Centering Equity in Challenging Times


In this podcast episode, Director of Programs and Partnerships Courtney W. Robertson talks with Jamilica Burke and Melody Freeman from Seeding Success, an organization focused on supporting the wellbeing of children and families in Memphis, Tennessee.

In this conversation, they discuss how Seeding Success continues to keep equity at the center of their work, even as they navigate uncertainty and turmoil following the rise of opposition against efforts that specifically address equity disparities. We learn how Seeding Success uses these challenges to fuel themselves forward as well as how they have shifted strategies to continue making progress.

Ways to listen: You can listen below or on your preferred podcast streaming service, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Simplecast, iHeartRadio, Amazon, and other podcast apps.

Please find a transcript of this talk further down this page.

Resources and Footnotes

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The Intro music, entitled “Running,” was composed by Rafael Krux, and can be found here and is licensed under CC: By 4.0.

The outro music, entitled “Deliberate Thought,” was composed by Kevin Macleod. Licensed under CC: By.

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Podcast Transcript

Welcome to the Collective Impact Forum podcast, here to share resources to support social change makers working on cross-sector collaboration.

The Collective Impact Forum is a nonprofit field-building initiative that is co-hosted in partnership by the nonprofit consulting firm FSG and the Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions.

In this episode, our Director of Programs and Partnerships Courtney W. Robertson talks with Jamilica Burke and Melody Freeman from Seeding Success, an organization focused on supporting the wellbeing of children and families in Memphis, Tennessee.

In this conversation, they discuss how Seeding Success continues to keep equity at the center of their work, even as they navigate uncertainty and turmoil following the rise of opposition against efforts that specifically address equity disparities. We learn how Seeding Success uses these challenges to fuel themselves forward as well as how they have shifted strategies to continue making progress.

Let’s tune in.

Courtney W. Robertson:Welcome to the Collective Impact Forum podcast. My name is Courtney W. Robertson, director of programs and partnerships with the Collective Impact Forum, and I’m your host.

This episode features a conversation about racial equity and collaborative work with our friends from the Seeding Success Partnership in Memphis, Tennessee. Jamilica Burke, chief strategy and impact officer, and Melody Cooper Freeman, director of collaborative action.

As many of you are aware racial equity has been more explicitly named and integrated into the collective impact approach in recent years, and local place-based efforts have taken this charge to center racial equity, many well before it became a formal component of CI, and shifted how they participate in, lead, and support collaborative partners to hold a racial equity lens. Corporations and philanthropy have also made shifts to more intentionally fund collaborative work that centers racial equity.

Despite these shifts in progress, efforts to advance racial equity are under attack politically and socially and those actively engaging in and leading equity-centered collaborative work are attempting to do so in political and social environments that hinder their ability to do this work explicitly and effectively.

As we think about recent decisions such as the SCOTUS affirmative action ruling on using race in college admissions, anti-DEI policies in states such as Florida, Texas, and Tennessee, and the general challenges of doing this work in blue cities existing within red states, we felt it important to have this conversation as we collectively continue figuring out the true impact of these rulings and policies on collaborative efforts and what collaboratives can and should be doing to continue centering and advancing racial equity.

Thanks for joining us today, Jamilica and Melody, for this very important and very timely conversation.

I’d like to start off by first having you tell us about Seeding Success and more explicitly or specifically, excuse me, about the work that you’re leading at the organization.

Jamilica Burke: Hello, again, everyone. I’m Jamilica Burke, chief strategy and impact officer with Seeding Success. Our organization is a cradle-to-career backbone organization that has historically focused on education in terms of how do we move the needle for kids and families cradle to career by illustrating and providing pathways to mobility.

For our work, we’ve historically worked in four key areas of early childhood, K-12 with in-school, out-of-school supports, Opportunity Youth, and postsecondary workforce. Through this work and really helping to reimagine how education works to support kids and families with a cohort of partners for about 110 partnerships.

What we find, and as you all know, is that there are also intersecting factors that are impacting kids on that trajectory, and so over time, we have evolved to an organization that really also deepens how it looks at intersecting factors that are impacting kids and families. When you think about housing insecurity, food insecurity, access to health, all of these things are impacting our families. So we’re taking more of a two-gen approach in terms of how we look at a broader spectrum of strategies to really think strategically about how do we really improve mobility, not just for kids but for also their families so they’re recreating the environment for success.

