#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: The Impact of Gender-Based Violence on AAPI Women

Our #AskHer webinar this month focused on the impact of gender-based violence on AAPI women. On May 19th, we had a poignant discussion on how our culture, institutions, and systems undermine the safety of women and gender expansive people from Asian and Pacific Island cultures. We discussed this historical issue and how it is playing out today alongside the recent increased violence against Asian American communities.

We were joined by Krittika Ghosh, Executive Director of the Asian/Pacific Islander Domestic Violence Resource Project (DVRP) and Tina Tchen, President and CEO of TIME’S UP Now and the TIME’S UP Foundation. They were interviewed by Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat, President and CEO ofWashington Area Women’s Foundation.

#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!

#AskThem Series: The Power of Youth of Color

– Sponsored by Boeing –

On March 16th we celebrated the power of youth of color in our community! During the #AskThem​ panel we featured two of our Rock Star Awardees, who are making inspiring strides towards advancing racial, gender and economic justice.

The Rock Star Fund provides young women of color between the ages of 12 and 24 living in DC with up to $2,000 to invest in their own learning, leadership, ideas, and community projects. We designed the Rock Star Fund as participatory grantmaking. It goes beyond traditional grantmaking, allowing our Youth Advisory Board fellows the opportunity to review applications and decide awardees.

#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: Malinda Langford, Northern Virginia Family Service

Our #AskHer series is an interview with our partners, community members and supporters who work tirelessly for women and girls. This interview is with Malinda Langford, Senior Vice President of Child, Family and Youth Services for Northern Virginia Family Service. The interview was conducted by our Communications Manager, Mercy Chikowore. 

Mercy Chikowore: Thank you for taking the time to do this. Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and Northern Virginia Family Service (NVFS)?

Malinda Langford: I started with NVFS as a Training and Technical Assistance Specialist from the Office of Head Start in 2005. At that time NVFS had an Early Head Start and Head Start grant and I was assigned by the Office of Head Start to provide support to the agency in developing and implementing policies and programming that would follow Head Start Performance Standards.  I did that for about five years and in 2010 I became an employee with the agency.

I have been an Early Childhood Educator for more than 42 years.  I worked in the Atlanta, GA and the Alexandria, VA Head Start Programs and also in both private nonprofit and for -profit Early Childhood Programs in the Northern Virginia area before joining the Training and Technical Assistance Specialist team for the Office of Head Start.

I’m now Senior Vice President of programs with NVFS, and under that umbrella is the Head Start and Early Head Start Programs where we serve 486 children and families. This program supports children 0-5 in school readiness with an emphasis on both academic growth and development as well their social and emotional well- being. Simultaneously, the program provides individual case management for the parents that addresses the social determinants of health for the families.

Another program under my umbrella is our Healthy Families Program that is designed to mitigate and /or prevent child abuse and neglect. This program serves primarily first-time mothers of children up to age three.  We know, and not just because of COVID-19 that new mothers, regardless of their income can have a level of stress that might negatively impact their ability to bond with their new baby as well as their understanding of the emotional changes that they are experiencing after the birth of their child. New mothers receive a weekly 90-minute home visit from a Family Support Specialist who assists both the mom and dad in their abilities to build a positive and nurturing relationship with their child using the Evidenced Based Curriculum: Parents as Teachers. The program is not income-based, however the majority of our participants are referred to us by the local Health Departments in the communities where we serve.

The other program that I oversee is our Therapeutic Foster Care program, which contracts with the Child Protective Service agencies within local governments in Northern Virginia to identify a temporary, safe, and nurturing home for children when their homes have become unsafe. The program recruits and trains families to foster children, using the PRIDE model of practice: Parent Resources for Information, Development, and Education.

MC: That’s a lot.

ML: I guess when you say it out loud it is but on a day to day basis, it’s what we do.

We are going to reopen our Head Start and Early Head Start centers for in-person services to a limited number of families, due to our limited in-person staff capacity.  In order to be supportive of our staff and to make sure that they can support their children in their virtual learning process, we allowed our teachers to determine which option would work best for their families. Teachers who felt that they could return to an in-person service, are doing so and those who need to be home to support their children in the virtual learning process will be virtual Head Start and Early head Start teachers. We will have a limited amount of spaces to serve children in-person so across the Northern Virginia area between Arlington and Prince Williams counties we’ll serve about 134 of the 486 children enrolled in the programs in person.

