Early care and education systems play an outsized role in children’s development. However, systemic barriers, like a lack of funding, workforce shortages, cultural and language challenges and implicit bias, disproportionately affect children of color and children from low-income families. To celebrate the educators, caregivers, communities and organizations breaking down these barriers to help all children be successful in the classroom and beyond, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF) partnered with award-winning actor Tyler James Williams.
“For me, this is where the art meets the action. I don’t believe in just making art just for art’s sake. I believe that it should probably move the conversation forward culturally in some way,” Williams told Stephanie Sengwe of People.
Throughout the summer, WKKF and Williams will elevate firsthand accounts of early child care and education advocates, the challenges they face and share their efforts to provide equitable learning and development opportunities for children across the country.
“While it’s never been easy to be a teacher, the challenges faced over the last few years by those who devote their lives to providing children with early care and education have been unprecedented. From COVID to the growing attacks from school boards and statehouses across the country, it’s never been clearer how critical educators and caregivers are to helping our children, families and communities navigate the many systemic and social challenges they face,” said Tabron in the press release announcing the partnership. “Our goal is to showcase great things happening on the ground every day and applaud the strength of those who have dedicated themselves tirelessly to helping children grow and reach success. As an actor who is well aware of the issues facing early child care and education and the countless people making a difference, Tyler James Williams is a natural fit to engage in this important dialogue.”
The challenges facing early child care and education in recent years have been increasingly concerning. For example, according to a recent Department of Health and Human Services report, since early 2020, the child care sector has lost almost 80,000 jobs, or about 7.5 percent of its workforce, because of the pandemic. And, without ample early education support, school readiness gaps between lower income and more affluent children can be stark and have long-lasting effects. According to research shared by the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, “a child’s vocabulary as early as age 3 can predict third-grade reading achievement.”
During the conversation at the ESSENCE Festival of Culture, Williams spoke of those gaps in early education. “I think when you have a school system that does not supply [children’s] needs, the message you send to them is they do not matter and then that permeates throughout their lives. They feel as if their voices do not matter, that they hold no value,” he said.
Williams, who brings cultural awareness to the heroic efforts of educators through his portrayal of a first-grade teacher, will narrate a new video series to be released throughout the summer. The first video, which highlights stories from New Orleans and Mississippi, launches in July.
“We make an entertainment product that allows people to take 30 minutes out of their day to laugh and find commonality,” said Williams. “But the inequity we find in schools, particularly schools of color, isn’t a joke. It’s not something that we can just be entertained by; it’s something we actually need to address. Through this project with the Kellogg Foundation, we’ll be lifting up the stories of change and resilience that happen every day in our schools and hopefully inspire others to join us in speaking up to support the transformative educators and caregivers who make them possible.”
Reflecting with Complex writer Karla Rodriguez before he joined Tabron on stage at Essence, Williams shared: “We want everybody to go to everychildthrives.com and see more of these stories of people doing this and seeing it, so that it doesn’t become something that feels like, ‘Oh, well, this is the asterisk. They’re like the exception to the rule.’ It’s not. It can be the rule.”
Speaking to Shanelle Genai at The Root, Williams noted:
And that’s what I love about what the W.K. Kellogg Foundation is doing because if we start young, then hopefully we can build a generation of educated, informed community members who can affect change in the very ways this initiative is talking about.”
For more information, visit everychildthrives.com/care2educate .