This has highlighted more of the work that we’re doing now with More for Memphis. Through investments, through our national partner, we’ve been able to—we’re actually at the tail end of now almost a three-year project of working with community from across six different systems, education, community development, economic development, health and wellbeing, safety and justice, arts and culture. Through this work we’ve been able to work with organizations that are helped to be almost smaller project management entities to help bring community to the table inclusive of parents, youth, organizations, government, other key sector leaders that align to those systems, to have this type of discussion about if we are to move the needle, where do we need to focus on and we’re looking at this in terms of generational change for socioeconomic mobility, but really where the emphasis is starting out with what do we need to do foundationally over the next five years as we work towards the next 20, 25 years in improvement.

Courtney W. Robertson: Melody, we’d love to hear from you. Just tell us a little bit about yourself and your role at Seeding Success.

Melody Freeman: Hello, everyone. Thanks again for having us on this podcast. My name is Melody Freeman, and I’m the director of collaborative action at Seeding Success.

We are responsible for a project called the More for Memphis Initiative, and it’s a large-scale initiative where we plan for social and economic mobility. Glad to be here. We’re just trying to make a more liberating, equitable Memphis for all Memphians, so glad to be here.

Courtney W. Robertson: Awesome. Thank you both for those introductions and for that context around Seeding Success.

You both have mentioned the More for Memphis partnership, so I would love to dig a little bit more into that. If you could tell us again, and you started some of this, Jamilica, but just the purpose around More for Memphis, what does that partnership look like from a structural lens, and where does the work currently stand?

Jamilica Burke: So, the More for Memphis work, this is work that’s really building off historical work that we’ve done within our community of working with kids and families and organizations cradle to career. Within the structure of this work what we’ve worked to do is the big goal is how to improve social, economic mobility for our families here. We are a data-driven organization that really looks at how we can use data and research to inform what is needed to move the needle, but also, working more recently towards balancing that with the voice of community in terms of what they also see as important and really working towards balancing these two things.

Through this work and working through the six systems that I previously mentioned, what we’ve been able to do from a structural standpoint is in the beginning we formed through our partnership, which began with about 110 partners, we had a design phase where we brought together about 35 individuals which represented multiple backgrounds, expertise, youth, parents, other organizations, just to have a question about if we are to do this well and do it differently in Memphis around moving the needle on mobility, what does it need to look like, how does it need to be structured. Through these series of conversations we landed on what would be the governance structure in terms of how do we make decisions together, and then, how we would operationalize how we are planning and gaining input from our community and from partners and layering that with data and evidence through the supports of our also policy team to think through, while strategically how do we do this, what needs to happen first on a continuous basis.

And so through that work we were able to develop partners that we called anchor collaboratives, which is made up of typically around five to seven organizations that come together to really help galvanize that sector to bring people to the table.

What was very interesting when you think about race equity and how do you do this in a way that’s different, we had an emphasis on bringing Black and Brown leaders to the table through the organizations that we partnered with, have an explicit focus in terms of race equity, in terms of the goals of what we’re looking for, but also thinking more strategically about not just working in six different systems of ways that we bring this work to life, but also thinking from the standpoint about how do we really help to build the capacity of organizations that are doing this work every day that typically are not a part of these types of processes, so they have that opportunity to really have voice and be at the table around decision making.

Through that work they had about 14 months to do ongoing engagement. They had community meetings. We did focus groups. We did surveying. We had opportunities for them to even speak at national conferences. It was just a way for us to say like this is what Memphis says that they want to see if we were to move the needle.

Through that work and working in partnership with our policy team, we’ve been able to really build out a public policy agenda and plan that now not only says like this is what we want to see, but this is how it’s going to be, this is how it can be done. These are the criteria for excellence. This is how we’ll measure success, and this will be the cost. So really helping to take the guessing game out of how do you do this well in the community, and then what does it look like over intervals of time and how we’re measuring success and keeping ourselves accountable.

Also, this really opened the door for there to be more voice at the table. We intentionally did not want it to be just a Seeding Success-led event, but how do we really make this more community facing, and having their engagement in a way to where it’s also the lived experience of those who have been impacted by the system that we’re looking to change. They truly have a voice in terms of what that future Memphis looks like.