We’re in the final stages of our reopening plans that began in April 2020. Using the CDC guidelines to determine if we could do this safely, we’ve been working on the reopening plan for nine months. We opened for in-person back on November 16th, offering full-day services from 7:30 in the morning till 5:30 in the evening.

MC: Congratulations! That kind of leads into the next question — how has the pandemic affected the work that you do?

ML: In our each of our service areas, public schools closed on March 13th, 2020 and we follow the school system guidelines. We have some Early Head Start community childcare partners in Prince William County, VA and those centers never closed. But we did suspend services in the EHS classrooms because we recognized that the centers would not be able to implement all of the COVID-19 protocols.  Because we are federally funded directly, we have access to resources that our community childcare partners do not as sub-contractors. They could not afford the level of mitigation practices that we would have in our own centers. We suspended the EHS classroom services in those centers and continued our financial support of the childcare center staff, by paying the salaries of the teachers who had been Early Head Start teachers so that they could be available to provide services for any children that came into the program. This financial support helped our child care partners stay open until our EHS classrooms there reopened on September 15th.

We started virtual services around the 23rd of March for our preschool families. We provided grocery cards for all of our families to supplement any needs they had from a nutrition perspective. We also provided diapers, wipes, and formula for our families with infants and toddlers.

In April, we revised our lesson plans for virtual learning experiences and developed activity boxes to align with the revised lesson plans.  Those activity boxes were delivered to the household by the classroom the teacher every two weeks.

Each family enrolled in the Head Start and Early head Start program has an assigned Case Manager who supported the families in accessing the resources within the communities such as the rental supports, utility emergency assistance, and food.  We have been able to support our families with some levels of technology so that they could be full participants in their preschooler’s virtual learning experience.

MC: And how did your staff take the changes?

ML:  The Office of Head Start allowed programs the flexibility to design their services and ensured that all the Head Start and Early Head Start staff would continue to be paid their full salaries and benefits. Our agency made a commitment to all employees to maintain all staff through June 30th. As an agency we were subsequently able to apply for some funding through the CARES Act. We decided as an agency that we would not have in-person services unless they were absolutely necessary. Our essential services such as our Homeless Shelter and Hunger Resource Center (food pantry) did not close. There were other essential services that we provide that were altered in their service delivery but has remained open to those who needs them.

Our ECE staff have actually blossomed in this space. It’s been interesting to step back and look at how well they have adapted to being virtual teachers and supportive of their own children at home. There was never a time that anyone needed to fear that they had to come into a place of work that they may not have felt safe about. Subsequently, they really threw themselves into making the virtual experience for children as great as it could be.

Our teachers really stretched themselves in their technology usage and supported our families in their usage as well. They identified some Google applications that translated all of the lessons into the first language of the parents and this allowed the parents to have follow-up lessons with their children that supports the continuous learning opportunities for their child.

MC:  That’s really important.

ML: Now that we are reopening some of our centers our staff had the opportunity to decide whether they wanted to be a virtual teacher or they felt comfortable and wanted it to be in-person.  After determining the number of staffs that wanted to be an in-person teacher we prioritized the families that we could serve in- person. We decided that working families would have the first opportunity to return to in-person services.

MC: What else should people know about NVFS during the pandemic?

ML:  Some of the Northern Virginia counties that received CARES Act dollars that flowed from the federal government to the state engaged NVFS to help distribute the funds because we have a history of and the capacity to get direct assistance funding into the communities. We have kept our food pantry and shelter open, and we have been a conduit for families to get support and relief due to COVID-related issues. We stood up an Emergency Relief Response Team that can provide direct information about the resources available and how to apply for them. We triaged callers to determine who may have only needed minimal help in identifying resources to those who may have needed more case management support. Our Institutional Advancement Team did a wonderful job in appealing to organizations and individual funders to raise unrestricted dollars in support of those living in our communities who may have been able to access resources provided through the CARES Act.

MC: Have there been any local government responses to the pandemic that have impacted your organization in unexpected ways?

ML: No, our standing relationship with our local governments was the reason we were able to support their distribution of relief funds within their communities.

MC: So, we already talked about how your staff have pivoted and how they’ve been creative. Do you have a sense of how they’re feeling or how they have been feeling through the pandemic?

