Every child, young adult, and family experiences hardships throughout their life, whether they are born into them or contend with new issues as they grow up. Our ability to navigate challenging moments and keep moving in the face of adversity is rooted in resiliency — deep reserves of strength gained from our lived experiences and strengthened by community.
Black communities in King County are incredibly resilient and strong. We know from history, data, and lived experiences that Black individuals are disproportionately impacted by systemic racism and generational trauma; yet, despite the disparities baked into our systems — from food access to quality healthcare — they collectively lean into each other and rise with strength, love, and power.
Published by King County’s Assessment, Policy Development and Evaluation (APDE) Unit and the Board of Health, “The Race Gap” data report highlights how disparities across basic cornerstones of our society affect our Black children, youth, and families on a daily basis. Collecting and building off this information helps inform future decision making and enact policies that address the disproportionality across our communities. We recognize that data reporting is typically framed with a deficit lens. In order to recognize our communities’ full stories, we need to also share strength-based narratives that reflect their true character.
Today, we want to highlight some incredible People of Color led community partners who show up for their communities everyday.
Best Starts’ work has been grounded in equity since our first community meetings in 2016. In partnership with community-based organizations, we build off community strengths and resiliency to help support the livelihoods and dreams of our residents, especially underinvested youth, young adults, and families.
Succeeding in and outside the Classroom: Out of School Time
Nourishing our children’s minds and hearts from an early age with support throughout adolescence builds a strong foundation for them to grow into thriving young adults. Best Starts partners with School’s Out Washington (SOWA) to fund and provide professional development for organizations that provide access to consistent, high quality and culturally relevant summer and Out of School Time programming to elementary and middle schoolers in underinvested communities and geographies.
SOWA’s People of Color-led model focuses on strengthening program capacity and reach for culturally responsive out of school time programs for and by communities of color. One partner in this model is East African Community Services (EACS), a grassroots organization serving families in the NewHolly community. As part of their “cradle to career” support model, EACS provides afterschool and summer programming for East African youth. Their focus on culturally relevant academic programming has seen strong gains — in July of 2020, 85% of youth experienced improvement in reading comprehension. Prior to the pandemic, EACS was engaging 85 youth in community-programs for 3 hours a day, 5 days a week. During COVID, they’ve transitioned to serving those same youth virtually, offering homework help, academic support, STEM, and cultural enrichment via Zoom and other virtual platforms. They have also distributed technology to families to ensure that youth will keep up academically during the pandemic.
Life Enrichment Group (LEG), another program in the People of Color-led strategy, has been providing high quality academic programs and mentoring in Rainier Beach for the past 17 years. Serving African American youth and youth of color through education, performing arts, and mentorship experience, LEG supports young people to make strides in their own personal development, while building a strong sense of self and cultural identity. “Now more than ever, youth need culturally relevant and inclusive environments to thrive in. We will continue being a pillar of support for our youth and their families,” says Tajiana Ellis, Chief Program Officer.
Through the 2018-2019 school year, LEG served 21 middle school students, offering programming 2 hours a day, twice a week. The LEG team has successfully expanded their reach during the pandemic, and currently engage 35 youth in virtual programming that supports their development through academic and social emotional learning. They’ve also intentionally incorporated 1 on 1 supports, such as funding at-home learning spaces, and parent advocacy and engagement into their programs to help ensure that students are successful despite the challenges of distance learning. Their adaptability is built on a foundation of rigorous curriculum — as of July 2019, 95% of LEG participants showed gains in reading, comprehension, analysis, and writing. Students also developed a personal sense of success and capability through LEG’s programs, with 100% of students calling themselves “scholars”.
“Their adaptability is built on a foundation of rigorous curriculum as of July 2019, 95% of LEG participants showed gains in reading, comprehension, analysis, and writing.”
Feeding the Community During the Pandemic: Atlantic Street Center
Every child, young adult, and family deserves to have access to healthy and nutritious food all year long. Recognizing the gravity of the pandemic and its disproportionate impacts on communities in Kent and South Seattle, the Atlantic Street Center quickly shifted their focus to distributing food – successfully serving over 2,000 families (a total of over 7,000 individuals) from March to June of 2020. Their team distributed free groceries, including shelf-stable items, fresh organic fruits and vegetables, and dairy and deli items, to any families in the community at their twice-weekly distributions in Kent and South Seattle.
In addition to providing food assistance, Atlantic Street Center also distributed available masks and resources on free COVID-testing sites and accessible local food hubs. Emilie Carr, Atlantic Street’s Parent Support and Family Engagement Coordinator says, “even in the pouring rain, our staff and volunteers worked tirelessly to put on these distributions and provide food for homeless folks who don’t have access to a kitchen.” Atlantic Street Center partnered with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Puget Sound, The Emergency Feeding Program, Tilth Alliance, Green Plate Special, United Way of King County, The Plate Fund, and MetroAccess to put on their food distribution program.
Transforming Maternal Care: Open Arms Perinatal Services
All parents deserve equitable access to maternal healthcare that is culturally relevant, educational, and supportive. Yet, in King County, infants born to Black mothers are more than two times likely to die before reaching their first birthday than infants born to White mothers. These disparities are deeply stemmed before birth and manifest within the first year of life.
Open Arms Perinatal Services is actively working to reverse these trends by providing critical, community-based support for new mothers through their pregnancy, baby’s birth, and first year, all while prioritizing African American/ Black, American Indian/ Alaska Native and Pacific Islander communities. Annually, the Open Arms team provides doula services to around 300 pregnant women, intentionally matching mothers with doulas from their own community. The team’s focus on equity and their commitment to providing culturally responsive prenatal to postpartum care has dramatically improved the health of BIPOC mothers and babies in King County by increasing breastfeeding and lowering infant mortality rates.
In addition to direct services, Open Arms also lowers the barriers that many community-based professionals face while obtaining the educational training and credentials they need to advance in their fields. This increases the number of BIPOC professionals in the field. Open Arm’s also provides workshop and training opportunities to teach community-based professionals how to provide culturally relevant care, knowledge that they can integrate into their own community services.
Open Arms’ community-based doula program is nationally recognized as an excellent model, meriting wide adoption by the National Partnership for Women & Families.