So through that work and those conversations we’re now at a place to where we have a draft plan with strategies so now with some of our core planning partners we’re really going through what I would call a finalization process to where we’re really refining and getting more specific in terms of how we implement, how will this be paid for from a public and private perspective because if done well there is an opportunity for us to bring in significant resources into Memphis to implement, but also using those private dollars as an opportunity for us as a catalyst of how we can reframe and rethink how we use public funding. That can be from city, state, and federal, and also when you think about federal grants, state grants that can sustain certain portions of strategy that it aligns to.

Courtney W. Robertson: Awesome. So you all weren’t busy at all.

Jamilica Burke: No, not at all. Doing a few things.

Courtney W. Robertson: Thank you for sharing that, Jamilica. Actually, my next question was around the specific ways that you all have worked to center racial equity in your work. So you’ve lifted up things like engaging community and making sure that community voice was represented in the work. Data, the emphasis on engaging Black and Brown leaders, thinking about how equity was showing within the goals that were being established.

One, what other ways, if there are others, have you all worked to center equity in the work? And then what have been some of those challenges or barriers that you all have faced in doing so?

Jamilica Burke: Some of the other ways that we’ve worked to center race equity, when I was talking about a lot of the design work, we actually brought together groups to discuss if we are to have a race equity frame, what is the framework that we use for this plan. So through that process of conversations we were able to build out, well, when we talk about race equity, one, what does that mean? What does that encompass? How do we know if we’re doing it well? What are the components of planning that we need to have in place to ensure that we’re hitting the mark around some of the race equity pieces that the community said they said needs to be part of it?

A lot of that was emphasis on Black and Brown organizations and families, really ensuring that the goal of this work because Memphis is a majority Black and Brown community that we have an explicit focus on Black and Brown kids and families, and we were able to balance that by also looking at the data because when you disaggregate the data, the families and children that are most impacted were families and children of color and Black.

By using, by marrying the two we were able to emphasize the importance of race equity in that way in terms of how we can approach and operationalize it. Other ways that we’ve been able to center race equity in our work, through partnerships with some of our national partners we were able also able to bring in additional technical assistance that worked with our anchor collaboratives and trained them around race equity. How do we facilitate conversations that are results based but with a race equity frame? How do we ensure that we are training of community members and organizations in that framework? So they can then take that work to their communities to do additional trainings, do additional support, and really build a capacity because ultimately, we don’t want this to be just the plan, we write a strategy and we implement it, but we want to make sure that we’re giving the community the tools it needs to be successful. So through this work we’ve been able to align in some of those places.

Organizationally, I would say for Seeding Success, we’ve also been very intentional in our internal work because we do recognize that we are a White-led organization in a Black and Brown city, and also, even though we have a very diverse staff, how do we need to show up in these spaces from an internal and external way to show that we are not trying to put this on a community but really work with community in terms of what this looks like long term.

That last thing that I would say around the race equity piece that we’ve been working on is in addition to identifying and working with organizations that had Black and Brown leaders, we also had criteria around who had already existing and deep relationships in many of the key communities that we know we need to touch upon. So not trying to reinvent the wheel because we know when you enter into these neighborhoods and spaces it has to be done from the frame of trust and also that’s a place we have to continue to build trust and relationships so that we can have those deeper conversations and understand that we’re not trying to be extractive but really want to hear from you so that we know how to uplift, edify, and really build something that we can all be proud of.

Courtney W. Robertson: Awesome. Thank you for that, Jamilica. Melody, anything that you would like to add to that?

Melody Freeman: Well, this is a really good question. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with the question even.

I think just keeping equity at the center, you kind of have to like realize that you’ve got to have skin in the game. You almost have to always be self-reflective in this work, and making sure that the purpose and the value and the mission is really central.

I think you also have to make sure that centering equity is not just a buzzword. It should be a guiding compass about every move. You know, folks wonder like, well, how can you manage to do that in this rough terrain that Jamilica mentioned? Well, if you try to chart a course, if you chart a course that’s thoughtful and practical, I think it can be accomplished but the approach does have to be about partnering up. It’s not a solo act. The road to equity is better traveled together just to make sure that diverse voices are heard. Making sure that you engage with a diverse set of partners, folks that agree with you, disagree with you, there should be a tapestry of voices and experiences, and not just a token gesture.

So it’s really about power sharing and making sure that those who have been long marginalized are put at the forefront of this initiative. I mean that’s what we try to do with this type of collaboration. We always have to keep our ears to the ground, hearts to the sound, and minds to the possibilities unbound. We have to keep focusing on developing one another, having capacity for organizations, for individuals who want to stay engaged. Our strategy can be etched in stone. It has to be iterative, and it is. It’s more like a living document. It’s like water so always evolving, pivoting, and learning, plenty of mistakes and lessons learned but have to stay nimble if you’re talking about equity because it constantly changes and evolves.