ML: At the beginning of the pandemic, I think everybody was nervous. We have provided lots of platforms and feedback sessions for staff to talk about their anxieties and to ask questions. Any decisions that we make include staff input so I think that they are in a good place.

MC: How are they feeling now as the pandemic continues?

ML:  I believe that they are doing well because they are armed with information about what good mitigation practices that they can continue to engage in to be safe. For those who will participate in the in-person services, they are comfortable with the level of PPEs that they are being provided and the very strict protocols that we will have in place to keep children and staff safe.

MC: So, in time, in terms of the families you serve, looking ahead what do you think they need the most when we enter the reconstruction phase?

ML: Families will likely need new job training opportunities, continued support around rental relief and more affordable, quality community child care spaces to support their abilities to go back to work.

MC: It’ll be interesting to see how people continue to get through the holidays but hopefully it just means that supporters will give even more.

ML: They might give more during the holidays but we know that over time there will be giver’s fatigue and that the pandemic will be with us for a while.

MC: Considering we’ve been in the pandemic for a few months now, what is this month, eight now, I think…

ML: That we have been working on a reopening plan for 9 months and we are about to birth this baby (laughter)

MC: Oh man. Yeah, I didn’t even think about it like that but you are right. We do not want to name this baby but what would you say have been the most important lessons you’ve learned during this time, if at all?

ML: I’ve learned the real value of communication, and inclusion. I’ve learned that to decide about reopening really required input from every single person who would be affected by the center’s reopening. And I started with staff. Each and every staff had an opportunity to weigh in on what they felt about reopening the centers and what options they felt they could function best in. We developed our reopening protocols based on the April 2020 CDC guidance on determining what a preschool would need to do to be ready to reopen their program.  We met with our staff first and foremost because they would be the people implementing it. We brought in our governance bodies, our parents, we talked with our board of directors, with other community agencies like our county child care licensing entities. Because Head Start and Early Head Start are federally funded programs, we conferred with the Office of Head Start as well.

I’ve learned the necessity of engaging everyone who will be affected by any decision that will be in the decision-making process. When everybody is offered an opportunity to be part of a group conversation, we can problem solve and create an environment where everyone is comfortable with the decision that is made. We feel comfortable that we will do a good job of mitigating the spread.

And what we learned about the tenacity of people, and the willingness of people to do what needs to be done when they have had a hand in determining how it will be done.

MC: That’s fantastic. Is there anything else you want us to know about you and your work?

ML: I want you to know that our families are resilient. A lot of them have made difficult journeys to be where they are, both literally coming across deserts and figuratively making a decision not to leave once they were here. Those are hard decisions when you are turning your back on sometimes your younger children, sometimes your parents, your native land, and everything that makes you what you are at this point in your life.  They do the hard work of just existing in a land that can sometimes be very complicated and seemingly cruel.  Because they are resilient, they bounce back and keep pushing forward. They value education, they hard work and they want to give their children, the absolute best.

MC: I love it. And they clearly are, especially with your help.

ML:  Our role is to be a partner in their journey. We’re not mechanics, we don’t fix things for people, nor do we fix people. We function more as gardeners, our supports and engagement with them help to fertilize a soil so that they can grow.  We provide the family with both resources and   information so that they can make the best for them.

I wake up every day excited about the work that I do and the people that I work with.  Thank you for the opportunity to talk about our agency and the work that we do!

Find out more about Northern Virginia Family Service on their website.

#AskHer Series: The ‘SheCession’ & How It Affects Women and Girls of Color…

On February 9th, we discussed the “shecession” – the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on women and girls of color and how this affects childcare and paid leave. Our special guest was Dr. C. Nicole Mason, President and CEO of Institute for Women’s Policy Research, who was interviewed by Martine Sadarangani Gordon, Vice President of Programs, Washington Area Women’s Foundation.

#AskHer 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.

#AskThem Series: Healing Justice

On December 10th Cara Page, Black Queer Feminist cultural/memory worker, curator, and organizer and Richael Faithful (they/them), a multi/interdisciplinary folk healing artist, healing culture strategist, conflict worker, radical lawyer, complex conversation facilitator and visionary creative joined us for #AskThem. Attendees listened to a poignant discussion on healing justice and how it can benefit women, girls and gender-expansive youth of color.

