By Michael McAfee, president and CEO of PolicyLink, and Jennifer Blatz, president and CEO of StriveTogether
At PolicyLink and StriveTogether, we believe every child should have the opportunity to succeed in school and in life, regardless of race, zip code or circumstance. This is the most pressing issue of our generation. Yet increasingly the data shows that the American dream is fading. According to widely shared economic mobility research, only half of all children will earn more than their parents and there are dramatic disparities in mobility between white and black men. Racial and socioeconomic disparities show up at every milestone along the cradle-to-career education pipeline. Place does, in fact, determine opportunity in America.
Recognizing that systems and structures in communities across the country exist to perpetuate these disparate results, PolicyLink and StriveTogether each set out on our respective journeys to create cradle-to-career solutions based in place to tackle systemic inequities and get better results for kids and families. For years our respective organizations have walked side-by-side, learning from one another. We produced a white paper on aligning for impact to demonstrate how our cradle-to-career approaches complement one another. In some communities and states, our respective cradle-to-career efforts have partnered to accelerate progress and achieve policy wins.
We share the belief that real change is rooted in community transformation. By bringing together people from across a community and keeping equitable results at the center of our work, we can transform systems and achieve more equitable outcomes for children and families commensurate with the scale of the problem. Given our aligned beliefs and the sense of urgency we feel, PolicyLink and StriveTogether are now partnering to accelerate the achievement of results through the Promise Neighborhoods program. The time is now.
Through this partnership, both organizations will ramp up our abilities to meet an increasing need within the field for technical assistance and to influence what is becoming a robust policy opportunity to increase place-based efforts across the United States. We will share the learnings accumulated over years of supporting placed-based initiatives and coordinate our efforts on the ground to maximize impact. Together, we will work with community leaders to design and implement the next generation of place-based initiatives and policy to ensure the success of every child.
Building a movement
Both PolicyLink and StriveTogether grew out of community partnerships, and we believe partnership with a clear purpose is needed now more than ever.
PolicyLink was founded in 1999 with the belief that solutions to the nation’s challenges rest with those closest to those challenges and that by bringing local voices, wisdom and experience in facing these challenges profound policy transformations can emerge.
In 2008, PolicyLink partnered with the Harlem Children’s Zone and the Center for the Study of Social Policy to design the federal Promise Neighborhoods program. The U.S. Department of Education joined the partnership to implement the program. They worked toward a shared vision that all children and youth growing up in Promise Neighborhoods would have access to great schools and strong family and community support systems. The results-based work of local leaders led to the incorporation of Promise Neighborhoods into the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015. This permanent program has provided federal grants to 60 communities. Each year, at least five grants of $30 million each are awarded to Promise Neighborhoods.
StriveTogether began in 2006 as a local effort in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky to bring cross-sector community partners together to change the trajectory of children’s lives, particularly children growing up in poverty and children of color. Local leaders held themselves accountable for creating and implementing a cradle-to-career vision. They organized around data and reprioritized local investments to have a greater impact.
Within several years, as StrivePartnership of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky began to see early improvements across cradle-to-career outcomes, other communities took note. The StriveTogether national Cradle to Career Network was formed to spread and support this approach. Today the network is comprised of 67 cradle-to-career partnerships across 29 states impacting 13.7 million children, 8.6 of whom are children of color.
Change is possible
We refuse to settle for a world where a child’s potential is dictated by conditions in which the child is born. Building cradle-to-career pathways from poverty to opportunity is the urgent work of our time. To achieve this, we must rethink how we work and partner. By aligning our work, we can accelerate results for more children and families in more communities.
After years of separate but aligned efforts — both achieving population-level results — PolicyLink and StriveTogether are collaborating to accelerate better and more equitable outcomes for the most marginalized children and families. PolicyLink and StriveTogether are not consolidating or merging; instead, we are aligning to build on our respective strengths in the following areas:
- Aligned theories of action
- Modeling the importance of leaders of color leading place-based efforts and sharing lessons in a peer-to-peer learning community
- Building upon the deep experience of the Promise Neighborhoods Institute and StriveTogether partners to coach the next generation of leaders to implement local strategies to improve equity and outcomes
- Integrating complex strategies that include family engagement, programmatic practice, and systems and policy changes
- Providing racial equity thought leadership
- Advancing policy, advocacy and mobilization at the local, state and federal levels
Together, we share a goal of helping communities permanently transform how the systems that surround children and families serve them better and more equitably. From education and housing to public transit and health care, we can change what’s possible for millions of children across the country.
We can eliminate inequities, remove roadblocks and set more children on the path to their full potential. The cradle-to-career movement will have an impact felt across the nation. Together, we can change what’s possible so that every child has every chance to succeed.