By Stacie Marez
Early Learning Specialist
Central Early Learning Regional Coalition
Note: I recently interviewed Carole Folsom-Hill, executive director of La Casa Hogar in Yakima. Carole has led La Casa Hogar since 1999. The organization’s mission is to build an inclusive community by creating opportunities and opening doors of hope and justice; its team works to move Yakima from divided neighborhoods to connected communities. Carole is a passionate advocate and do-er of work that addresses the racial equity gap, specifically in the Hispanic community.
She has been a partner with Thrive by Five Washington and other state leaders in creating a Racial Equity Theory of Change for early learning and developing a vision for advancing racial equity. Carole’s voice, unique perspective and intimate knowledge of racial equity issues in the Hispanic community ensured that the Yakima area was well-represented in the development of this statewide work.
I sat down with Carole to learn from her perspective what needs to be done to ensure that race is eliminated as a predictor of progress and success for children ages birth to 8.
Stacie Marez: What is the current state of racial equity in our community?
Carole Folsom-Hill: It feels like ethnic groups are isolated from each other — Hispanic, Anglo. Because I have the opportunity to walk in both communities (being a white woman working in a Hispanic-serving organization), I see the divide. Nobody talks about the isolation, but families experience it. Kids of color are getting kicked out of school at higher rates. Many Hispanic parents don’t know how the school system works. The nature of migrant and seasonal work doesn’t allow them the time to advocate for their children. Seasonal and migrant workers may begin work in February or April (depending on the crop) and work long hours through October.
What I have noticed is that the Caucasian community’s approach to solving problems is often based on fixing what’s wrong rather than identifying what’s right and working from there. Hispanic parents may feel criticized. Events like cleaning up the neighborhood are not equalizing. They’re not changing the gap. They’re a “let’s fix what’s wrong” event that increases the gap between communities of color and white communities.
SM: What needs to be done to reduce the gap?
CFH: I think that we need to do neighborhood development work. A number of things need to happen. There needs to be a shift from fixing to empowering. It implies the control shifts from the power brokers to the residents. It requires a substantial effort in listening and a shift in the lens that we look through.
I see a lot of summer isolation where children of color are home alone or with relatives while their parents work. I think we can ask ourselves, “How can we engage children in positive experiences during the summer?” La Casa Hogar has taken parents and kids to Seattle to visit the Pacific Science Center and the zoo. Some kids had never left their neighborhoods, so it was a completely new experience for them.
SM: How can we do that on a broader scale as a community? How can we reach kids of color to give them enriching, high-quality experiences during the summer that support their school readiness in the fall?
CFH: Social services and education professionals need to discuss community issues with parents, particularly parents of color. I see it shifting and more people saying “we want parents here” but we are still in the mode of doing business as usual and not really thinking about how to meaningfully engage parents as leaders and partners in their children’s well-being. The awareness is there but it’s not followed by action. We need to give more thought into how we do it.
SM: What are your hopes for racial equity work in our region?
CFH: I would love to see a thriving group of core leaders who could have a vision to pull people together, have the conversation and do the hard work. There’s a piece of me that wants people to start speaking up and being forthright. It isn’t characteristic of the people but now is the time to be honest with each other and have tough conversations. We need to look at our community as a whole, with a vision and start moving toward it. Local initiatives need to move from being fear-based to positive-based. Even when people leading initiatives try to move from fear-based to positive-based, they end up doing the same old thing the same old way. Let’s look at what we can cause to happen positively in our community. Let’s focus on what’s good and build on that. I think of the story that was shared by the former principal of Lincoln High School, an alternative school in Walla Walla.
SM: Yes. Instead of focusing on punitive action he chose to work on creating a community of love and inclusion. He sent the message to staff members that the social-emotional needs of students were just as much their responsibility as academic needs.
CFH: Yes. We need compassion, responsibility and individual action. I think we can learn from the work of the Social Resilience Model (developed by Laure Leitch and Loree Sutton). Individual action and collective action from community planning using a framework like the Social Resilience Model will help us reduce the opportunity gap for children of color.
Thanks to Carole for her contributions and dedication to this work! You can learn more about the topics we discussed with the following resources:
- People can foster social resilience initiatives within and across diverse global settings that:
- Build on the natural capacity of humans for resilience
- Target collective capacity-building
- Train and link strategic constellations of stakeholders
- Learn more about work in Washington to eliminate the opportunity gap.
- Review the demographic data for Yakima County from a community-based support organization that tracks economic, social, and environmental conditions of value or concern to people residing in Yakima County.