#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: Chloe I. Edwards, Advocacy & Engagement Manager at Voices for Virginia’s Children

Our #AskHer series is an interview with our partners, community members and supporters who work tirelessly for women and girls. This interview is with Chloe I. Edwards, Advocacy and Engagement Manager at Voices for Virginia’s Children. The interview was conducted by our President and CEO, Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat. Voices for Virginia’s Children is one of our Grantee Partners.

Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat: Can you start by telling me a little bit about yourself and your role at Voices for Virginia’s Children?

Chloe Edwards: I have a long background in advocacy and have personally been impacted by all that I specialize in from foster care to kinship care to trauma-informed care and now social justice.

Prior to my work at Voices, I served as Director of Connecting Hearts, an organization with a mission to find each and every child a permanent, loving home through kinship care, re-unification, or adoption. I went into kinship foster care at the age of 14 with my grandparents. That experience influenced my desire to learn about the way in which systems impact people at the community and individual level. I went to the Minority Research and Law Institute at Southern University’s Law Center in 2013. In 2015, I graduated from Hollins University as an English Major with a double concentration in multi-cultural literature, creative writing, and social justice in an effort to highlight systemic issues through creative writing. In 2019, I graduated from the Sorensen Institute’s Political Emerging Leader’s Program. This year, I graduated with my Masters of Public Policy with a Leadership Concentration from Liberty University.

Currently, at Voices for Virginia’s Children, I serve as the Advocacy & Engagement Manager and specialize in cross-disciplinary issues. In my role, I practice policy analysis, advocacy, and outreach and engagement. In particular, I was hired to serve on the Campaign for a Trauma-Informed Virginia, where I liaise a feedback loop between local and regional partners and community networks to Voices policy team. The concentration of my work has been trauma-informed policy and practice; however, quite recently, the work has shifted to an intersection between trauma and equity through the launch of Racial Truth & Reconciliation Virginia.

At Voices, we are a multi-issue child advocacy organization, and we’re home to the Kids Count data center. We specialize in child welfare, mental health and health, early childhood education, family economic security, trauma-informed care, resilience, and research and data.

JLS: How has the work around trauma-informed care and racial truth shifted as a result of the pandemic?

CE: A lot has shifted in our work as a result of the pandemic, which is partially why Racial Truth and Reconciliation VA was born. Voices for Virginia’s Children achieved so many successes in the last General Assembly session, but all of that changed because of the present economic crisis. We shifted our attention to what we felt needed to be prioritized and protected rather than trying to advocate to keep all of our successes in each of our issue areas. That was the prominent change… we remain resilient as an organization, and we kept going.

In addition, we enhanced our capacity in order to work more at the federal level. We are a state advocacy organization, but many federal funds have came from the stimulus package—the CARES Act—so we’ve shifted our work to saving child care, prioritizing community-level prevention funds, stabilizing and investing in our child welfare workforce, telehealth, family economic security, and more.

Virginia also convened for session this August, which is an emergency session and is quite historic. Special Session introduced police reform bills and COVID-19 intervention amendments, but we also wanted to make sure children and families were prioritized and had their basic needs met.

Our trauma-informed care work completely shifted. In recognizing the inadvertent impacts of cultural, historic and racial trauma. Our work has shifted in an intentional manner and is further concentrated in the intersection of trauma and equity on a broader spectrum.

JLS: Special session – how does that process look different in terms of advocacy?

CE: It’s all been virtual. In a normal session there would be over 3,000 bills introduced. It wasn’t even a quarter of that in special session, so seeing fewer bills.

Our team has been working virtually currently. We’re not sure what the 2021 General Assembly session will look like… we do plan to introduce some advocacy trainings and to host advocacy days. We will let advocates know more once we know all the details of what the session will look like.

JLS: Can you talk a little bit about how the Racial Truth and Reconciliation Week came to be and the next steps?

CE: We recognized the inadvertent impact of COVID-19 on communities of color in addition to the resurfacing of the modern day civil rights movement. Many times, leaders of color are left to find the solution to the oppression that impacts us. I recognized that communities of color are underrepresented in the trauma-informed space and took it as opportunity to do an intentional temperature check with the Trauma-Informed Care networks that are particularly led by leaders of color, which there are five out of 26. After that conversation, we decided to respond. In May, we supported Resilience Week, which increased awareness of trauma on a broader spectrum. However, there is a general discomfort across the nation as it relates to addressing and understanding the inadvertent impact of cultural, historical, and racial trauma as a whole. Collectively, we wanted to be very intentional in focusing on those three traumas: cultural, historical, and racial. We came up with the mission and the goals of the week collectively. It’s truly a community-led initiative, and that’s how we came up with the mission to empower the voices and experiences of marginalized communities in acknowledging truth to promote healing, reconciliation and justice. The goal is to ultimately move the mission forward in pushing past the discomfort and biases that leave us complacent and to work collectively and communally to dismantle systems of oppression and racism at all levels, individual, community, and systemic, to enact authentic change.

