One year ago, we saw the beginnings of systemic disruptions sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic and the convergence of health, racial and economic crises that heightened public awareness of structural racism. The StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network rose to the challenge of meeting immediate needs while pursuing efforts to transform systems, close opportunity gaps and advance more equitable outcomes.
At StriveTogether, our goal is to achieve population-level results, cradle to career. We define systems transformation as a fundamental and institutionalized shift in policies, practices, resources and power structures so that Black, Indigenous, Latinx and Asian youth and families and those experiencing poverty can thrive. This blog is the final piece of a four-part series sharing how systems transformation leads to equitable results, with examples of what it looks like to shift policies, practices, resources and power. My insights are culled from our 2020 Civic Infrastructure Assessment, a self-assessment completed by all 66 Cradle to Career Network members that gathered rich data on partnership progress toward systems transformation.
Systems change when people think and act differently to co-create the world as it should be. To advance equitable outcomes, system leaders must shift power so that youth, families and community members most impacted by structural inequities and racist systems lead the path to a more equitable and just future. StriveTogether’s Racial Equity Statement, co-created with our network members, calls for increasing the participation and leadership of Black, Indigenous, Latinx and people of color in the work to create solutions together. Ultimately, decisions about shifting policies, practices and resources should be made by those most affected.
As network members align efforts to change systems for better outcomes, many are taking steps to shift power to youth, families and residents by:
- Co-designing and implementing solutions with community members;
- Creating collaborative partnership governance structures; and
- Creating opportunities for community members’ voices and influence to determine partnership priorities and strategies.
Here are some examples of how communities across the Cradle to Career Network are working to shift power:
- In Baltimore, Md., Baltimore’s Promise is shifting power to youth and residents to drive decisions about distributing resources to close the literacy gap for high school students and Black women ages 16 to 24 who are pregnant or parenting. Leaders are using a $1 million grant from IKEA to advance innovative, community-led grantmaking strategies. One strategy is youth-led, focused on investing in efforts to improve literacy outcomes for older youth. The second is led by communities of color through a Grant Advisory Committee with a 2:1 ratio of community leaders to traditional funders.
- In Milwaukee, Wis., Milwaukee Succeeds is giving power and money to youth to redesign high school education, most recently through the “Design Your Future” pitch competition to improve outcomes of young Black males in Milwaukee. Earlier along the cradle-to-career continuum, in light of the pandemic, Milwaukee Succeeds sought perspectives from child care providers serving Black and Latinx families to inform strategy pivots. Hearing directly from these providers, the partnership mobilized local and national philanthropic partners to redirect priorities from previously established strategic goals to focus on funding early child care stabilization.
- In San Francisco, Calif., Mission Promise Neighborhood has created dedicated spaces for Latinx families to lead. Parent facilitators co-create agenda content and rotate facilitation roles in meetings with partners. Parents also drafted policies for the Latinx Resolution that holds the school district accountable for measuring and implementing solutions for educational disparities faced by Latinx youth. During the pandemic, Mission Promise Neighborhood hosted virtual town halls for parents to share concerns and ideas around distance learning and school reopening plans with elected officials and district administrators. Their feedback is being used by the district to inform reopening strategies.
These and other community examples show what’s possible when youth and families lead or co-develop solutions to improve outcomes for Black, Indigenous, Latinx and Asian youth and families and those experiencing poverty. As authentic trust and relationships are built, a culture can be created where community voice and expertise are valued, where the fear of loss of power and control is mitigated, where leadership and working groups are representative of the community and have real authority, and where leaders follow through in taking action on community-driven priorities.