So it’s not just about staying relevant but more about being effective and listening to one another and listening to what is needed at the moment.

Courtney W. Robertson: Thank you both so much for that. You both have hit on really every so- in thecentering equity in collective impact article which was part of what I was referencing in my intro. We explicitly outline specific strategies for collaboratives to think about centering equity in their work, and you all have hit on all of those essentially so thinking about how you are engaging community and not just bringing them to the table but to the point that you both uplifted, how are we building capacity for community to really engage in this work for partners who aren’t traditionally at the table to meaningfully engage in this work, and not just do it as a one-time thing, right? But how are we continuously supporting and investing in community and in partners so that this work can be enriched, and even if things, you know, thinking about who you’re leveraging to provide that TA, thinking about leveraging existing relationships, the data pieces, and all of that so really powerful to hear that, and a lot of little nuggets you just dropped about even this road to equity is better charted together, and thinking about what does that mean. Jamilica, you even lifting up we first have to understand what we even mean by equity, about racial equity and make sure that we’re normed across everybody who’s engaging in this space to understand that so really, really do appreciate that.

As I mentioned in the intro, we are in highly—not that I don’t think we’ve ever not been in highly politicized times in the United States, and specifically should think about efforts around equity and more expansively, diversity, equity, and inclusion so I’m interested to hear how certain policies or rulings such as the SCOTUS ruling where you think about different state-level policies that have come down the pipeline that are really anti-equity at the end of the day, how have those types of policies and rulings impacted the work that you all are doing in Memphis?

Jamilica Burke: Honestly, it’s been challenging for us being in Tennessee. Especially there has been more restrictive legislation as of late that has been passed that impacts multiple systems that we’re beginning to do more work in across our community.

So when we think about some of the pieces around education and what you can share and teach in the classroom, that is definitely having an impact in terms of how some teachers feel comfortable to show up and have those conversations with students. Even though it’s in the beginning, we’re already starting to see the impact of how teachers and students are not able to make those fuller connections by being able to really speak in a very positive way in terms of the history of being an African American or people of color in America or the historics or history behind it because now it’s seen as some pieces of that are even now against the law.

It depends in terms of the interpretation how some of those school districts look at it from an equity standpoint in terms of access to services. With changes in a lot of that legislation it has caused the roll-off of more children of color from the health benefits in inequitable access in terms of how TANF funds and other funds that could be supporting families in need is now going to other services and supports through different red tape and other legislation that is being built as kind of a barrier around that.

So some of the things that we’re doing to really—and that shows just examples but just some of the things that we’re doing and thinking about to be proactive in this work is thinking about how we frame the conversation and introduce it in a way to where we may not be as explicit in saying like this is for Black and Brown communities and families for this purpose but framing from a standpoint if it is needs based or for low income because if you disaggregate the data, it’s still the population that we’re trying to address and support but we have to be very innovative and now more strategically think about some of the political ramifications in terms of what can we do in order to ensure the long-term goal we’re trying to do is unlock additional resources, removing barriers, aligning and coordinating larger systems, and we’re still able to do that in an authentic way to support kids and families cradle to career but also being cognizant of how we need to enter that space based on the audiences that we sometimes have to get agreement with in order to move it forward because one thing that we’ve been having some discussions about going back to a public-private partnership and the role of the public sector, if we’re talking about sustaining this work long term, it can’t be sustained just by private dollars which typically can be more flexible. We have to really be strategic in thinking about how we are unlocking or reimagining how public dollars can be used long term because until those systems are transformed and we change the way that money is allocated in many of the systems that we’ve been discussing, it will be very difficult to sustain the work and see the systemic improvements that we want to see long term for our kids and families.

Courtney W. Robertson: Yeah, just quickly—sorry, before you step in Melody, it’s interesting you say that because we have this—and Tracy, our producer of the podcast lifts this up a lot about the balance between the intention of people wanting to center equity or do that type of work against the resources available to do that so I really appreciate you lifting up not just like sourcing in new dollars but reimagining how current dollars are used and leveraged.

Then this piece which we’ve also heard from a lot of partners, both practitioners at the forefront of collaborative work but also from some of the funding community thinking about how are we reframing what we’re asking or what we’re saying, you know, this work is in service of, we’ve heard that a lot so I really appreciate you lifting those up because those have been sort of reverberating I think things across this work, thinking about how you’re framing it to still reach the audience that you’re trying to reach.

