “If you don’t do it, nobody else will.”

👉 An Applied Research Agenda on Black Children and Families (Child Trends)

5. Don’t underestimate the power of faith. All of the webinar participants cited God as their primary influence. Dr. Fross’s faith enables her to “stand steadfast in my purpose: creating a better future for the families of the future.” Hernandez, 23, who has been an anti-violence advocate since he was 14, is also inspired by young New Yorkers “who show up in spite of their pain.”

Thompson, who started a career doing hair and makeup for celebrities before shifting to housing advocacy, spoke of “letting God order your steps.” He also cited the influence of his sister, who recently died of cancer. “If it weren’t for wanting to make her proud,” he said, “I wouldn’t be doing this work anymore.”

Warren invoked her faith in the context of a thought-provoking vocabulary word: haecceity, which she defined as “the thing that makes you, you.”

Early Learning Nation columnist Mark Swartz writes for and about nonprofit organizations. Author of the children's books Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe, Lost Flamingo, Magpie Bridge and The Giant of the Flood as well as a few novels, he lives in Takoma Park, MD, with his wife and two children.

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