Washtenaw United: WISD's Trusted Parent Advisors creating trust and opportunity
ABOUT ICSHIA LEATHERWOOD:
Icshia Leatherwood is a wife and mother of six. She has served as a Washtenaw Success by 6 Great Start Collaborative Trusted Parent Advisor with the Washtenaw Intermediate School District since 2017.
Icshia is especially passionate about young black mothers and their ability to access services and be heard by providers and others in their lives. She presented at the Maternal Infant Health Summit to bring the perspective of patients to providers.
Icshia has been a mentor for young Black mothers at a local health center that serves patients under that age of 25.
Icshia hosts Strengthening Families Parent Cafes. Parent cafes are parent-led support groups for parents to come together in community to speak about the joys and challenges of parenthood.
Icshia is an advocate and voice for many mothers in the community who are not always heard.
David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and I'm David Fair. Every Monday, we explore equity and opportunity in our community through our conversation series, Washtenaw United. Today, we'll focus on early childhood education and the way forward to providing the support resources needed to help children and families in underserved and underfunded areas get a jumpstart on academic and life success. The Washtenaw Intermediate School District has a program called "Washtenaw Success by Six Great Start Collaborative." It relies on a group of adults who are called "trusted parent advisors." Our Washtenaw United guest today has been serving as one of those advisors since 2017. Icshia Leatherwood, thank you so much for the time today.
Icshia Leatherwood: Absolutely. Thank you for having me.
David Fair: So, as we look at the work that is needed and the work that is being done, I think too much of the public dialog regarding the struggles just for basic needs and educational support gets politicized with some characterizing the hardships as a call for a handout instead of a hand-up. Did you and do the people you work with sometimes feel lost or ignored in trying to navigate the bureaucracy of assistance?
Icshia Leatherwood: Oh, yes. Definitely. And I think that's what makes our work so unique because as trusted advisers, not only do we work hands-on with people in the community that have a need, but we are also those parents or have, once upon a time, been in the shoes of the parents that we work very closely with. So, we know exactly what it's like to feel ignored, to feel small in a room full of people who you think are important because--or more important than you because you're asking for that quote unquote handout that we're looking for that hand-up. But sometimes, we encounter with people who look at us because we're asking for a handout to them, if that makes sense.
David Fair: It does indeed. We are talking with Icshia Leatherwood on 89 one WEMU's Washtenaw United. She is with the trusted parent advisors in the WISD's Washtenaw Success by Six Great Start Collaborative. Now, there are seven trusted parent advisors, if I understand that correctly. What specific role do you play?
Icshia Leatherwood: So, I'm very passionate about working firsthand with young mothers, specifically of color, to help build the trust between families that we work with and policymakers and other community leaders. We bridge that gap to help the families that are seeking assistance. We help empower them and help them give them a voice to better advocate for themselves and their family within the community.
David Fair: So, this program was born out of a need because education officials, health officials, and government officials were having a hard time reaching parents, children, and their families who were in need even when help was available. Systemic racism has led to a lot of mistrust of the system, and, in many cases, rightfully so. So, when you reach out and connect with those who can use a hand-up, is it hard to convince them to set aside the systemic bias they've faced for so long and put some faith in service programs?
Icshia Leatherwood: Definitely. That is a huge barrier that sometimes we face. Well, not sometimes. We face it quite often, especially people and families of color, not trusting the system. So, that's why I believe our work is so important, because we're not just community leaders. We're community leaders who are still seeking that community support for their families. So, we're able to speak very candidly to the families that we work with. We're able to relate to the families that we work with. One way that we do that is by hosting parent cafes in different areas of the community, usually about one cafe every week or two weeks. We also have a bunch of other different programs that we are starting to implement just to help bring some systems into place where these families that we work with feel comfortable, feel safe to share their story, to share their experience, and to ask for help and support when they need it without the judgment. We are not an organization where we are trying to meet a specific quota. Our hearts are in the right place. We are very intentional about the things that we do, the connections that we make with families. And, again, that intention is to bring forth empowerment within their family, to empower the parents to feel comfortable enough not only to advocate for their family, but also to advocate for themselves. Because, sometimes, when we do go out into the community and ask for resources, the resources most likely are there for their children and sometimes the parents get put on the back burner. Yeah, we have fun doing the parent cafes. Like I said, we make these beautiful connections with these families. And, once upon a time where we met with families before just knocking on doors, and a lot of doors being shut in our face because the trust was just not there. Families of color just being afraid that because their dynamic--their family dynamic--is different--looks different--than what the quote unquote norm would be. Some families are just afraid to seek those services because they don't want to be called out or have cops come and look at their households. We just make it easier for those hard-to-reach families to speak up for themselves and their families.
