#AskHer Series: Early Care Education is a Justice Issue

This edition of our #AskHer webinar featured Dr. Lea J.E. Austin, Executive Director of the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at the University of California, Berkeley and Nitza Seguí Albino, Vice Chair of the board of DC’s Multicultural Spanish Speaking Provider Association. Moderated by Vice President of Programs, Martine Sadarangani Gordon, the conversation focused on issues impacting the early care and education industry.

[Spanish to English transcription will be made available.]

#AskHer / #AskThem is an interview series featuring women and gender non-conforming leaders, and The Women’s Foundation’s partners, community members and supporters who work tirelessly for women and girls. We curate in-depth conversations around complex issues affecting our constituents. Issues ranging from racism, racial justice, women, girls, intersectionality and more will be covered.

#AskHer Series: The Safety of Native American Women & Girls

This webinar featured Shannon O’Loughlin, Chief Executive & Attorney for the Association on American Indian Affairs. The Association on American Indian Affairs is the oldest non-profit serving Indian Country protecting sovereignty, preserving culture, educating youth and building capacity. Moderated by Interim President and CEO Jackie Lendsey, the conversation focused on issues impacting indigenous women.

Session sponsored by Bank of America

#AskHer / #AskThem is an interview series featuring women and gender non-conforming leaders, and The Women’s Foundation’s partners, community members and supporters who work tirelessly for women and girls. We curate in-depth conversations around complex issues affecting our constituents. Issues ranging from racism, racial justice, women, girls, intersectionality and more will be covered.

#AskHer Series: Fresia Guzman, Director of Youth Opportunity Centers with Identity, Inc.

Our #AskHer series is an interview with our partners, community members and supporters who work tirelessly for women and girls. This interview is with Fresia Guzman, Director of Youth Opportunity Centers with Identity, Inc.

Identity’s Mission – In pursuit of a just, equitable and inclusive society, Identity creates opportunities for Latino and other historically underserved youth to realize their highest potential and thrive. Identity works in Montgomery County, MD and has been a Stand Together Fund and Early Care and Education Funders Collaborative Grantee Partner.

The Women’s Foundation: In one sentence, tell us why you joined your organization?

Fresia Guzman: Many years ago in Bolivia, the country where I am from, I helped create a foundation of the first Ombudsman. Every time that I met with that team, I felt so passionate about the work they were doing – creating a more equal society in Bolivia. Those feelings inspired me then and continue to do so now. Fast forward to 2016, when I found out about Identity I felt the same way, and I was sure that it was the place where I wanted to work.

TWF: In one word, how would you describe your staff/team?

Fresia: Family.

TWF: What should people know about your organization that they may not otherwise read or hear about?

Fresia: That many of our staff were involved with Identity even before they started working with us. They were past participants of our programs, and they work with us now because they want to change lives the same way Identity changed theirs.

TWF: As we look forward from the pandemic, what hurdle is your organization facing to building back better?

Fresia: One of the biggest hurdles that we are trying to overcome is the education lost during the pandemic for our black and brown community. Now the gap is even larger than it was before. This will be a big priority for us moving forward.

TWF: What’s one of your organization’s accomplishments you would like us to know about?

Fresia: Our early child education (ECE) workforce program. It empowers young woman to obtain a certification from Montgomery College, work in a paid internship, and then find a job in a family daycare. When we first talk to beginners of this program, they often do not believe in themselves and in their potential. With the help of our team, they learn that they are not alone because we walk with them, creating opportunities and eliminating barriers. Now they inspire and share their own experiences to other young women.

TWF: What do your clients need the most right now?

Fresia: Affordable childcare. This is one of the biggest barriers for our clients in pursuing education, a career or being successful in a job.

TWF: With unlimited funds, what would you do with/for your organization or clients?

Fresia: With unlimited funds, I would launch more workforce programs like ECE for youth and for adults. Identity has a relationship with 5,000 thousand adult clients every year and many of them want a career, need a job, or need to obtain the qualifications to have a better job but need someone to help open doors to new opportunities. I would love to manage a job center that understands and tailors its programs to the necessities of the population that we serve.

TWF: Which of your own identities do you most value, personally and professionally?