I’ll let you go, Melody, but then I do have a follow-up question to that but, Melody, please, would love to hear from you.

Melody Freeman: Awesome. I’ll just echo everything that Jamilica said but I’ll also add the decision, the SCOTUS ruling, if anything, I think it has almost lit a fire. It looks like an obstacle, but I think it’s fuel. I think it’s just going to keep us steadfast in all of our efforts.

It reminds me of a quote that’s kind of funny to me, but it says success breeds complacency, complacency breeds failure, only the paranoid survive by Andy Grove. I love it.

We thought we were comfortable with all of these rulings, and we thought we could sit in that, but this shows us just how close we are to stillness and stagnancy and complacency, and how quickly we are to get comfortable so despite these hurdles, I think our determination remains strong, and catalyzed our initiatives, helping us push these boundaries even further, amplifying the right conversations and doubling down on all of our equity efforts.

So I’m not glad it happened but I think we need these reminders like we still have to keep these issues front, center, and we can’t ever relax or sleep until we can see true systemic change.

Courtney W. Robertson: Yes, and it’s like crisis breeds opportunity, right? That becomes an opportunity to rethink. What I’m hearing you say, Melody, is like keep doing the work and get even deeper in the work.

I’m curious because I can imagine one, with the number of partners that you all have, so, Jamilica, I think you mentioned the number, 110 plus, how have the partners received sort of some of these shifts?

Specifically thinking about not being able to explicitly say we are doing this work in service of Black folks and that this—or for Black and Brown folks in Memphis, how has that resonated with partners and how have you all supported them in sort of I guess shifting because part of it is a mental model, like how are you shifting your thinking around how you’re presenting these challenges and issues?

Jamilica Burke: The short answer is it’s hard, and I lift that because, yes, because of the diversity of backgrounds and the number of partners that we work with from a public sector standpoint, private sector, community, every day individuals that are living, breathing, walking, and live in our communities.

From the mental model perspective, we attempted to be very proactive in terms of really laying out very clearly the why in terms of why we’re making that shift, understanding based on the current dynamics of current legislation at a state and federal level, based on examples of what we’ve already seen to where our city and county government have attempted to do some of this work but because it was flagged as not being race neutral, it never made it even to city council or county commission because the lawyers stopped it from moving forward.

A large part of it was the education in terms of the why, understanding why we may have to think about this in our approach to the work. Here are some examples that show important things that the community was trying to do but it was impeded by the language that was in there, and then also giving some examples, for example, we’ve been doing a lot of work in early childhood. We did not say a focus on Black and Brown children or Black and Brown four-year-olds, but we said needs based which 85 percent of our four-year-olds were Black and Brown that were eligible for pre-K.

So we had to give example of the why, examples where or reasons why, some clear examples that people can understand and see, and then some clear examples of when that language was shifted, how it was able to then ultimately get the result we were trying to do.

What I will say depending on who you’re talking to, it’s a very—it can be sometimes a very emotional, impassioned discussion, and a lot of people lean in with their opinions and their passion which is great, and this is really important, and so what we found ourselves having to do is just always redirect and keep it—bring it back to the why and the purpose behind it, and illustrate that, look, if ultimately this is what we’re trying to accomplish by doing this, it allows us the opportunity to unlock this. If we stick to our current plan of this more—of the language that we’re using currently, we could impede that. Not to say that it’s impossible but it will definitely be additional hurdles to overcome.

I think where we start to make a little bit of progress in that with those who are still like, no, but I still want to be focused on us is it has to be in-and-out game. We have to think about from the end game of what do we need to say in the conversation we need to have to move the needle to get public and elected officials bought in but then also the advocacy game in terms of over time how are we working with community elected officials to really change, one, to assure we have the right people in elected positions that will be making these decisions, and, two, really get at changing the hearts and minds of those that are doing this work.

We know that the advocacy piece is a longer game but it’s still an important part of it, we’re talking about bringing these things together so I kind of have people thinking about from the standpoint of what do we have to do in the short term versus what we do in the long term to move this work ultimately forward. It’s still a difficult conversation when you do that, but I think for us as kind of the backbone and convener of this work, always just bringing it back to the why and the purpose behind it.

