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True equity will only happen with a different investment from what we’ve made in the past

A holistic, two-generation model of early intervention should guide the new path toward change.

If 2020 has confirmed anything, it is that our same old attempts to eliminate the perpetual racial disparities in our country’s systems and services are not working.

Recent events – be it the historic COVID-19 pandemic that is disproportionately harming Minnesota’s African American and Hispanic populations, or the devastating killing of George Floyd in our own Minneapolis – have only further highlighted the severe racial and socioeconomic inequities that we already knew existed for children and families of color.

How do I know this? I work with racially diverse, low-income Native American and communities of color every day.

In 1974, Southside Family Nurturing Center (Southside) was founded in the Phillips community of south Minneapolis. The private, not-for-profit agency’s founders had three primary focuses when serving families in the neighborhood: to nurture children, build on a family’s strengths and find alternatives to violence.

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Fast forward a little more than 45 years later. Our model of supporting families through therapeutic early childhood education, intensive home visiting, nutritious meals, crisis intervention and multiple on-site therapy services has remained relevant, consistent, and most importantly, effective. We have been in this space – both in the Phillips neighborhood and the space of therapeutic early childhood education – for decades, and over the last five years, I’ve seen firsthand the urgent need for our holistic, trauma-informed model. This need not only exists, but appears to be increasing rapidly.

Building up true health and education equity requires constant action and ideally, is something that we as a culture should start prioritizing for our children and families as soon as possible. The impact of prevention and early intervention from prenatal to five years is vitally important; and if we’re willing to invest as a community, we can change, or literally tip, the health and education scales throughout a person’s life and our next generation.

This is where it gets tricky. “Investing as a community” is both the answer and the challenge to being successful in genuine health and education reform. While the Southside model has a sustained track record of making positive progress for children and families, the reality is that the model of deeply investing in our children and their bright futures is expensive.

A true return on our equity attempts will only come with a different investment from what we’ve made in the past. Something needs to happen – we need to try a new approach that is divergent from what we’ve imagined so far. It is my wholehearted belief that investing in and sharing the successes of the Southside model with other Twin Cities neighborhoods and communities is a great place to start.

Julie Ellefson
Julie Ellefson
The first step? Inviting an honest conversation of what’s truly possible, funding and partnership-wise, with experts and leaders across communities. Approaching new possibilities with a willingness to look at something from a different perspective and an openness to change is critical.

Our new awareness campaign, We Rise: Breaking Cycles, Building Equity, aims to begin this important conversation. I encourage anyone – community members, public and private leaders, developers, and funders – to reach out if interested in engaging. We’re looking for folks who genuinely want to invest their time, energy and if possible, money, into change. For decades, we’ve seen what this family-centered, care-based work can accomplish. We want to share our model with other partners so that more children, families and communities can thrive.

Ready or not, the conversation around equity has arrived – in Minnesota and across the globe – and is here to stay. We cannot keep following the same old blueprints and allow history to continue repeating itself. Because it’s just not working.

Gathering the talented and passionate people in our community who need to have change-filled, productive conversations? That’s a great place to start.

Julie Ellefson is the executive director of Southside Family Nurturing Center and has over 25 years of not-for-profit leadership experience in organizations serving children and families at risk for abuse and neglect. You can contact Julie at julieellefson@ssfnc.org. To learn more about Southside Family Nurturing Center, please visit ssfnc.org.

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