David Fair: So, as you work to build trust, how do you go about making sure that the concerns are heard?
Icshia Leatherwood: You know, we just keep our boots on the ground. For instance, just a couple of weeks ago, I was a part of the book brigade that helped to transfer books from the old Superior library.
David Fair: Out to the new one. What a sight that was!
Icshia Leatherwood: Yes!
David Fair: Just hundreds upon hundreds of people passing books along.
Icshia Leatherwood: I didn't know what it would look like at first, but when I got there, it was an awesome turnout. Everyone was involved. Everyone was excited. And it was just good to meet, network, connect with other community leaders, also to connect with, you know, the families that were so excited about the brand new library.
David Fair: Our Washtenaw United conversation with Icshia Leatherwood continues on 89 one WEMU. Earlier, I mentioned that you've been a trusted parent advisor since 2017. Do you manage to still stay in contact with some of the first people you helped?
Icshia Leatherwood: Yeah, yeah. We still work with some of the families that we connected with when we first started in 2017, when it was almost below 30 degrees outside. And we were outside knocking on those doors trying to get the families to sign their children up for preschool. And, yes, we do still work with some of those families today. We build relationships with these families. So, sometimes, we just continue on as friends.
David Fair: Well, the whole point of the program is to change outcomes and give access to opportunity. In these five years that you've been doing this work, have you seen tangible change in the futures of those you began with?
Icshia Leatherwood: Yes, we have more children that are signed up for the early childhood programs that are in Washtenaw County. We are able to provide whole communities now with resources. We had a trusted parent advisor who was very passionate about a community in Ypsilanti getting them food resources, and she was rocking and rolling. She was able to contact Food Gatherers and set up a schedule where Food Gatherers would bring out boxes of food for the entire community all summer long. I started off as a mentor at County Health Center, again, making connections with those young mothers there at the clinic. I am still in contact with them. Some of them have transformed their life where, once upon a time, it was job insecurity that was keeping this family--holding this family--back. But the mother was able to get on her feet and secure a job where she's working steady and making enough money to keep her family afloat.
David Fair: One of the great things about serving something other than yourself is that there is personal reward in it. And I'm just curious. For the five years you've been doing this work, has serving this role and serving other members of community changed any of your attitudes or fortunes in life?
Icshia Leatherwood: Absolutely. Working with these families has made me a better parent, and it helps me to really open my eyes and to really explore what it is that my community needs to make it better and equitable for everyone. Being a trusted parent advisor has given me the courage and the knowledge and the platform to be able to not only just speak up more for myself and my family, but also be that middleman or that anchor to help the families that we work with.
David Fair: Well, thank you so much for the time and the conversation today, Icshia. I'm truly appreciative.
Icshia Leatherwood: Well, thank you again. Thank you for the time. The trusted parent advisor will be able to open so many doors that were, once upon a time, closed. But we can start kicking those doors down to make sure we get that equitable treatment throughout the entire community.
David Fair: Well, keep on kicking. We appreciate it.
Icshia Leatherwood: Absolutely. Thank you so much.
David Fair: That is Icshia Leatherwood, trusted parent advisor in the Washtenaw Intermediate School District's Washtenaw Success by Six Great Start Collaborative. She's been our guest on Washtenaw United. For more information on the program, visit our website at WEMU dot org Washtenaw United is produced in partnership with the United Way of Washtenaw County, and we bring it to you every Monday. I'm David Fair, and this is your community NPR station, 89 one WEMU FM Ypsilanti.
Washtenaw Success by 6 Great Start Collaborative
Most recently, Trusted Parent Advisors is a recipient of the Power of the Purse Fund, which aims to support existing and emerging programs and initiatives that increase the financial capability of people who identify as women. They have received a $15,000 reward to support parents from low opportunity areas in Washtenaw County with the resources they need to help their children be successful.
WEMU has partnered with the United Way of Washtenaw County to explore the people, organizations, and institutions creating opportunity and equity in our area. And, as part of this ongoing series, you’ll also hear from the people benefiting and growing from the investments being made in the areas of our community where there are gaps in available services. It is a community voice. It is 'Washtenaw United.'
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