Courtney W. Robertson: Yeah, it’s super important, and to that point it’s really balancing the trade-offs like what am I willing to sacrifice, and if it’s a sacrifice of some language to still do the same work, then I’m willing. I’m speaking from a personal standpoint, I’m willing to make that type of sacrifice if it still gets us to the same end goal so that’s really powerful. I will say probably be prepared to have your inboxes flooded for those examples of what that language looks like, and those examples look like but really powerful. Thank you.

Melody, anything that you’d like to add to that?

Melody Freeman: I guess the only thing I would say about that is if we keep the true enemy in the right place which is the systems that oppress us and keep us all disparate and marginalized, I think we could value hearts and minds and passions over a lot of the fancy things that gets in the way like theories of change and backgrounds, religions, and race, and all of these other identities that we bring into these collective spaces but I think clear communication and transparency is key.

I also think somehow we’ve arrived at this type of culture where we just don’t address elephants in the room. The work is hard enough as it is, but I think we should get in the room where we should talk about blind spots. We should talk about all of the issues that exist within our different landscapes. We should discuss those things and if you can’t predict what you think is going to happen and what may be in that rearview mirror, a hurdle, then maybe the right people are not in the room because there are lots of problems when you bring folks together. They’re going to exist but just keep the communication open, being transparent, and like Jamilica mentioned, keeping the purpose centered, and continuing to not just keep the purpose centered, sometimes the best way to do that is to have those folks in the room at every conversation. The people that impact the most, that is an instant centering activity right there so just keeping those folks front and center will help to anchor the group in its mission, in its core goal.

Courtney W. Robertson: I’m snapping as you’re talking because I agree. Thank you so much for that.

So as we get closer to the end unfortunately of this conversation, a couple more questions. One, just for our listeners, we have folks within our CIF audience who are across the spectrum. We have folks who are new to collective impact and trying to figure out how do they make it work to folks who like Seeding Success have been doing this work 10 plus years and had collaboratives but what is one thing that you would recommend to a collaborative who is trying to be more intentional about centering racial equity? What would be that one recommendation that you would make either thinking—what they should be thinking about, what might be a good first step or place to start but what would be that one recommendation, and I would love to get that from each of you.

Melody Freeman: I’ll jump in. One recommendation I would say is don’t shy away from introspection on a personal level. I always think about people in the work and the way we connect with one another. I think if more than one person shows up in the room, we already show up with our own biases and privileges and just kind of inherent biases that can keep us apart, so I think personal work is integral to being an effective advocate for equity and in doing this work, constantly self-reflecting.

If I just had to add one more thing, it’s being patient because progress is not going to happen overnight. As a matter of fact, it’s like at a snail’s pace only because there’s so much work that is ahead of us so small victories count. Celebrate them. Remember this is a marathon and not a sprint.

Jamilica Burke: I would say for individuals that are doing this work is that—and I reiterate this again—if the work was not challenging, if you are not having tough conversations, you’re not doing the right work. I say that because you have to bring diverse people and backgrounds and experience into a space where you can truly have a collective conversation about how we improve the systems in which we work within, and how we build pathways and mobilities for kids and families. If we’re not doing that, we’re not doing the right work.

I also say with that is thinking about the different audiences that you’re working within, what are the tools and competencies that we are working to build because long term we want this to be sustained. We love having different supports come in but how do we ensure that a community is really ready to take on that work of long-term change if we are to move the needle.

Courtney W. Robertson: I agree. That’s so powerful. If you’re not having challenging conversations, then you’re not doing the work. I think the thing that we forget is that, one, we’re undoing hundreds of years of stuff for lack of a better word, and then to the point that Melody raised, you’re bringing in—we’re human beings at the end of the day, and we’re all coming in with our differences and experiences and understanding and all those other things, and so trying to make all of that fit and work takes some cranking out and there might be some kinks you have to work out, etc., so I appreciate you all lifting that up.

And then, Melody, I appreciate you reiterating which I meant to underscore when Jamilica lifted it up around doing the self-work, the internal reflection work and the personal work, and as a backbone holding yourself accountable and being frank. As Jamilica said, we are a White-led organization and that’s not something we can ignore so what does that mean for how we enter this work? What does it mean for how people might perceive us in this work, and how do we work to mitigate that as much as possible? Thank you all so, so much for that.

So my last question is just what is next for the work, for the More for Memphis work? Where are you headed? What do you want to see happen? What are your wishes and then how can folks stay connected to the work, and if they’re local or even national and want to get involved, what could that look like?

