One of the aspects that I love most about my role at Voices for Healthy Kids is the opportunity I have to help build a healthier, more equitable future for every child in the United States. As national vice president and executive director, I am honored to lead an incredible team of compassionate and justice-focused individuals who are driven to advocate for the youngest members of our communities and their families and caregivers.
As I look ahead to what’s next for Voices for Healthy Kids, I want to emphasize that the journey we are on is a collective one, and that we are all working together to codefine our initiative’s future. With this vision guiding our work, Voices for Healthy Kids is dedicated to advancing health equity, dismantling structural racism in its many forms, and realizing the goals of our changemaking grantees.
The Lessons We’ve Learned …
The last few years have opened many people’s eyes to the stark disparities and injustices that pervade our country, as well as the root causes behind them. From the murder of George Floyd in May 2020 to the upheaval of the COVID-19 pandemic and the hyper-local curriculum battles taking place at the school board level, these moments of reckoning have spurred many to acknowledge and address the structural barriers that prevent everyone from living their healthiest possible lives. And our team at Voices for Healthy Kids is no exception.
What we’ve learned is that change cannot happen externally until it can happen internally. Since 2019, we have been consciously working to become an antiracist organization through staff training and professional development designed to help us recognize and combat white-dominant culture in our everyday practices. This journey of antiracism has touched every part of Voices for Healthy Kids, from policy development and evaluation to research, technical assistance, and partnerships.
Unsurprisingly, change does not happen magically; nor does it happen overnight. But having a “head start” on this work has made a world of difference for Voices for Healthy Kids, and we are now positioned to collaborate with partners and peer organizations on their own journeys as leaders and learners together.
… And How We’re Implementing Them
If we don’t maintain the current moment’s urgency around advancing health equity and achieving racial justice, we will have missed out on an invaluable opportunity to build a better tomorrow for every child. We all want our kids to thrive, to have great places to learn and play, and to grow up healthy and safe. Those goals are the same across every community—no matter its race, ethnicity, or income level—and they are achievable when policies are guided by and center the people most affected by them.
Helping our community-based grantee organizations achieve a policy win—whether by expanding nutrition benefits, improving access to childcare, or ensuring paid family and medical leave—is always integral to our work at Voices for Healthy Kids, but it is only one of the measures of success that we consider when we evaluate our operations.
Now we ask ourselves: Are the campaigns we work with achieving their desired goals? Has their capacity for advocacy grown? Are they driving the process of change that they’re seeking to create? When grantees are able to grow in these ways, we know that we’re helping to contribute to their future success and to a more equitable tomorrow.
Perhaps that means they are better situated to win a larger grant from another funder down the road, or that they can leverage the American Heart Association’s brand and reputation to validate their programs. Whatever success looks like to a grantee, we’re committed to helping transfer our own power and resources to achieve it.
Continuing the Journey
I like to think of our work at Voices for Healthy Kids as if we’re participating in a relay race. Our grantee communities have been running the race for years, and we’re energized and excited to step in and do our part to help them cross the finish line. When campaign coalitions are stronger and better situated to succeed, so are the communities and families they serve. Nothing makes me prouder than knowing that Voices for Healthy Kids grantees and others we work with have used the experience of a campaign to build skills, relationships, and political capital that they can apply to all of their future policy efforts. That’s the big win.