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Reflecting on Early Learning Multnomah

Molly Day has spent her career in early learning and social services. When she came to United Way to launch Early Learning Multnomah five years ago, early learning hubs were new to Oregon and Molly had to help figure out what it would look like in Multnomah County.

We asked Molly to reflect on five years at Early Learning Multnomah.

What were you most excited about when you started and what are you most excited about

I was really excited about the possibility of building an organization that worked for our county.  I believed that if we focused on grassroots engagement we could bring the community together to do things differently and better serve children and families. There were so many ideas flying around and it was an exciting time.

Now, I’m really proud of keeping family voice at the center of our work. We’ve stuck to what the data showed us was foundational to child and family outcomes—structural racism. That focus has given us a strong base to take on the work the state is asking of us and to support big county wide efforts such as Preschool for All. All of our work will have family voice at the forefront,and a focus on racial equity.

It also feels good to be at the five year mark and not feel like we need to change direction. We know what our priorities are and are able to stand on them. We are in a unique position of not being bound by programmatic requirements. I’ve been at organizations that are understandably bound by their programs and board of directors. At ELM we have the capacity and flexibility to think about all the kids in county.

How has your thinking changed over the last five years about what Early Learning
Multnomah is, as one of the state’s early learning hubs?

Originally, we thought the hub was going to be a whole series of communities of practice. We imagined a lot of professional tables and staffing a lot of committees and councils. We pretty quickly saw that we didn’t have that capacity to do that and that focusing on committees and councils of mostly White organizational leaders was perpetuating the same systems of decision making that feel comfortable to dominant culture organizations. We knew we had to authentically share power and instead of creating new tables, we had to join tables. Ultimately that lead to creating the Parent Accountability Council and putting parent voice at the center.That Council now informs efforts like Preschool for All and the All:Ready Network.

We realized that if all efforts had to go through ELM as the hub, we were going to create a bottleneck. Instead, we put family voice in the center and focused on racial equity and we can bring that framing to any work that is happening in the county. We can infuse that perspective across the work, and it doesn’t have to happen all at our tables.

Instead of understanding a hub as the center of the wheel, we see it as a force that helps the wheel move in the right direction. Our work is not to be at center of every effort, but to propel efforts in the direction of justice—for young children, for families and for our communities.

What would you like to see five years from now?

I’d like to see universal preschool in Multnomah County and have it be in line with the principles of the Parent Accountability Council and center family voice. I’d like to see other organizations run family councils, and see the city and county figure out how to center family voice in decision-making.

I’d like to be able to point to a handful of examples of larger systems policy changes that directly reflect a commitment to racial equity. For example, that could look like using a recognition and acknowledgement of White-centered practices in our schools as one of the signs of success in P3 schools. I want more places where patterns of racism can be talked about freely so that they can be disrupted. As adults we have to recognize our responsibility as the power owners and change our practices. I’m optimistic.

Thank you, Molly, for your five years of service with Early Learning Multnomah and your deep
commitment to kids, families and racial equity.