Monday, April 25, 2022
Why are you passionate about early childhood education and youth development?
As a beneficiary of the power of Head Start programs, who has discussed their value with my mother (who first took me to Fletcher Early Childhood Center on Chicago’s West Side in the 1980s) and brothers, I am a huge supporter of early childhood education. But as a Black man who has spent two decades mentoring, working, and building service models, operational models, and community engagement activities that focus on the power of igniting Black and Brown young people who lack economic and social mobility, I also know the challenges to families and youth when those early years of 0-10 aren’t supported with a well-defined plan for personal and familial stability. I’m the youngest of a house full of boys that have a 17-year gap in ages. My mother always reminded me how the experience she had learning how to better mother her sons with the support of Fletcher Center, transformed my childhood. My oldest brothers did not have an early childhood center…and as a young mom, she didn’t know what she didn’t know. Early childhood centers taught her and her little ones how to better interact and secure support. They taught her how to understand the power of maximizing various stages of cognitive and social development in a child growing up in poverty.
How did you first learn about the Carole Robertson Center for Learning?
I spent years as a neighbor making second-hand referrals to the Carole Robertson Center for Learning (the Center)! I lived in North Lawndale for 25 years and worked at the Young Men’s Educational Network in Lawndale as an intern, then student employee, then Board member, and finally as the Director of Development. We had so many parents of our young people at YMEN who wanted to ensure their younger children got a quality education early in life, and the Center was often their number one place to entrust their children and family. When I worked with youth, it was often clear which youth were a part of programs that provided both individual supports, such as caring educators and counselors, and supports for the whole family. I appreciated the Carole Robertson Center because I was running programs for the kids who DIDN’T have places like the Center in their lives.
But also, as a person who spent years living at Lawndale and Cermak, I loved walking by the Center and seeing the kids with the patient, caring staff attending to them. I learned more about the Center while working at the United Way of Metro Chicago. It was clear that the Center’s impact on children and families was industry-leading, and knowing that it was focused on the kids in my own community made me proud to support and mention the Center.
The past two years have presented numerous challenges for our city and country when it comes to fighting for racial equity and social justice. What has kept you motivated throughout this time?
I’m motivated because I’m working to address the issues of racial and social justice. Every day, I wake up and lead my team at Justice Informed to “change the face of expertise” and to invite our city and country into more accountable relationships with people who hold minoritized and marginalized identities. Because I’m right in the thick of this issue of organizational and community equity, I always feel the pain of our slow pace towards equity as a society. The point, however, is that I feel it. I don’t just imagine it. I breathe it every day, and that motivates me to know what making a difference feels like. I see the people who are accepting the call to racial equity–and I see the people who reject it. I see the corporations who want to be informed by justice, and I release the ones that want to be informed by profit. Motivation comes from doing, from being close to the action, and from actively seeing people accept or decline an invitation to pursue equity. If I was on the sidelines, it would be different. As a Black man, my ambition for racial and social justice moves at the pace of my identity. As a person who feels sent by my community to change the broader community, I enjoy the confident comfort that comes with being the change I wish to see in the world.
As you think about the importance of this year’s Annual Celebration theme: The workforce behind the workforce, what would you say to the early childhood educators, youth development mentors, mental health advisors, family support specialists, home visitors, and many others who may not always feel seen or appreciated?
There is no world without you. I mean that in every way. You are caring for the littlest of lives, yet your role is SO powerful. You are standing at the starting line for potential, shaping and supporting these young minds and bodies. You are committing to their becoming, while humbly making space for what they become. You are their early teachers, who are giving them rubrics for learning about how to understand the world and themselves. You are the context-makers for families struggling to make ends meet. Do you know how beautiful, powerful, and demanding that responsibility is? The integrity one must have to be entrusted with life in one of its most fragile states? And all the while, to do all of this for children and families that white supremacy and hypercapitalism would rather forget than include? You all are caring for those that some would call “the voiceless.” But as Arundhati Roy reminds us in her writing: “There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.” In Lawndale, and throughout the city, Black and Brown youth and their families are said to be voiceless minorities. You all are those who hear their voices ring out from their earliest of days, and for families whose days and jobs make the hours so long, to know that they not only have a voice that can be heard, they are speaking each day. THIS is why you are not only important, you are vital to life in the communities I and many others care so deeply for.
Let’s celebrate the workforce behind the workforce!
We hope you’ll join us and Xavier Ramey, on May 11, 2022, as we come together for the Carole Robertson Center’s 2022 Annual Celebration where we will uplift the Workforce Behind the Workforce: our dedicated team of early childhood educators, youth development mentors, family support specialists, home visitors, and the many other staff members who provide much-needed care and support services to our children and families.
About the Carole Robertson Center:
The Carole Robertson Center for Learning is a nonprofit organization serving approximately 2,000 children, youth, and their families across Chicago, with a significant presence in the North Lawndale, Little Village, and Albany Park communities. The Center is one of the largest early childhood organizations in the City of Chicago, serving linguistically and culturally diverse populations across 27 communities, and with recent growth made possible by federal funding, the Center has become the city’s largest birth-to-three program provider. Our programs reach children at every stage of development, from before birth to age 17.