EQUITY NOW! A Manifesto for Parents, by Parents

This is a simple story about Equity.

About parents who want a fair shake for their children. Who never really had a movement to move them forward. Until now.

This movement started with one very important question: As a caring, loving parent, if I’m not acknowledged, if I don’t have a voice, if I don’t have a seat at the table, how can I ever help my kids succeed?

For the parents and caregivers in the communities we serve, hurdles to equity within early childhood systems can span financial, logistical, social, and even racial divides. Some policies put an insurmountable roadblock in the parent’s path on a daily basis, creating stressors related to time, costs, and feelings of frustration. All these roadblocks have created a big problem: parents were severely under-represented in critical conversations that affect their young children. And hurt their kids’ future.

The way organizations who serve young children and their families engage with parents – especially those who are for our most economically vulnerable and come from diverse backgrounds – really matters. Effectively engaging parents is a critical piece of advancing the goal of eliminating disparities and getting kids ready to enter school.

So on a January day last year, a national equity organization convened 40 parent leaders from around the country, plus agency staff from United Way, the Boston Family Engagement Network, and other agencies to brainstorm a way to do something about all this. And they certainly did.

The Manifesto for Race Equity and Parent Leadership in Early Childhood Systems was
created by this parent leadership network to help early childhood systems learn to work better with parents for stronger equitable outcomes.

This official Manifesto is their constitution. Their blueprint. Their guiding light.

Engaging parents and giving them a voice and empowering them as leaders. For this group of passionate parents, this is what “equity” is all about.

This Manifesto is a prime example of how United Way can involve the entire community to solve problems: in this case, encouraging both the leadership of parents and involvement in citywide networks.

“This gives us a platform to bring forward things that really mean a lot to everyone, “ says Deena Smitherman, a Parent Leader in Boston. Says another Parent Leader in Connecticut, Caroline Austin, “The Manifesto is the opportunity to bring to the forefront difficult conversations that people usually shy away from rather than face head-on.”

The successful outcome from the Manifesto – and key to its success – is the creation of a burgeoning parent leadership network in several cities, which wrote this “equity game plan” for under-served and under-voiced parents.

The Manifesto helps these parent leaders improve outcomes for their growing kids in early childhood. You know, give their kids an equitable head start (who doesn’t want that for their children?) And it’s not just the parents who are invested: caregivers, early educators, and community partners (including United Way) that care about young children care about this Manifesto. It keeps the focus on access to an equitable learning environment that’s so incredibly vital to kids’ development .

While many of the parent leaders are mothers, dads are just as involved promoting the manifesto – and happy to do so. “In all the programs my son and I got involved in, everything was about mom and kids. There would be pictures of Mom with her children – and not one picture of a dad with his kids, “ says Parent Leader Anthony Queen of Michigan, “The Manifesto means that I’m no longer feeling like just a throw-in: dads and Dad language were included from the beginning.”

The Manifesto’s foundation is built on powerful parenthood with “5 Commitments” (a.k.a. the game plan) to promote and help deliver equitable outcomes for all young children:

The Manifesto’s 5 Commitments:

  1. Challenge Racism – via equity-driven parent engagement
  2. Embrace Parent Leadership – create radical shifts in how parents involved
  3. Prioritize Resources – funding and time are huge
  4. Create Career Pathways – for parents to enter early childhood workforce
  5. Maximize Equitable Outcomes – operations must be aligned

Are these commitments – the cornerstone of the Manifesto – a tough order to fill? Perhaps, but the key, says Parent Leader Lisa Melara, is having parents at the table to begin with.

“They [early childhood systems] need to talk with parents and not at parents. The Manifesto means we are finally addressing race equity and parent leadership, says Melara. “This is a new lens.”

On the gridiron of Equity, this parent playbook has never been more vital.

Want to learn more about the Manifesto, other reports, or more conversations on Equity? Check out these resources, or please consider donating. Thank you..

The Manifesto
Boston Family Engagement Network
Ripples Phase II report