We didn’t expect it to grow as large as it did, but it spread like wildfire. We wanted to involve the Governor’s office. We didn’t expect to gain support of his Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer with the little planning time we did have, but we were pleased to have Dr. Janice Underwood’s support.

We envisioned that individuals impacted by organization’s missions should be the loudest voices in the room, and that’s how we came up with the Give Us the Mic series between politicians and partners. We view youth as not leaders of tomorrow, but instead today, and that gave us the vision to bridge intergenerational gaps through the Our Ancestors’ Wildest Dreams series, the elder chats, and the youth-led Q&A with the Virginia Legislature Black Caucus.

There were over 50 community leaders engaged, 30+ events, 35+ partners in solidarity, the Facebook page grew to 850 followers in one week. Now it’s a longer-term initiative—Racial Truth and Reconciliation Virginia. With over 300 supporters so far through our Coalition listserv, and our Facebook page has over 950+ followers now. We have broadened our social media and can be found @RacialTruth on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Now we’re starting to structure our committees, which are: executive, advocacy & activism, education, engagement, and partnerships. We have co-chairs and chairs of each and are beginning the recruitment phase for committee members.

JLS: Can you say a little more about the Trauma-Informed Care Networks?

CE: My colleague, Mary Beth Salomone Testa and I, tag-team on a technical assistance through policy analysis in providing support to the Trauma-Informed Care Networks across the state. There are 26 multi-disciplinary networks with professionals from different fields across the state. Each year, we search for themes around best practices to implement trauma-informed care and challenges to the implementation of trauma-informed care and connect to policy opportunities and each policy analyst chooses one issue, and we create a unified policy agenda. The targeted demographic has been the Trauma-Informed Community Networks in order to create a unified policy agenda. We provide advocacy trainings and policy updates throughout the year and mobilize advocates during the General Assembly Session. The goal is to promote trauma prevention, mitigation, and intervention.

JLS: How is the racial truth work shifting and moving forward?

CE: We are describing Racial Truth & Reconciliation VA as the intentional evolution of the Campaign for Trauma-Informed Virginia. It further concentrates our efforts on the intersection of trauma and equity. Voices is implementing our strategic plan and working towards our organization’s equity transformation. One component  of the strategic plan is to empower those impacted by policy to ignite the change that they want to see in their communities.

With our equity transformation, each staff member has an equity component to their workplan in order to implement the work. Racial Truth naturally gives the organization the opportunity to have an opportunity to engage with the initiative across departments, at the board level to policy to data and development, through which we can analyze the way which we fundraise at Voices.

Through our action teams, we are broadening our reach, expanding demographics, and ensuring equity is at the center of all of our work, in order to ensure communities are authentically represented internally and externally.

We’ve created the committees for Racial Truth work: executive committee, partnerships committee, education committee, engagement committee, and advocacy and activism committee.

In terms of Voices policy initiatives, we plan to make racial equity impact statements within our areas of specialty and disciplines. In addition, when it comes to issues that Voices may not have an area of speciality, we are supporting the work of partner coalitions in order to still make stance. Lastly, through the work of Racial Truth & Reconciliation VA, we are creating partnerships with youth and family-serving organizations to provide advocacy and social change coaching in order to empower them to ignite change at, whether its systemic or social, local or state, or within the institutions that impact them.

JLS: What has Voices internal process been in terms of incorporating racial equity and how you’re operationalizing it across the organization?

CE: The components of the strategic plan include: 1. To promote effective child-centric statewide policies and laws 2. To empower local communities who guide laws and policies that affect the lives of children and families and 3. For equity to be centered in our work internally and externally.

Tactics affiliated with the first goal include educating public officials by expanding their knowledge of policies in order to address the needs of families and children through policy and data analysis to create equitable solutions. In our strategic planning process, we also communicated with stakeholders, who communicated that, while there is a need for state-level advocacy, there is room to further engage at the local-level to achieve local community empowerment. Our goal is to mobilize families and children to influence change in their communities.

