A Conversation with West Michigan Child Advocates
We’re in a time of increased political activity and advocacy, anxiously watching how billions of relief dollars will be spent and how a movement for racial justice will be sustained. It’s within this backdrop that I recently talked with a few child advocates in West Michigan on how to create a better world for our kids.
Anissa Eddie who serves in a coordinated role with KConnect and First Steps Kent, Kyle Lim with the Urban Core Collective and principal of Lim Consulting, Inc. and Tomarra Richardson of the Great Start Parent Coalition joined me for a robust afternoon discussion on June 25th.
An opportunity to realign our values
“When we talk about the impact of COVID-19, it’s not just on new things that need to be purchased or supplied,” Anissa points out. “[The pandemic] has really created a huge deficit and budget shortfall that will have a detrimental impact if funding isn’t able to be [spent] in a solution-oriented way … Our schools are a great example.”
As Congress prepares another pandemic relief package, flexible funding will help our state avoid severe cuts to public infrastructure like schools and health care.
According to the latest National Kids Count Databook, Michigan is ranked 40 out of 50 amongst states in educational outcomes based on pre-COVID-19 (2018) data. Districts face steep deficits for at least this school year and next. However, our standing now—and potential drops in attainment because of changes to learning—can’t be solely attributed to the pandemic, but as a result of decades of disinvestment in our schools and community structures in general.
“From a policy perspective, I think we’re seeing how we really devalue children over time,” reflects Kyle. “The opportunity in front of us now is to figure out ways that we realign our values to reflect a sense of care, particularly for our most vulnerable children.”
One thing I greatly appreciate about this moment in history is the increased level of thinking and engagement with policy and budgets. Anissa joins me in feeling the weight and potential of this time.
“I just hope this can be a stamp in time where we do see that from here we saw change … This is such a moment of opportunity to harness when we think about [the potential for] equitable access to education and movement of resources to fund these [and] other root causes.”
You can join us in urging Congresswoman Stabenow and Congressman Peters to continue to support Michigan families by prioritizing federal aid that can be used to address our budget shortfalls and extend services for families.
Winning Requires Persistence
As we consider harnessing opportunities, it’s important to us at Kids Count to also consider past policy wins. This group talked about a few important ones, including the Right to Literacy settlement led by Detroit parents and students, pandemic childcare relief grants and parent training programs.
“These [policies] that we celebrate as wins: there’s so much work and so much persistence required behind that [win],” said Anissa. Forward momentum can take years of education, organizing and mobilization of community and decision makers to action.
One program model, Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI), lays a foundation for community activity by making connections between and supporting parent leaders. Tomarra, a COFI facilitator, shared great examples of how it “really elevates the parent voice [and] gives them the confidence that they need to truly impact change and help impact others.”
For example, COFI parents were responsible for a successful community event that brought attention and helped parents prepare for the then-new third-grade reading law.
Anissa is also working on providing resources to parents. She’s working on an introductory curriculum on race, “Talking to Kids About Race,” that should be available in the coming months.
Families and parents are society’s backbone and key to successful advocacy efforts. Parents can learn more about COFI by emailing email@example.com or sign up to receive updates on the e-book and workshops on talking to kids about race here.
Influence decision makers
As we consider how to return to learning this fall, protect public health and invest in root cause areas like education, Renell Weathers, Community Engagement Director at the League, reminds us that “we each have a role to play in advocacy, in the fight and push for change.” You can share your stories and ideas with decision makers, for example, and be clear about the need to equitably serve all children.
“Advocat[e] to make sure your school system is proceeding with real attention to [the most vulnerable] segments of their population or segment of our community,” recommends Kyle. “Ask your cities what are they doing to attend to the needs of Black children? What are they doing to attend to the needs of children with special needs?” This targeted approach is key to reversing disparate outcomes. And if you don’t like their answers, offer your own solutions. In the end, follow up to see how approved budgets and policies actually reflect these priorities and commitments.
The League’s Community Engagement team presents to folks across the state who want to learn more about how to advocate in this way. Kids Count resources allow for local, data-driven conversations in areas that impact kids most, including education, health and economic well-being.
“We have to harness this [moment], not let up and hold our decision makers accountable so that this change isn’t just a couple things right now—but that it’s written and it’s in policy so that it can be sustained over time,” says Anissa.
Policy and funding decisions that take better care of the social, emotional, physical and financial health of kids, families and all Michiganders must be a top priority for residents and electeds. It’s only then that we can ensure a better, equitable world for the next generation.
View our full conversation on our Facebook page.