It’s exciting to begin a new decade and a year that brings us closer to our goal to help 24 communities permanently transform how systems serve kids better by 2023. I am energized by the opportunities that exist in this new decade. To tackle these head on, I’m holding three things front and center to guide our work:
1. The ability to adapt and thrive in the face of challenge. Let’s face it — systems change and transformation is challenging work whether you’re working in one community or scaling what works across a network of nearly 70 communities. Our work requires leaders undaunted by challenging the status quo and changing narratives around economic mobility. We will define how this network holds economic mobility and, importantly, how our work puts young people on the path to economic mobility.
This will include embracing the U.S. Partnership on Mobility from Poverty’s definition of economic mobility that goes beyond attaining economic success and speaks to power and autonomy and the feeling of being valued in the community. While we have always focused on improving cradle-to-career outcomes for every child, we have grown to appreciate the power that resides with youth and families marginalized by systems designed to discount them. We can transform these systems to deliver more equitable results by working with youth and families.
2. An explicit focus on racial and ethnic equity. Racial equity is both a value we must deeply live and an outcome we must achieve to realize our vision. We will operationalize the racial and ethnic equity and inclusion that we seek to advance in nearly 70 communities across the country. Meaningful equity work requires not just change but transformation — a thorough shift in organizational practices, norms, culture and composition, from hiring and recruitment to daily management. This work is hard, messy and complex. It requires healing, reconciliation and commitment. Our resolve comes from the simple belief that every child has value and promise.
Leaders must have the courage to disaggregate data to consider race, ethnicity and gender to inform strategies, drive accountability and engage in tough conversations. While talking about race and ethnicity can be emotionally charged, we have to get comfortable having uncomfortable conversations about the systemic racism underpinning the systems we need to transform.
3. A willingness to collaborate with others, importantly the youth and families most impacted by our work. This speaks again to recognizing the power and authority that resides in the community. Leaders must go beyond listening to community members to validate factors and hone strategies. Leaders must work with affected youth and families by bringing them to the table to develop strategies for closing gaps and creating opportunities. We have called out communication and community engagement as one of the critical capacities needed to transform systems, and we will continue to support our network members in their efforts to more authentically engage and activate community in the work.
So, I extend my deepest appreciation and solidarity to leaders across the Cradle to Career Network. Every time you challenge the status quo, have uncomfortable conversations and disrupt systems in your community, you are taking critical steps toward our shared goal of putting every child on a pathway toward success. You are vital to a movement that is impacting the lives of 13 million kids and counting. The road ahead is long, but this Network is unstoppable.