Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Marian Wright Edelman's Commencement Speech at Colorado College

“I love my role model, Sojourner Truth, who was an illiterate but brilliant slave women who could not stand slavery or second-class treatment of women, but she never lost an opportunity to speak out and one day she got heckled by an old white man who stood up and said he didn’t believe anymore about her anti-slavery talk than for an old flea bite. She snapped back at him, and said, “That’s all right. The Lord willing, I am going to keep you scratching.” I think if we can all remember that if there are enough fleas biting the biggest dog, and there are enough of us who keep coming back when they flick some of us off, we will get gun safety regulations, we will end child poverty. You just have to bite whenever you see injustice, and if enough of us join that flea corps for children, the flea corps against gun violence, the flea corps against child poverty, we will transform our nation and make it un-American for any child to be poor, for any child to be illiterate, for any child to be unsafe and unable to grow up in our rich land.”

                                                -Marian Wright Edelman

              It’s commencement season and we should each have the right to circulate at least one commencement speech.  I’m choosing Marian Wright Edelman’s earlier this month at Colorado College. 

Like all commencement speeches there are a few unavoidable clich├ęs, but Marian remains a brave and original thinker, in whom the passion for social justice has never diminished. She offers the graduates the seven lessons she shared with her three sons.  They are worth a read.

You can find both the video and the printed transcript  @ http://www.coloradocollege.edu/commencement/  

Monday, May 27, 2013

New Brookings Study of Suburban "Cul De Sac" Poverty

Just when you think you finally are beginning to understand the issues you’ve worked on for much your career, new research comes along that turns everything you thought you knew upside down and serves as powerful reminder to look beyond conventional wisdom. That was the experience I had while preparing to keynote a Brookings Institution session last week on suburban poverty.

The occasion was the publication of an important new book by Elizabeth Kneebone and Alan Berube called Confronting Suburban Poverty in America.  @ http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/21/opinion/cul-de-sac-poverty.html?hp&_r=0

 Most of us have mental images of poverty concentrated in urban areas and hard to reach rural communities. But what the authors found is that  one in three poor Americans now live in the suburbs and that the pace has been growing so fast that in a number of regions- like Chicago, Houston, Seattle -  the rates of poverty in the suburbs are now actually greater than the rates of poverty in the city.

But the authors also found that anti-poverty programs haven’t evolved accordingly. “Policies to help poor places – as opposed to poor people – haven’t evolved much beyond the War On Poverty’s neighborhood-based solutions.”  Federal programs designed for urban areas, ranging from Community Health Centers to Promise Neighborhoods – are ill-suited for suburbs where poverty is more diffuse and services scattered.

Americans living in poverty have always found themselves to be vulnerable, voiceless, and often invisible to policymakers. As poverty has dissipated from our cities to our suburbs that has become even more the case. Kneebone and Berube have written an original and important book that gives voice to their needs.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Community Wealth Partners celebrates the spirit of "Dream Forward"

Last week Community Wealth Partners held a reception to celebrate the launch of its new name (changed from Community Wealth Ventures) and its new “Dream Forward”  icon.   

The event reunited several generations of colleagues and partners diverse in their interests but united in their belief that nonprofit organizations must commit to not only their own sustainability and scale, but to the multi-sector collaborations necessary to ensure that we solve problems at the magnitude that they exist.   

At a time when our national politics seem more polarized and paralyzed than ever, nonprofit and community organizations continue to achieve impact on issues such as hunger, education reform, and environmental protection.  Community Wealth Partners, under the leadership of our president Amy Celep, has been studying how organizations make the shift from incremental to transformational change.   The growth of Share Our Strength and its No Kid Hungry campaign has also been an important source of learning and best practice.

To learn more check out our new website @ http://communitywealth.com/

Monday, May 20, 2013

What We're Learning At State Level About How to Get Things Done

           The Boston Globe is publishing a series about Washington called “Broken City: Politics in An Age of Paralysis.” But while political pundits debate whether the President and Congress can accomplish anything on behalf of the American people, we’ve been proving that outside of Washington change is possible, especially at the state and local level, even on behalf of vulnerable and voiceless children.

