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Networks Add Real Value: Here's How

Starting in 2015, ELM Co-Director Molly Day began participating in the Equity Leaders Action Network (ELAN), a three-year Build Initiative project to advance racial equity in early childhood systems. Over the course of this project, more than 30 ELAN Fellows from around the country worked together to identify, address and take action on inequities by influencing state-level policies. In April, ELM hosted the ELAN Fellows in Portland for an action-packed week of site visits, panels and conversations with local leaders. As the network comes to an end in 2018, Molly shares what she's learned through ELAN and how national networks like these have a real impact on ELM's work locally. 

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From the start of our existence as Early Learning Multnomah we were clear that our focus would be on racial equity. As a new director, I knew this was going to be a big learning curve for me. So when I heard Sherri Killins of the BUILD Initiative describe the Equity Leaders Action Network (ELAN) as a way to support leaders who were building bias-free early childhood systems, I knew I wanted in. Being a part of ELAN has been such a gift. I have had the benefit of concentrated learning time with the ELAN Fellows and faculty over three years—unpacking critical race theory in late night discussions, walking through Albuquerque and Charleston as local leaders reveal hidden histories, practicing new approaches to engage reluctant stakeholders. And the reading! So much reading and such good stuff—stacks of books and articles to read and ponder and then regular calls to discuss and apply what we read in our communities all across the country (and Guam!). 

Over the three years we have grown to know and trust each other. These are people I call on when I hit a system barrier I know they have faced or when I need a critical friend outside of my team who will tell me if I am off-course. Thanks to ELAN I am connected to the larger movement for racial equity across the country. When I get discouraged and begin to think that problems are too big and I am too small, I think about the ELAN Fellows and all the work that we are doing and it gives me strength.   
 
Being in a national network has been a wonderful experience for me and that’s one reason I applied for our ELM team to join the Center for the Study of Social Policy’s Early Childhood Learning and Innovation Network for Communities (CSSP’s EC-LINC). Where ELAN has largely been about my own leadership development, with EC-LINC we are able to bring our whole ELM team, our leadership councils, our colleagues at United Way of the Columbia-Willamette and Multnomah County into the conversation. Just as ELAN has given me friends and colleagues across the country, EC-LINC will do the same for our team and I expect many opportunities to learn from other communities’ successes and failures, pilot innovative ideas and approaches, and challenge each other to stay focused on social justice. Should be fun! 

For more information about ELAN, go here.