Jamilica Burke: So, where we are in the process as I was sharing a little bit earlier is now that we have gone through almost this two and a half, three years of design and planning, we are now at a place to where we’re working towards finalizing what would be those core strategies that we’re moving forward as a community that we’re looking to implement.

What I mean by implementation is, one, if done well with an investment plan that clearly articulates the strategies, the outcomes around it, and kind of the costs and assumptions around it, there’s an opportunity for us to bring in multimillion dollars private investments to help us with implementation. With that work if done well, by the end of the year we’d be able to solidify that and really use that as a catalyst for ongoing conversations with the public sector so as we’re going into the different public budget cycles, about the things with the strategies that align to the public sector about where are there opportunities for us to do some potentially deeper investments, change the way we invest or where’s there even flexibility within our public budgets to do some of the work that is needed.

Another piece of that is again, this is really going to be governed by a public-private partnership so how do you still bring public sector, private sector, community, family and the kids together in more of a governance structure to help make informed decisions about how we’re utilizing those private dollars to move the work forward.

Also another piece to that is we’ve been doing engagement in community through the planning phase but that engagement still needs to continue but now it’s about understanding what is the impact of the things that we’re implementing in community, how is it perceived and received by community members, and then how are we still utilizing that information to continuously improve because while we are saying that this is a living document, it’s not stagnant so we know that every year or two we’re going to be revisiting these strategies and these ideas to understand and know what do we need to do to make shifts on what the data is saying but also what are community is saying over a period of time.

Ultimately, if done well, we would really be changing the framework and the fabric of Memphis to where now we’re improving outcomes for kids and families as they move cradle to career and be on the pathway to mobility to where they have choice in how they thrive in the world that we live within.

The one thing that would add to finish your question, Courtney, was we are continuously looking for more partners and individuals to be engaged in this work. It doesn’t have to be as high level as I want to be a part of every planning meeting but it’s also about I want to ensure that some of these things are seen in my community or here are ways that you can implement into my community that my community would really be able to take it in.

So a couple of ways to get engaged:

One, we still have an ongoing survey to understand what communities see as their most urgent need which is really helping us to prioritize and sequence how these strategies need to be done.

Two, we built out a robust community website called that houses a lot of information and data about work to date. There is a link on there for those who would like to be more involved and receive our newsletters and information. It just really asks for simple things like name, email, where you live, things of that nature, and then even for those who are not living in our community, we also love to just hear about how other communities are doing this work because we’re always looking for opportunities to even partner and have thought partnership and how this can look and breathe long term.

Courtney W. Robertson: Beautiful, so the call to action, if you are in Memphis or if you’re not in Memphis, do not do the survey. We need to be representative of Memphis but we’ll make sure that we include the website link with this recording so that you all can—everyone can go on and see the work that’s happening around More for Memphis and with Seeding Success in Memphis but if you are a Memphian, they would love to hear your feedback through that survey.

And then if you’re a partner no matter where you are doing this type of work, they’d also love to connect.

I just want to say thank you so much to Jamilica and Melody who are former colleagues of mine, so it really did my heart great to have this conversation with you all today, but I want to thank you both for your gifts of expertise, knowledge, time today, and I want to thank our listeners for your continued support of the Collective Impact Forum podcast.

(Outro) And this closes out this episode of the Collective Impact Forum podcast. If you are interested in learning more about what was discussed, you can find links to resources in the footnotes for this episode.

We would like to acknowledge that this episode was produced and edited on the unceded, traditional lands of the Coast Salish people, including the Duwamish, Suquamish, Stillaguamish, and Muckleshoot tribes. We honor with gratitude the land itself and the past, present, and futures of these tribes.

The Intro music for this episode was composed by Rafael Krux and our outro music is composed by Kevin Macleod.

In Forum news, we’re excited to share that registration is open for some upcoming online workshops. On November 8, we have “Supporting the Conditions to Advance Systems Change.” On November 30, we have, “Exploring the Relational Core of Systems Change Work.” And on Dec. 12 and 13, we have our primer course Introduction to Collective Impact and the Backbone Role.”

Please visit our events section of our website at if you would like to join any of these upcoming online sessions.

This is Tracy Timmons-Gray, Associate Director here at the Collective Impact Forum, and your podcast producer. I want to say thank you so much for listening, and we look forward to connecting with you more in our next episode. Until next time, we hope you are safe and well.


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