I was recently reminded of a poem by Wendell Berry that resonated strongly because it describes the very nature of our work. Berry is one of my literary heroes, we’re both Kentucky natives and University of Kentucky graduates. As an English major, I read much of his poetry and fiction. And I find myself returning to one poem, “Our Real Work,” as I look forward to the new year.
It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.
It is humbling to admit that there are no known solutions in our work. We wrestle with structural and racial inequities that were woven over the centuries into the fabric of our society. We take on systems that decide who can buy a home and where highways will cut off communities from resources. We disrupt the status quo when we refuse to settle for a world where a child’s potential is dictated by the conditions in which they are born. We persevere and persist because we know the real work begins when we accept that we do not need all the answers when we have the courage to do what is right. We press on, we challenge, and we change systems to close equity gaps and improve outcomes for every child.
We are not chasing a dream but know with deep conviction that we can transform systems and, in turn, transform lives by ensuring kids – regardless of ethnicity, race or place – have every opportunity to succeed. Our conviction is rooted in data that informs our work and helps us break down structural and racial barriers that prevent young people from excelling.
The last two years steels us in the knowledge that the pandemic and racism disproportionately impact communities of color and put children and their families at risk. This makes our work heavy at times, but I find myself uplifted time after time when I see what is happening in the communities that make up the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network.
Together, these communities are showing that people can work together when they embrace a bold cradle-to-career vision for their youth. Community members can hold each other accountable to measuring and tracking progress as they work to get better results for young people. It is hard work, but I know it is our work. It is the real work that awaits us in 2022.
I invite our national partners and supporters as well as field experts and policymakers to leverage our success stories, insights and data to inform their work. Together, we can prove change is possible for every child, every family.