Fresia: I always work to have an equilibrium between my role as mother, wife, and professional. There are times when I had to choose one over the other and it was not easy. But now, I’ve found the equilibrium. I love my job, in September I celebrated 27 years of marriage, and have three wonderful kids that are more adult than kids now.

TWF: Here’s a quick lightning round of questions:Do you prefer: DC-area Spring or DC-area Summer? Spring

TWF: Do you prefer: Monuments or Museums?

Fresia: Monuments

TWF: Favorite female or gender expansive icon?

Fresia: Janet Yellen, Christiane Amanpour, Malala Yousafzai

TWF: Favorite part of the Washington region?

Fresia: I love the national mall with all the museums nearby.

TWF: What’s one thing you can’t get enough of?

Fresia: Having dinner with friends or family.

TWF: What should we abolish forever? (Can be more than 1 answer)

Fresia: Bullying, discrimination.

TWF: Is there anything you want to be sure that we know that we haven’t already discussed?

Fresia: We need to continue promoting gender equality and empower our girls and women by preparing them for well-paying jobs, by supporting their confidence and emotional well-being and by making sure there is high-quality childcare available to them that is affordable.

Learn more about Identity, Inc. and their work on their website!

#AskHer Series: Alana Brown, Executive Director of The Safe Sisters Circle

Our #AskHer series is an interview with our partners, community members and supporters who work tirelessly for women and girls. This interview is with Alana Brown, Executive Director of The Safe Sisters Circle. The interview was conducted by our Program Officer, Chika Onwuvuche

The Safe Sisters Circle is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that provides free culturally specific, holistic, and trauma-based services to Black women survivors of domestic violence and/or sexual assault primarily living in Washington, DC’s Wards 7 and 8.

Chika Onwuvuche: In one sentence, tell us why you founded your organization?

Alana Brown: I founded this organization because I wanted an organization that placed Black women’s needs first, centered the survivors’ needs and also provided them with practitioners and attorneys that they can relate to, such as having a staff of Black women attorneys.

Chika: What cause/issue does your organization tackle?

Alana: We look at domestic violence and sexual assault focusing on Black women and girls living in DC’s Wards 7 and 8.  Although, we rarely turn anyone away, our mission is to mainly focus on Black women survivors.

Chika: What should people know about your organization that they may not otherwise read or hear about?

Alana: I think people should know we take on other people who don’t fall into our categories. We also don’t have an income requirement. We have clients who fall into the low income category, but not poverty level income category, which are women who don’t make enough money for their own attorney, but don’t fall under the low income requirements that a lot of nonprofits have.

Chika: As we get back to building better, what hurdle is your organization facing moving forward?

Alana: I think the biggest hurdle is the idea that right now Black Lives Matter is very popular, and it’s very popular to center Black women. We have the R. Kelly case where Black women finally got justice after years of trying, after many activists did their part to bring that subject to the forefront. I don’t want people to forget that as we build back together. I want them to still be supportive of Black women as we move forward as an organization, as a country and as a society. We should still keep that focus on Black women survivors.

Chika: You brought up justice, can you explain to me your definition of justice?

Alana: My definition of justice is self-defined by the client and what they’re looking for. Despite my roots as a prosecutor, I’m actually more anti-carceral in my beliefs. We understand justice doesn’t always necessarily only mean putting someone in jail or getting a CPO (civil protection order) against someone. It might mean survivors getting custody of their children or putting them in a safer place. It might be getting survivors into housing programs. It might be referring them to the right mental health organization that we work with, as partners after getting them legal services. I think it depends on what people have defined for themselves as justice and we try to help them get to that. The idea of justice is getting people to thrive, not just survive.

Chika: What’s one of your organization’s accomplishments you would like us to know?

Alana: We started out with just one attorney, which is me. And then we grew to have two attorneys, now we have three attorneys and have expanded our capacity. We’ve been able to represent quite a few, 85 or 90 clients this past year, despite being so small. We provide brief legal advice, direct legal representation, limited representation in Civil Protection Order Hearings, family law cases such as custody and child support, and victim advocacy. Also, we are always sure to do a lot of referrals to additional services to make sure clients get a holistic experience. We’ve grown into an organization that has a good foundation of legal services and literally serves survivors directly in their community as our office is located in Anacostia in Ward 8.

Chika: What do your clients need the most right now?

