As a mother of three, child care is an issue that hits home for me. With a preteen and two children under two years old, I have seen significant changes within the childcare system. Our oldest was in child care when they were younger, but with the pandemic and budget cuts, we decided the best situation for our family now is for me to stay at home with our two youngest children. It’s a decision between my career and my kids I may not have had to make if we had a 21st century childcare system that made high-quality care affordable for parents and paid providers a living wage they deserve.
So this women’s history month, I want to honor the contributions of the women organizers who are working to make that dream a reality.
Childcare education is a field in which the work is predominantly performed by women – disproportionately women of color. These women perform highly-skilled and essential work, yet are underpaid and continue to be undervalued. Even after the pandemic, there are still millions of low-income families and families of color who cannot afford child care, which worsens their financial situation and limits their opportunities to improve their circumstances.
Childcare workers are unsung heroes that keep their communities running, yet don’t get the recognition they deserve. So I wanted to highlight the voices of six women organizers from across the country who are doing the groundwork focused on childcare issues and making a significant impact in the lives of the their communities.
Michelle Mejia, Texas
Michelle Mejia is an Early Childhood Health Equity Organizer for Go Austin/Vamos Austin (GAVA) in Texas. Michelle has served many diverse roles in the non-profit sector, such as assisting the Spanish-speaking immigrant population within the Mexican Consulate and working with the Latino Healthcare Forum. As an advocate for a group of Black and brown mothers, she and other group leaders were able to get funding for projects that addressed systemic racial health inequities. Soon after, Michelle became the Communications Director of Mama Sana Vibrant Woman, an organization focused on maternal and infant health disparities in Travis County.
“Highly-valued formal child care centers’ high costs, lack of multilingual staff, rigid schedules, and limited culturally and linguistically responsive programming historically have not met the needs of immigrant and working class communities. And the critical role that home-based providers play in Go Austin/Vamos Austin’s communities of focus is chronically dismissed in the child care system. We strive to support these providers and build power amongst them by developing their leadership to advocate for resources, professional development, and adequate compensation,” Mejia said.
“Child care providers deserve living wages and we want them to be happy and healthy so they can continue inspiring and guiding the children that come to them each morning. We are working hard to show our city & state government that the conversation about families and childcare is a critical issue that must be brought to the forefront. Child care infrastructure is a need, not a want. TEXAS is BIG so we need BIG investments & BIG conversations around childcare!”
Latoya Gayle, Massachusetts
Latoya Gayle has been advocating for early education and child care for families in Boston for the past 10 years. She is the Senior Director of Advocacy for Neighborhood Villages in Boston, a mom of four, and is considering a run for State Senate with a child care platform. She has worked with numerous nonprofits focused on reducing educational gaps in schools for students of color, centering racial justice in education, and eliminating systemic oppression and racism. Latoya co-founded and led March Like a Mother for Black Lives Boston, in response to the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. She also co-created Boston School Finder, an online tool to help families navigate school enrollment.
“As the Senior Director of Advocacy, I lead the work of The Neighborhood Villages’ action fund, where I’m working to build a movement of child care voters and fighting for policies and funding that will pay early educators a living wage, make care affordable for families, provide the support services children need, and bring us closer to making child care a public good. I come from an advocacy background and am bringing that experience to the early education and child care world,” Gayle said.
Tami Lunan, Ohio
As a social justice organizer, Tami Lunan is passionate about empowering communities to increase their political power. Tami is the Caring Economy Organizing Director for the Ohio Organizing Collaborative, leading the “CEO” project. This coalition works with Ohio providers, teachers, and parents to initiate equity and more affordability within the child care system for parents, while raising industry standards.
“We are united in our belief that every child has a right to access affordable, quality child care and early education. Across the state of Ohio, families are struggling to afford child care and providers struggle to keep the doors open. Bold investments and policies are needed to strengthen child care in Ohio,” Lunan said. “In 2022, we protected the Step Up to Quality rating system [that provides funding] of nearly $3 million for child care and workforce development in Cincinnati. We are currently pushing for the Ohio’s People’s Budget to increase eligibility rates for publicly funded child care and to pass a Thriving Families Tax Credit.”
Kelly Dawn Jones, Indiana
Kelly Dawn Jones knows firsthand how difficult it is to find high quality child care. Her struggle to find affordable child care prompted her to uproot her life in New York City and move back to her hometown of Indianapolis, Indiana. In 2009, Kelly Dawn created L.O.V.E. Your Child’s Care & Childcare Staffing as a solution for her own daughter’s care, because there was a significant shortage of affordable and high quality child care in the area. For over thirteen years, she has personally subsidized children for families that could not afford the child care they urgently needed.
“My advocacy work is born of the knowledge that this solution is unsustainable, and families like mine will go without child care, if we continue to depend on the hearts of providers like me, instead of reforming the system that exploits our love,” Jones said.
Tessie Ragan, California
Tessie Ragan is a California-based organizer and early education professional who is passionate about the field of childcare education. She is the owner of Perfect Start Learning and has dedicated more than 16 years to early education. Tessie strives to make a change within the field of early education as a state representative for National Association for Family Child Care (NAFCC), the family childcare committee chair for California Association for the Education of Young Children (CAAEYC), and the co-facilitator for the Family Childcare Forum with National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).
“I am working with Childcare Changemakers to raise the profile of family child care educators within the early education field and to create a more equitable child care and early education system. My advocacy work with Changemakers allows me to learn about ways to bring more early childhood educators to the table and to empower them to stand up for themselves and the families that they provide education and care for, Ragan said.
Shineal Hunter, Pennsylvania
Shineal Hunter is the owner of Family Circle Academy, the mother of two, and a fourth-generation child care business owner. She is a community leader who believes teaching is her duty, but that she can also make an impact by using her voice and stepping out of her comfort zone to make a change. Shineal is a child care advocate with Southeastern Pennsylvania Early Childhood Coalition (SEPECC), co-founder of Family Child Care Coalition (FC3), and an advocate with Childcare Changemakers for the past three years.
“I’m proud of my most recent advocacy work, which happened last May 9th, A Day Without Childcare. In Philadelphia, we held a local community rally at City Hall with parents, providers, legislators, and other community stakeholders. We were able to influence over 400 parents and providers to show up and show out. It was all about unity in the community and advocating for thriving wages for staff/employees, equitable child care for all, and affordable child care for families,” Hunter said.