Profiles Showcase Latest Class of Children and Family Fellows
A new series of profiles reveals how the latest members of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Children and Family Fellowship® came to their beneficial work and shares their hopes for improving policies and programs affecting communities of color.
The nine men and six women hail from 11 states. These 15 selected for the intensive, 21-month executive leadership program are shaped by a variety of personal and professional experiences.
Education experts Angelo Gonzales, Sharonica Hardin-Bartley and Sherman Whites are all driven by the opportunities they were given to lead and learn as young people in communities where opportunity was unevenly distributed.
Malik Benjamin and Ali Knight share the roots of growing up Black in New York City in the 1980s and 1990s — the beginnings of an era of costly criminalization of Black boys that saw an end to opportunity for many.
Across experiences, the Fellows share a common recognition that child welfare and juvenile justice systems have often done more harm than good and that K–12 education is necessary but insufficient to provide the opportunities young people and their families need.
They also share a belief in a potential solution: amplifying the voices of people of color and equipping them with the tools to share their stories to shape policy.
Knight, the CEO of Fresh Lifelines for Youth in the Bay Area, is positioning youth who have first-hand experience with juvenile probation or other court-ordered conditions. He helps them become advisors to the justice system and to families whose children are newly entering the system.
Kassi Longoria, vice president of MAYA Consulting, is positioning families of young children as experts by engaging them as paid consultants to local programs.
In addition to prioritizing the voices of children and families, Fellows are shifting major child- and youth-serving systems from reaction to prevention and from one-size-fits-all services to grassroots care.
“I want to see a shift of funding to grassroots, community-oriented agencies so they are able to build an infrastructure to use the funding locally to make changes in their communities,” said Jodi Hill-Lilly, deputy commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Children and Families. “If our work begins further upstream, we can prevent children and families from coming to the attention of the department in the first place,” she said.
Beyond setting and advancing individual objectives, the fellows’ work contributes to a shared result: ensuring that all youth ages 14–24 have the necessary and equitable school, work and family connections to achieve success. This work will involve learning about and applying the competencies of Results Count® — Casey’s signature approach to leadership development — to leverage data and drive decision-making around concrete goals.
“It’s become more and more clear in my career that this isn’t a solo game,” said Longoria. “You have to create teams and work in the community to shift power. Through the Fellowship, I’m looking forward to honing my strategies and leading through my identity.