July 11, 2019
By Stephanie Covarrubia and Amy Crosby, Young Child Wellness Council
The Young Child Wellness Council is a group of individuals living and serving children in West Alabama. The Council was founded in 2015 when the Alabama Department of Mental Health was awarded the Project LAUNCH grant. Project LAUNCH is a collaborative grant between the Alabama Department of Mental Health, the Alabama Department of Public Health, the Alabama Partnership for Children, Child Development Resources of The University of Alabama, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The focus of the Project LAUNCH grant is infant and early childhood mental health. The Council exists to drive the work of Project LAUNCH in the City of Tuscaloosa.
The Young Child Wellness Council’s participation in the NOW learning community has been a rewarding and therapeutic process. Considering where we are located, in West Alabama, it has been a particularly eye opening and interesting experience. The population of Alabama has long been perceived as backwards and racist. The fact that this state houses the Equal Justice Initiative’s Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice as well as the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Civil Rights Memorial while continuing to celebrate Confederate Memorial Day doesn’t help our reputation.
Walking in to the first Learning Community convening last October was both thrilling and overwhelming. We spent the next 3 days imbedded in conversations about bias, racial/ethnic prejudice, historical and institutional trauma, dignity of the individual, and equity. There were moments, in some of the small group work, some of our input on a discussion topic was dismissed, such as trying to share that white mothers also experienced judgment and criticism regarding their decisions to work outside of the home or not. We have talked so much about “dignity of the individual”; is that not applied to everyone, even white people? There were also moments where we were slapped in the face with awareness of our white privilege, far beyond what we had realized, even for the two of us with significant histories of trauma as well as poverty, food insecurity, unstable housing, etc. We are keenly aware of our fortune to be with our team during this process. These convenings solidified our trust in one another and our commitment to children in our community.
These days were brutally honest, and we left every evening with our psyches throbbing like an open wound. How do we process this experience? How do we apply this new learning to our work? Most importantly, how do we insert this vocabulary and mindset into West Alabama?!?! With safety in numbers, and knowing our team is over-achieving, we were ready for the task! We came back to our next Council meeting, ready to share with our partners our excitement and the plans we had developed.
After being in the presence of a community of professionals so willing to discuss these challenging issues, we were surprised to get resistance and pushback from council members. Many council members expressed fear and frustration about the community that we selected to focus on. The Crescent East Apartment community has a reputation for being unsafe and is commonly known as “The Camp.” Due to safety concerns, the ambulance will not enter the community without a police escort! There are many preconceived notions about the community that are not necessarily based in reality. Many service providers, unfortunately, have bought into the “othering” of this community and are not motivated to help residents, possibly feeling like the residents lean on services too much. With this new awareness of dignity and equity birthed and nurtured in the Learning Community, we are realizing that we cannot serve people well if we are unable to look within. Perhaps the push back we received from some council members is not about the families, but more about the attitude of the professionals.
Over the next 5 months, before the next Learning Community convening, our team experienced some significant challenges in our personal lives. This new commitment to the dignity of the individual had been so focused on our professional lives, we didn’t consider applying it to our personal lives. We confidently state that all individuals have value, regardless of where they have been, what they have been doing, or who they want to be. There is real strength to realizing that those beliefs apply to our personal value as well. I wouldn’t stand by and not call out another professional for devaluing a recipient of services; why am I so willing to allow someone to devalue me?!
We are so thankful and lucky to be able to be a part of the NOW learning community! We did not anticipate that being a part of this group would have such a huge impact on our lives, but we are so thankful that is has. Being a part of this group has changed the way we think of others and the work that we do in such a deep way, we are not sure we would experience this without being a part of the Learning Community.
About the Authors:
Stephanie Covarrubia is an Infant/Early Childhood Mental Health Consultant at the Child Development Resources /First 5 Alabama®, The University of Alabama
Amy Crosby is an Agency Coordinator for the West Alabama Food Bank
The Young Child Wellness Council is a member of the NOW Learning Community. To learn more, visit: https://www.networksofopportunity.org/learning-community