BUILDing Connections to Racial Equity in Early Learning

I had the privilege of being a Washington representative at a recent BUILD meeting in Memphis, Tenn. It was a somber yet energizing experience for me, being in the city that saw the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and so many civil rights struggles while discussing the efforts that we still need to make to eliminate racial disparities in our country.
More about that to come, but first some details about what I went to Memphis to do. There are 10 BUILD states that share one thing in common: We’re all on the cutting edge of systems-building work in early learning. It was my first experience attending a national BUILD meeting, and I couldn’t have been more impressed with the brainpower and commitment of the other attendees to improve outcomes for kids. Memphis was a fascinating backdrop for one of the major discussion topics of the three-day meeting: racial equity.
Going into the meeting I was aware that our state’s Racial Equity Theory of Change (RETOC) was pre-reading for the discussion. As we opened the second day of meetings, the RETOC was distributed to all participants and our state was asked to share our experience to frame the conversation that followed. I focused on a few key points:

  • The power of being inclusive when developing the theory of change
  • The importance of embedding a racial equity lens within your local governance structure
  • And something we’ve learned from other systems … The intentional use of a racial equity lens if we want outcomes to change. We risk perpetuating disparities if we aren’t intentional.

What I love most about national meetings is how they change your perspective and give you the ability to assess your work from a broader vantage point. In talking to other states, it was clear our ability in Washington to openly discuss issues of racial disparities for early learners is unique.
There are real opportunities for our state to take national leadership in this area if we continue to progress. When you are immersed in the work, you forget just how difficult it can be to take that initial step of building awareness. The fact that we have been able to come together as a state and put our vision on paper — and are now looking toward implementation — is even more impressive. There is still a lot of work to be done to truly integrate the RETOC into our system-building efforts, but I came away from the meeting feeling like we are headed in the right direction.
At the end of the meeting, my colleague Liv Woodstrom and I paid a visit to the National Civil Rights Museum. It was a perfect follow-up to our discussions; it was important to soak in how far we’ve come as a country and to recognize how deeply so many had to suffer to get there. More than 40 years after Dr. King’s assassination in Memphis, we know racial disparities are still pervasive in every public system across the age spectrum. The struggle isn’t over; let’s make sure we do our part in the early learning system to reverse that trend and make sure all children enter kindergarten ready to succeed.
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