“For us, ‘Leading with families,’ has proven to be a thoughtful and powerful strategy as we knew that families do not experience poverty one issue at a time….At the Foundation, we refuse to accept the notion that families who experience poverty don’t have the wisdom and the agency to solve their own problems.” -Luz Vega-Marquis, CEO & President, Marguerite Casey Foundation
From May 18 to 20, more than 400 grantee, community and family leaders gathered at Marguerite Casey Foundation’s National Convening in the Washington, D.C. area to celebrate their work, their communities, and their power.
Grassroots leaders, students, parents, artists, spoken-word poets, and organizers explored what power really means, what it takes to build and grow a movement of low-income families, and how to disrupt and dismantle structural causes of poverty. The Convening was fueled by the understanding that families who experience poverty have the wisdom and agency to advocate on their own behalf for equity and solve their problems.
In workshops, during plenary sessions, over coffee, and while breaking bread together, they focused on how to create change from the ground up that leads to lasting reform. They worked toward change with a shared commitment to raise the voices of low-income families and build a movement of organized and collective self-determined action.
Together, they deepened connections, broadened their communities, and strengthened their power.
A look back at the Convening in photos, voices, work, sessions, and social media storytelling:
Listen to Our Power
What does it mean to gain power and use power to create positive change in the nation today?
Over three days organizers, students, presidents from philanthropy and higher education, grassroots leaders, organizers, and spoken-word poets from around the country talked about what power has meant and will mean to them and their work.
They reflected on the Convening’s theme – “Our Power. Our Community. Our Change.” – talking about the inherent power of low-income families, speaking to power, and understanding and tapping power in families and their communities.
Day 1: Our Power
At the Convening’s opening, Luz Vega-Marquis directly addressed the idea of power and the building of it by low-income families for a movement of social change. All, she said, sit at the heart of Marguerite Casey Foundation. At this unprecedented moment in the U.S., she said: What does power really mean for low-income communities? How do we speak truth to power? How do we speak about power among ourselves? She also encouraged participants to discuss their work, learn from each other, and expand their networks of community leaders nationwide. The ideas of sharing power and building it, in new ways to benefit people, gained momentum.
Our Power Together is Boundless
In a discussion facilitated by Maria Hinojosa, participants focused on how families of all backgrounds provide strength and how the dreaming of power for community progress is worthy of pursuit. Joining her were:
- Deepak Bhargava, Center for Community Change
- Janeen Comenote, National Urban Indian Family Coalition
- Alicia Garza, National Domestic Workers Alliance
- Tessie Guillermo, Marguerite Casey Foundation Board Member
Day 2 : Our Community
When we are together, there is no holding us back.
The morning’s plenary discussion focused on the power and potential of networks – the idea of regional organizations coming together to collaborate across interests and focus on equity and community solutions. Community advocates from California, Florida and Native country shared reflections during the discussion. Throughout the day, the idea of power – and the reimagining of it to achieve better lives for families of all backgrounds – surfaced during breakout sessions. They included ones about Census 2020; youth- and Indigenous-led movements; parent, rural and women-led organizing and civic engagement in immigrant neighborhoods.
In the afternoon, the discussions continued, guided by the Foundation’s core belief of “Ask. Listen. Act.” Luz Vega-Marquis talked about the National Family Platform and how it represents respect for families. It lists 15 topics, such as housing and child care, all of which affect poverty and families. She reviewed its history, in which thousands of families at town hall meetings voted upon to lift up their collective voices. But, she said: How do you use it now? She did so to inject fresh thinking into the conversation. Convening attendees gave feedback by paper to help inform and continue the Foundation’s approach of asking and listening. In the evening, Maria Teresa Kumar of Voto Latino gave a keynote speech and illuminated the power of voting, especially in the drive to knock down barriers so all families can thrive.
The Power Of Community through Network Building
Organizations coming together to focus their collective power in regional networks was the focus of the day’s plenary. Leaders working on child care, immigration and with Native communities joined:
- Donna Bransford, Bay Area Equal Voice Coalition
- Valencia Gunder, Equal Voice for Urban Florida
- Chrissie Castro, Native Voice Network
Day 3 : Our Change
As Ai-jen Poo, who moderated a morning plenary discussion, observed true positive change can only take place across generations. During the plenary, youth recipients of the Foundation’s Shriver Award against poverty joined community leaders with decades of social justice experience to focus on generational change. At one point, Cristina Jimenez reflected: “As a 16 year old, I moved from fear to courage.” By the late morning, Freeman A. Hrabowski, III, the Foundation’s board chair, extolled in his keynote address to all in the room: “Everyone here is a leader.” Luz Vega-Marquis imparted this encouragement in her closing remarks: “Do what you do, but do it better.” She offered this call to action, which is as important as ever at this moment in the U.S.:
What are you going to do when you go back home?
Sustaining Our Power through Generations
Ai-jen Poo of the National Domestic Workers Alliance led the closing day’s main discussion. She asked community leaders to focus on stories – the personal, political and familial – and how they can inspire people, worldwide and indefinitely.
- Scott Douglas, Greater Birmingham Ministries
- LaMar Davis, Choice Program, University of Maryland, Baltimore County
- Cristina Jimenez, United We Dream
- Miriam Aguayo, Shriver Network, ProBar Children Project Staff Attorney
- Corelene Ham, Shriver Network Leader
- Ramses Long, Shriver Network, St. Ignatius Loyola Academy Middle School Teacher
Before the Convening concluded, more inspiring words about power, community, and change rang out in the hotel ballroom, just miles from Washington, D.C. Hundreds of community advocates would head home to continue leading a national movement for a more just and equitable society. “This is about the heart of who we are,” Hrabowski said at one point. Then, the community leaders stood and joined in an infectious chant that filled the room with hope, energy, and the realization, yet again, that change for families, and by families, is within reach. And it is being accomplished. Every single day.