            Last week Colorado Governor Hickenlooper signed “breakfast after the bell” legislation so that thousands of school kids will now have a stronger chance of succeeding in thanks to getting  nutritious food.  It had bipartisan support in the Colorado General Assembly. A day before the L.A. school board voted unanimously to support alternative and more accessible school breakfasts. Maryland approved a $1.8 million increase in Maryland Meals for Achievement.

            Such accomplishments at the state level are not accidental.  Unlike members of Congress, Governors have the action orientation of executives and are not fighting to preserve a legislative majority that determines everything from committee assignments to office space.  They don’t check with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid or Minority Leader Mitch McConnell before deciding what to do.  That’s not to say there isn’t partisanship at the state level, or that it never hinders our work, but at least there are places where it is kept in check.

Share Our Strength made the strategic decision to shift our focus to where children actually live, learn and play, thus our state-based No Kid Hungry campaigns.  That doesn’t mean advocacy at the federal level is unimportant. To the contrary, upcoming battles to preserve SNAP will be vital. We’ll work for the SNAP Ed funding so important to Cooking Matters.  But national organizations working with governors, doing community organizing and providing technical assistance to local governments are few and far between.  Share Our Strength’s efforts there stand out.

There are leaders – Democrats and Republicans - who get things done. Sadly, few are in Washington. In the end our work in the states will not only help feed a lot of children, but may also show there are times and places when Democrats and Republicans can work together, to the mutual interest of each, and on behalf of the larger public interest.  If so, we’ll accomplish something even greater than ending childhood hunger. The glow of that achievement, and others built upon it, could light a path toward ending the polarization that paralyzes politics and government today.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Remarks To National Head Start Association Announcing Partnership to Reach 10,000 Head Start Parents with Cooking Matters At The Store

            Yesterday I spoke at the closing session of the 40th annual conference of the National Head Start Association, following inspiring remarks by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.  A summary of my comments follow below.

            Thank you Yasmina Vinci for that very kind introduction and congratulations on all that you’ve achieved here this week. It is an honor to be in a room of advocates and champions for how to care for, mentor and bring along the generation of young people who will be our future.

            I recently heard some good advice along those lines from my eight year old son, who is in second grade and as we were walking to school bumped into his pre-school cousin Audrey .  They got into a conversation that my wife Rosemary and I could not quite hear, but when he put his hand on her shoulder to console her about something, we leaned in from behind and heard this wisdom from a second grader to a pre-schooler: “Listen, just enjoy the naps while they last.”   

            Here’s another bit of advice we’ve found to be true: if you want to make a difference in the lives of kids, then partner with National Head Start Association.  And so today Share Our Strength is announcing just such a partnership which includes a grant of $100,000 to ensure that 10,000 Head Start parents get Cooking Matters At the Store, our signature program for ensuring that moms and families have the information and resources they need to prepare healthy meals for growing children.  This will empower families by teaching them more about reading nutrition labels and unit pricing, so that they can make healthy and affordable choices for their meals. This is just a start.  We hope to grow the program in 2014 and 2015..

Cooking Matters at The Store is a critical component of our No Kid Hungry campaign. Hunger in America is a solvable problem. This is not Syria or Sudan or sequestration. Children are not hungry because of lack of food or lack of lack of food programs, but because of lack of access.  21 million children get a free or reduced price school lunch and all 21 million are also eligible for breakfast, but only 11 million get it. What does that tell you. It says that these children are not only vulnerable but voiceless.  You are there voice.

            This is an extraordinary time to be raising your voice on behalf of those who are voiceless. With so  many Americans in poverty or struggling and so many kids at risk.  Our focus at Share Our Strength and our window into this space is around the impact of food and nutrition and what we are seeing affirms the vital role that early investments here as well of course as in education and head start plays.

Every day we are learning and proving that while there are investments some think we can’t afford to make, we actually can’t afford not to make them when it comes to the education of our children. We can’t have a strong America with weak kids. We can’t have a healthy economy with unhealthy kids. We can’t have an America prepared to compete in the world without children prepared to learn.  Head Start and Cooking Matters are a big part of that solution.

As the writer James Baldwin said: “These are all our children and we shall profit by or pay for whatever they become.”  Let’s make sure that what they become is smart, and kind, and healthy, and wise, and that American does too.