Camarrah Morgan serves Detroit’s Brightmoor community as a Network Partner with the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation, where she works to advance the early childhood education profession. She previously served as the Executive Director of Child Care Network and the Business Development Specialist for First Children’s Finance. Ms. Morgan also proudly served as a Global Leader in Early Childhood Development through the World Forum Foundation and continues to mentor rising Global Leaders. She has also served on the data measurement team of Flint Literacy Coalition and a cross-sector engagement strategy for filling the gaps in early childhood education in response to the Flint water crisis.
IFF: How did you get involved with the World Forum Foundation, and in what ways have you utilized the resources gained from “an on-going global exchange of ideas on the delivery of quality services for young children in diverse settings” in the City of Detroit?
Camarrah Morgan: I was introduced to the World Forum Foundation through my work at First Children’s Finance; Rob Grunewald was serving as a Board member, and we were focused on helping childcare businesses improve their business capacities to be more sustainable. We put together this idea around showcasing other communities around the world to demonstrate the economic impact of early care and education in their communities, so that they could garner business support or government support in their own countries. FCF had a project, The Growth Fund, that provided grants to childcare businesses in Detroit to improve their operations through in-depth analysis, technical assistance, coaching, and consulting. We were trying to demonstrate the impact of child care business growth on Detroit’s economy, as well as, demonstrate the impact of engaging the business community in another country.
Now I look at early care and education differently. I began to communicate the impact of my work through the economic lense. This paradigm shift included deliberate sharing of the number slots gained through effective business improvements, the increase in the number of employees for programs that expanded, the financial impact on the family who now has access to high quality care, and the impact of increase purchasing power on the community.
Being a global leader also means being connected; my Global Leaders’ cohort included 50 people from 18 different countries. When I began serving as co-lead for community engagement on Hope Starts Here, I called one of my fellow global leaders, his name was Patrick. He leads work in Zimbabwe through the Nhaka foundation to help communities rebuild early childhood facilities that the government no longer funded, and were hence abandoned (including the educational components). Patrick and I discussed his approach to authentically engaging community in taking ownership for rebuilding and maintaining those schools. The plight and resulting innovation demonstrated by fellow Global Leaders continues to inspire me, inform my work and propel my passion.
IFF: Can you please describe your role as a Network Partner in the Brightmoor community through the Fisher Foundation, and give a few examples of the results you have achieved?
Morgan: As a Network Partner in the community, my role is to support or facilitate co-design in the community. That means bringing together organizations who are serving childcare providers along with the care providers, and now even teachers and parents, to ensure that the designed programs truly meet the needs of those who will be receiving those services. We’re all at the table working together which is super exciting to me.
The Fisher Foundation recently implemented a few co-designed programs through new partnerships in the Brightmoor community. Detroit Parent Network provides opportunities for families to spend time with their children through community events, activities, museums—services already available in Detroit that families may not be aware of. We worked together with DPN, Brightmoor Child Care Quality Initiative programs, and child care teachers developed a pilot model where to address a need for field trips throughout the year, instead of just during the summer. This successful partnership gave children the chance to see things outside of their neighborhood, gave parents access to fun and free events with their children, connected parents to the Detroit Parent Network for free memberships and access to parent training, while supporting local museums and family friendly attractions.
Another initiative was created after hearing that families could use support with diapers and providers shared that some babies in their programs have excessive rashes, causing irritability and impeding on their ability to learn and grow. We developed a partnership with Detroit Metropolitan Diaper Bank to provide every infant and toddler a pack of diapers and wipes once a month. The co-designed program will ensure diapers are delivered right to the childcare programs, so parents came to pick up the diapers when they pick up their babies.
IFF: What was your experience like working to fill the gaps in early childhood education in response to the Flint water crisis?
Morgan: I was serving as Executive Director at Child Care Network at the time of the water crisis. Many parents pulled their children out immediately from Flint based childcare programs and enrolling them outside of the City of Flint for access to clean water. Our team were sort of scrambling to figure out how to support childcare providers with ensuring that they stay in business. Surrounding cities began expanding child care options due to this temporary inflation in demand, while Flint based programs were searching for ways to identify and use clean sources of water, develop programming to meet the needs of children exposed to lead and improve quality to meet state Quality Improvement standards.
In the meantime, wonderful conversation was taking place once a week with the fire department, the mayor, city officials, aiding organizations—all trying to develop a “passport” type approach on how to reach families, get them clean water, and solidify infrastructure to remediate the impact. Many of us noticed that early childhood education, particularly privately-owned programming and unlicensed providers were an afterthought. We began to discuss approaches to reaching privately owned programs to deliver water, water filtration kits, child literacy kits and other resources.
IFF: As a facilitator, how do you go about engaging the community and implementing change in an authentic way to ensure everyone’s voice is heard in matters of programs, systems, and services?
Morgan: I listen. I’m present, in the moment, and approach every conversation with an open mind and an open heart. If we come in thinking we already know everything and that we are right, then we search for things that validate what we already believe, or guide them to say what we want them to say. It is crucial to hear what people are saying and their intention behind what they are saying. Many times, community members use words and say things in the context that they’re familiar with, which may not be the context we’re familiar with. For example, I’ve seen research that says “families don’t understand or know what quality is, we need to teach them what quality is for childcare”. But when we truly listen to families, they say: what they don’t like, what improvements they would like, the interactions between the teachers and children, conditions of materials that are used in the classroom, a welcoming environment—all quality indicators. We say families don’t know what quality is, and maybe they just don’t call it quality, but they know what it is and they are very clear that they are not receiving it.
IFF: Having served the community for the past 20 years, with a focus on early child care, what is one of your proudest accomplishments in terms of direct change in the City of Detroit?
Morgan: Inequity, lack of opportunity, and deliberately entangled systems often create barriers for people that result in a feeling of hopelessness; knowing that even if you’ve made one milestone, people work to create 15 more for you to climb over. I’m passionate about helping others have hope to know they can do something and see the world differently, even if it’s just in their own circle. Working with people to support their growth along their journey truly makes me so proud. The work feels transformational every time I receive a call from a provider, who I previously supported in business practices, who transitioned from asking me, “This happened, what do I do?”, to now saying “here’s what’s happening, here’s my plan, can you give me some feedback?”. Helping people understand their dreams, sharing a little wind for their sail, and encouraging them to live in their gifts with purpose is my proudest accomplishment! It’s a bonus that this work intentionally creates ripples of positive effects in the lives of young children.