Alana: Besides legal services, clients need mental health services. I think everyone is traumatized by COVID-19. Because our clients live in areas where there are high rates of COVID-19 and high rates of death particularly around caregivers for our custody cases. Our clients’ parents have passed away and it has traumatized them to a greater extent than I think their white counterparts. When you are already living in poverty, already living in a volatile situation with abusers, it makes everything that much more volatile. Both survivors and abusers need mental health services. Clients also need housing. The eviction moratorium is ending. People are really having trouble getting into new housing, especially when they need to move from an unsafe place to a safer place. There are not a lot of options right now.

Chika: With unlimited funds, what would you do with your organization?

Alana: When I started the organization, I wanted it to have more wraparound services. I wanted it to be holistic, which we are, culturally specific, which we do provide, but I also hoped to provide therapy sessions like crisis intervention. In the future, we want to provide support groups for Black women survivors and gender based violence, and if possible, short term emergency housing. So our next step in growing, is to start doing support groups and looking for funding for Black women gender based violence support groups, because our clients have directly asked us for this service and hopefully some Healing Circles and other facets of healing such as art therapy and trauma informed yoga and meditation. With unlimited money we would build up a healing justice aspect in our organization.

Chika: Here’s a quick lightning round of questions:

Chika: Do you prefer: DC-area Spring or DC-area Summer?

Alana: Spring. It’s too hot and muggy in the summer.

Chika: Do you prefer: Monuments or Museums?

Alana: I prefer museums. I’m a nerd so I love learning things about people and seeing arts. I love the National African American Museum of History and Culture.

Chika: Favorite female or gender expansive icon?

Alana: Can I just say my mother? *laughs* My mother is an icon in my family. She’s the matriarch and even though, she has sickle cell anemia, she was able to become a doctor and provide excellent parenthood to me and my twin sister. She worked in wards 7 and 8 herself and gave services back to those communities. Community service is very important to her, which I think is why it’s important to me.

Chika: Favorite part of the Washington region?

Alana: I’m from Ward 7 originally, but I grew up in Prince George’s County. I have a soft spot for Anacostia because it’s where our services are based out of and I have learned so much having worked out of this community. They have a lot of black owned businesses, and I work under the Anacostia Art Center, which is really nice.

Chika: What’s one thing you can’t get enough of?

Alana: Coffee – I like it iced with almond milk and Splenda.

Chika: What should we abolish forever? (Can be more than 1 answer)

Alana: It’s going to sound very anti-ethical to my history, but we should abolish the current criminal and civil legal system as it stands. It’s not survivor-friendly and even within the civil system, there’s a very real anti- Black bias. Those working within the court system need to be trained differently to deal with people from diverse backgrounds, especially focusing on race, ethnicity, gender, cultural, and social economic context of the community they are supposed to serve. We need to abolish the system and rebuild another one that works better not only for Black women survivors, but to help our society as a whole. 

Chika: Is there anything you want to be sure that we know that we haven’t already discussed?

Alana: We are very community oriented. We have a lot of partnerships with non-legal organizations in Ward 7 and 8 with different therapy, healing and housing organizations. When we say “healing justice” we don’t mean solely mean therapy support groups. We also believe in healing circles which speaks to ancestry work and to different types of non-traditional healing. We incorporate our roots of our African ancestors and of the Black community to ensure that our services are culturally specific and relevant. The services are catered to their needs and requests.

#AskHer Series: The Importance of Intersectional Feminism

For October’s #AskHer webinar, we talked to Dr. Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, Co-founder and Executive Director of the African American Policy Forum. She is popularly known for her development of “intersectionality,” “Critical Race Theory,” and the #SayHerName Campaign, and is the host of the podcast Intersectionality Matters!.

Moderated by Interim President and CEO Jackie Lendsey, the conversation will focus on the importance of intersectional feminism. #AskHer / #AskThem is an interview series featuring women and gender non-conforming leaders, and The Women’s Foundation’s partners, community members and supporters who work tirelessly for women and girls. We curate in-depth conversations around complex issues affecting our constituents. Issues ranging from racism, racial justice, women, girls, intersectionality and more will be covered.