Equity was the consistent theme across the board as a lens that can be applied internally and interdepartmentally effectively. An indicator at our KIDS COUNT Data Center highlights that 47% of children in Virginia are children of color. In order for Voices to adopt principles of equity in all of our programs, we are in the process of race equity transformation and have developed a race equity assessment plan to monitor our growth as an organization. We will use data as a guide to shape the internal race equity needs of our organization and adopt it to promote just and equitable outcomes for our staff in addition to the communities of color impacted by our mission. We hope other organizations can view us as an example and also model this within their organizations. It’s recommended that organizations begin this work internally in order for it to be done in an authentic way externally.

JLS: I’m curious, as we think through federal, state, and local budget cuts, how does this impact your advocacy and the need that you’re seeing in community, particularly when you’re working so hard to center the voices and experience of those most impacted so that they are front and center?

CE: We’re not quite sure what our 2021 advocacy agenda will look like because of the negotiations with the budget. But on one end, we have a lot of community members that are very excited, within the coalition particularly, to advocate on behalf of opportunity gaps that have been further exacerbated by the pandemic. Opportunities like new laws around food justice, police reform,  juvenile justice and increased support personnel in schools- the opportunities are exciting. However, limitations come with the economic impact of the pandemic.

We will likely be protecting a few items that, once again, need to be prioritized around child welfare prevention, family economic security, ensuring children have basic access to mental health and health services, and policies that promote trauma-prevention and equity. This may mean that we may not have as quite a robust policy agenda that we have had in the past. We also have to balance making sure that people who have been involved in marches and different advocacy initiatives still feel like they’re getting their voices heard and still feel like they’re creating a sense of community and solidarity around civil rights, particularly in racial justice. Simultaneously, we also have to work at the policy level to ensure that we’re connecting the needs of families and children’s basic needs to the policy opportunities and protecting those few policy opportunities that we may have because of the restricted budget.

This is also the last year of the Campaign for Trauma-Informed Virginia, and we’ll be transitioning to Racial Truth and Reconciliation Virginia. We’re having a joint advocacy day to connect the two different demographics: The Campaign for a Trauma-Informed VA: Racial Truth & Reconciliation Advocacy Day. The advocacy day will likely be virtual with traditional legislative meetings, but we are also having an in-person day to create that sense of community and solidarity; this will likely be held on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. We are working on collaboration with partners to shape the day.

JLS: How are you doing today, and how is the team doing? How has the staff and the team at Voices transitioned to virtual work and how are you managing what we really call two pandemics—the racial reckoning as well as coronavirus? 

CE: That’s a very layered question. So, with the equity transformation, I’m hoping that other organizations can see Voices pursue the process and view it as an example. It’s hard work for the people of color impacted by a transformation and also the allies involved. It’s not easy. It’s not beautiful. It requires everyone to form an increased sense of self-awareness and mindfulness. All are encouraged to get comfortable with being uncomfortable; as a result, everyone has homework to do. All of this is also layered with the lived trauma that staff members of color have experienced and is further challenged  by external factors, today’s modern civil rights movement. For many of us, this has created even more work, because the needs of families and children have been further exacerbated. I’d say that our team is very resilient. We are all very passionate about Voices mission to champion public policies to improve the lives of Virginia’s children. That ambition and the desire to make an impact has definitely kept us moving forward. The goal is to consecutively and consistently move the mission forward.

Find out more about Voices for Virginia’s Children on their website.

#AskHer Series: Voter’s Edition w/ Alencia Johnson

On October 28th, we talked to Alencia Johnson, Chief Impact Officer and Founder, 1063 West Broad, about the role women of color play in the election, the power of Black voters, voter suppression and why centering women and girls of color in the election is so important.

#AskHer is an interview series featuring women 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: Black Lives Matter Co-Founder Opal Tometi

On October 1st, we were joined by human rights leader and co-founder of Black Lives Matter, Opal Tometi. We had a timely discussion about Black Lives Matter, activism, protecting Black women and girls, and what policymakers and philanthropy can do to advance racial justice. Please support Opal’s new project: https://www.diasporarising.org/

#AskHer is an interview series with women leaders, our partners, community members and supporters who work tirelessly for women and girls.The webinar series is for in-depth conversations around complex issues affecting our constituents. Issues ranging from racism, racial justice, women, girls, intersectionality and more will be covered.