Leading Leaders: A New Partnership Promoting Equity In Minnesota’s Early Childhood Sector

Leo Howard III


In recent years, amid a renewed public conversation about racism, bias, and exclusion, early childhood educators and leaders are finding new ways to promote racial justice in the classroom. Across all of Greater Twin Cities United Way's work in early childhood, we support these efforts with an eye toward "systems change" — transforming our institutions and public systems to ensure that all young learners get a great start. As one of our key initiatives in the early childhood space, 80x3: Resilient from the Start reflects this ethos as we champion holistic well-being and create new healing opportunities for children and families.

In the realm of early education in Minnesota, researchers and advocates have used data to paint a clear picture of our state's glaring opportunity gaps and disparities. Yet, without formal opportunities for collaboration and relationship-building among early childhood leaders, progress remained stagnant, stuck in the realm of transactions rather than transformation. Enter the disruptor: The Leadership Residency, a groundbreaking collaboration between 80x3 and Embracing Equity, rises to the challenge. This innovative initiative is not just another program; it's a force, a game-changer in the early childhood sector, boldly moving people from well-intentioned to well-equipped when it comes to addressing racism within trauma-informed practices. The Leadership Residency isn't just aiming for change—it's igniting a revolution, sparking seismic shifts in the landscape of early childhood education through personal, organizational, and systems-level shifts. We work with 11 organizations across Minnesota:

Organizations participating in the Leadership Residency program work through a 12-month process with Embracing Equity, undertaking a comprehensive equity audit, tailored coaching, virtual Communities of Practice, and a multi-day summer retreat guided by expert facilitators. 

Embracing Equity’s framework focuses on individual development, creates cultures of belonging, and transforms systems and structures. "We have this network of people across all of Minnesota... building a shared language and a shared culture around social change," said Carly Riley, Senior Director of Learning at Embracing Equity. The program encourages participants to identify central problems of practice and set goals aligned with individual learning, organizational culture, and systemic change.

“At the core of trauma-sensitive care is anti-racism and racial justice, so there's a lot of ways in which you can be trauma-sensitive and trauma-informed. The backbone we really believe in at Embracing Equity is an anti-racist and intersectional lens because we have to understand how racialized trauma has impacted all of us in a country where racism exists,” Carly explains.

Think Small, a network of caregivers, educators, policymakers, & families first connected with Embracing Equity through the Leadership Residency program as they sought strategic approaches to embedding Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in their work. “We did our first organization-wide equity audit, and then they provided the support and helped us to think through what goals we wanted to work on that year,” recalls Candace Yates,  Vice President of Equity & Early Childhood Programs at Think Small. 

The power of the Leadership Residency partnership with Embracing Equity was evident to Candace from the beginning. “We impact and touch a lot of the same child care programs, a lot of the same families. We work in the same communities. So it makes sense for us to align and to do this work together,” she said. “Ultimately we have the same goal, right? We want healthy communities and families to have access to high-quality child care so that all children can be socially, emotionally, and academically ready for their futures.”

As she sees the work of Embracing Equity playing out in Think Small’s setting, Candace emphasizes how important it is for everyone in the space to have a shared language and commitment to shifting how we do our work. “As we talk and engage with your families and child care educators, we risk causing harm and reopening wounds of trauma that they and others have worked so hard to heal if our organizations are not equipped to take an anti-racist approach to everything we do. That is the bridge between programs and 80x3 and why they exist and why we have the Leadership Residency in the first place.”

This groundbreaking Leadership Residency partnership forged between 80x3 and Embracing Equity isn't just about taking a step forward; it's about charging headfirst into the heart of racial inequities, disrupting the status quo with a laser focus on trauma-sensitive and healing-centered care practices. Brace yourselves: this group of leaders is paving the way for truly inclusive environments where every child,  family, and staff feels supported and valued.
Stay tuned for opportunities to work with the Leadership Residency. Embracing Equity also offers a free 30-minute call to introduce your organization to the work and discuss your options. Click here to schedule a consultation today.

About the Author

Leo Howard is a Program Manager for 80×3: Resilient from the Start. His background includes a wealth of knowledge in the juvenile justice field, adjunct professor, curriculum and content creator, clinical facilitator and program developer. Leo has a bachelor’s degree from The University of Minnesota Duluth and a master’s degree from The University of Minnesota, in Communication and Youth Development Leadership.

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