#AskHer Series: Mau Castro & Melissa Lorenzana, Briya Public Charter School

Our #AskHer series is an interview with our partners, community members and supporters who work tirelessly for women and girls. This interview is with Mau Castro, Bilingual Child Development Specialist and Melissa Lorenzana, GA Early Childhood Coordinator at Briya Public Charter School.

Equity in Early Learning Initiative (EELI) seeks to sustain the development of best practices in early childhood leadership, teaching and learning, and family engagement around equity-focused practice; and the development of a clear agenda to elevate the DC metro area as an early learning model for exemplary work in equity leadership and social justice education at the programming, systems, local policy and state/national advocacy levels. EELI partners include Bright Beginnings and Briya Public Charter School in DC; The Campagna Center in Alexandria, VA; Wonders Early Learning + Extended Day and School Readiness Consulting in Maryland.

Briya Public Charter School’s mission is to strengthen families through culturally responsive two-generation education. In this special edition of #AskHer, Mau and Melissa, both Briya PCS staff and participants in EELI highlight their roles both at the school and within the initiative.

  1. In one sentence, tell us why you joined Briya PCS?

Mau Castro: I wanted to be able to make an impact in children’s lives, one way or another, and I found that training the future generation of teachers was my place to be.

Melissa Lorenzana: I joined Briya PCS because of its mission to strengthen families as a whole in order for both parents and children to strive and prosper in life and education.

2. Briya PCS is one of the Partners of the Equity in Early Learning Initiative (EELI). What is the main purpose of the EELI?

Mau: To me, the purpose of this initiative is to start the conversation and train our staff in terms of equity and social justice in early childhood (EC) education.  Briya has been doing a great deal of work in that regard and the EELI was particularly insightful for our EC team. Through the training and conversations, I was able to understand and reflect on my own experiences and biases. Recognizing where they are and why is, to me, the first important step towards a better understanding of what equity looks like in our practice.

Melissa: The purpose of EELI is to help us, as an organization, to be intentional about equity and social justice in early childhood education. To confront our own biases and take action steps towards eliminating racial and cultural prejudices. To celebrate differences and acknowledge similarities among the population we serve. 

3. In one word, how would you describe the EELI?

Mau: Insightful

Melissa: Transformative

4. What should people know about Briya PCS and/or the EELI that they may not otherwise read or hear about?

Mau: Briya PCS is committed to offering programs that are equitable, not only for the children we serve but their families and all adult learners.  We have been working for years on how to ensure our programs are equitable spaces where students and families can learn and improve their quality of life. Yet, we do so in a learning environment that recognizes, acknowledges, and celebrates our differences and who we are as members of a larger community. 

Melissa: I agree with what Mau said!

5. As we get back to building better, what hurdle is Briya PCS facing in furthering its equity work?

Mau: At Briya, there is still work that needs to be done and, I think, there always will be. We have an ever-changing and growing group of staff members who need to be constantly reflecting on their own practice and how can they improve. In my opinion, for us, teachers, to have a positive effect on our students’ positive racial identity, it is imperative that we have recognized and fostered our own. That way we are nurturing and modeling self-love, acceptance, a positive attitude toward who we are, and how we contribute to society. 

On that same note, we also need to keep working on diversifying our staff to truly reflect the community that we serve. The impact is immeasurable when students, regardless of their age or developmental level, can see themselves reflected in their teachers, counselors, and people they trust.  That relatable factor can only be materialized when the staff “looks like” the community that we serve.

Melissa: Time is always a hurdle and will be a hurdle for us as we continue our equity work at Briya PCS.

6. What’s one of Briya PCS’s accomplishments as part of EELI you would like us to know?

Mau: We created a series of trainings and workshops for our early childhood practitioners that has been interesting and revealing, in my opinion.  We have seen staff members who once were reluctant to participate but are now not only engaged but reflecting and being part of the conversation. We also extended the work we started with the EC team to our adult education department with a successful series of trainings as part of their professional development as well. Again, this is just the beginning; however, it is exciting to see people interested, concerned, and even uncomfortable, because that means that the conversation is working.

Melissa: We will begin to use the EC equity focused classroom observation tool this school year. The tool will serve as a guide for teachers and to support professional development and coaching this school year.

7. With unlimited funds, what would you do with the EELI?

Mau: I would develop the initiative until it becomes a stand-alone training that we can offer to all members of our staff, as well as our adult learners and families. I have this crazy idea that if were to start teaching and promoting the development of a positive racial identity from a very early age, along with fostering family engagement through an equity-focused practice, our communities will be different after a couple of years. I realized this is a colossal dream of mine, but we must start somewhere.

8. Here’s a quick lightning round of questions for you as individuals

DC Spring or DC Summer?

Mau: DC Spring!

Melissa: DC Spring

Local or federal?

Mau: Local

Melissa: Local

Monuments or Museums?

Mau: Monuments

Melissa: Museums

Favorite female icon?

Mau: Frida Khalo, Michelle Obama, Ruth Bader Ginsburg — Does it have to be just one?

Melissa: Issa Rae

Favorite part of the Washington region?

Mau: Looking at The Mall from the Lincoln Memorial and Adams Morgans

Melissa: Access to different parks to relax and/or play sports with people

What’s one thing you can’t get enough of?

Mau: Cherry Blossoms

Melissa: Starbucks 😊

What should we abolish forever?

Mau: Interesting question! Standardized tests, racial segregation in public education (Yes! It still exists); education and religion in the same building; politics and health in the same conversation. I can go on and on with this answer.

9. Is there anything you want to be sure that we know that we haven’t already discussed? 

Mau: In my opinion, there is a group of us doing a great work in equity in education, but it is not big enough. I think this conversation must be extended to other groups that haven’t been included yet. I think it is a great initiative to have included early childhood practitioners, but we still have a long way to go.

Find out more about Briya PCS here!

#AskHer Series: The Black Trans Experience in the Nonprofit Sector

This #AskHer webinar features Bré Rivera, a program officer at Groundswell Fund. We discussed issues most impacting the lives of Black and trans people in the nonprofit and philanthropy sectors. This timely conversation was moderated by Director of Communications, Mercy Chikowore.

#AskHer / #AskThem is an interview series featuring women and gender non-conforming leaders, and The Women’s Foundation’s partners, community members and supporters who work tirelessly for women and girls. We curate in-depth conversations around complex issues affecting our constituents. Issues ranging from racism, racial justice, women, girls, intersectionality and more will be covered.

#AskHer/ #AskThem Save The Date

#AskHer / #AskThem is an interview series featuring women and gender non-conforming leaders, and The Women’s Foundation’s partners, community members and supporters who work tirelessly for women and girls. We curate in-depth conversations around complex issues affecting our constituents. Issues ranging from racism, racial justice, women, girls, intersectionality and more will be covered.

While #AskHer is going on hiatus during the month of August, you can look forward to the following webinars in September and beyond. Look out for RSVP links soon!

#AskHer: President’s Edition ft. Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat & Jackie Lendsey

This #AskHer webinar featured Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat, outgoing President and CEO of Washington Area Women’s Foundation and our new Interim President and CEO, Jackie Lendsey. This exclusive conversation highlighted Jennifer’s extraordinary leadership of The Women’s Foundation over the last seven years, and welcomed Jackie and her vision to the team. The conversation was moderated by Director of Communications, Mercy Chikowore.

#AskHer / #AskThem is an interview series featuring women and gender non-conforming leaders, and The Women’s Foundation’s partners, community members and supporters who work tirelessly for women and girls. We curate in-depth conversations around complex issues affecting our constituents. Issues ranging from racism, racial justice, women, girls, intersectionality and more will be covered.

#AskHer Series: Shawnda Chapman, Director of the Girls Fund Initiative, Ms. Foundation

Our #AskHer series is an interview with our partners, community members and supporters who work tirelessly for women and girls. This interview is with Shawnda Chapman, Director of the Girls Fund Initiative for Ms. Foundation. The interview was conducted at the end of 2020 by our Program Officer, Claudia Williams. 

Claudia: Can you share a little bit about yourself, how did you come to the Ms. Foundation for Women, and what projects you have going on?

Shawnda: I believe people need all the experiences, I used to walk around thinking some of my experiences were a liability. And now, I really see them as an asset. My work is rooted in my own experiences as a survivor of sexual violence, and a survivor of the juvenile justice system. Many girls experience incarceration and gender-based violence that impact their lives. 

I am excited to lend my voice as the Director of the Girls of Color Fund Initiative at the Ms. Foundation for Women, because up until recently I walked around closeted of my lived experiences. Being a survivor of sexual violence and someone who has been impacted by the justice system is usually something others make you feel you should hide—I felt people would judge me in professional spaces. But I came to a point where I thought to myself, “I had these experiences, and my knowledge of them, and the solutions I can propose, could really help somebody.” There are few of us with these experiences in decision making tables, so now I am honored to do this work, and I have a responsibility to myself, to communities, and to girls of color specifically, to incorporate my lived experiences in mainstream conversations and to normalize talking about them.

I have a background in research, and activism, and I bring some of that to the work at the foundation as well. I am currently focused on supporting the leadership and organizing of girls of color, the work has evolved quite a bit. We started calling this project the Girls Fund Initiative, and we are now explicit about our focus on girls of color, because we can’t bring about change, if we are not intentional about naming what we are working on. We are in the middle of a deep listening and learning process, working closely with girls’ advisory groups who are helping us to understand what girls of color are facing. We are moving away from top down approaches and know that girls of color are playing an important role in leading our strategy. We can’t make any real lasting and sustainable change that isn’t led by them.

My orientation while conducting research, and now my orientation in philanthropy, is to always give more than we take. I think we should always be reducing barriers rather than creating more. So, we are being very thoughtful about that, and we are also making sure that we are honoring girls and organizations participating in our process.

It is such an honor to do this work and I feel a huge sense of responsibility to it. I know what it means to come from where I have come from. So I am making sure that we come to this work with dignity and with intentionality, and recognizing not just our ability to make an impact through the economic commitments that we make, but also through what we learn and that we have the ability to push the field to do better.

Claudia: Can you share more about your efforts to push the philanthropic sector to do better?

Shawnda: Ms. Foundation just released a report, Pocket Change, highlighting the fact that we are not investing enough in women and girls. Even less in women and girls of color. As a researcher, one of the first things that I always do is dive into the data to figure out what we know, what’s happening, and one of the things that surprised me the most was the fact that we don’t actually have a sense of how much money goes out to girls of color. Through this research we have a better sense of how few resources go to women, and there is still a long way to go. For instance, we do not have a great sense of how much disabled girls are getting or if there any resources going to girls affected by climate change. Girls of color quite often are the last to be considered for funding and the first to be let go. Feminist foundations like The Women’s Foundation and Ms. Foundation for women are more important than ever, because there are so few foundations that are intentional about funding, women, girls, and gender-expansive people of color. Our work is so critical, and all of the learning that we are doing and putting out there helps us advocate to push the field to do better.

Claudia: There is a lot of talk about centering the voices of young women and gender-expansive youth of color, but how do you do that? Can you share your experience as the Director of the Girls of Color Fund Initiative at Ms. Foundation for Women? 

Shawnda: I am super new to philanthropy; it’s been less than a year. I think it’s both a blessing and a curse sometimes. I feel a little clunky sometimes, but I think that being new has allowed me to be bolder in the decisions that I’m taking and the way that I want to develop a strategy to center the voices of young women and gender-expansive youth of color.

We are supporting organizations with the goal to be able to learn from them in a very deeply, engaged, and meaningful way. It is really about bringing them to the decision-making table in their own terms. We are asking girls of color to show up and create the change that they want to see in the world, but in order for us to ask that, we have the responsibility to resource them properly so they can do that fully. That means many things, and depends on the needs of the girls and organizations that we are working with, for some it is political education or capacity building or communications training, but it is definitely more than just checking a box that makes us feel good about saying that we “included” them. Their ideas, creativity and passion is really what needs to be driving our work, and we are being very thoughtful about the ways we engage with them, because they have so many competing priorities, between school, family and friends.

Claudia: What are some of the principles that guide your work at the Girls of Color Fund?  

Shawnda: One of the things that we deeply care about is the fact that girls have the right to joy and we want to support that. We want to support programming that creates opportunities for girls of color to access joy, spaces where girls can really enjoy and be themselves, and where they don’t have to be thinking about being resilient—there’s this conversation about how Black women are very resilient, but we don’t necessarily want to be resilient all the time! Just because many girls of color have figured out how to not to perish in the system, doesn’t mean that they don’t need fun and resources, and time for healing and growth.  

Learn more about Ms. Foundation here!