Last week, we at First Five Nebraska were proud to recognize the fourth class of the Early Childhood Policy Leadership Academy as they finished the program and graduated into the statewide network of PLA alumni. This class was exceptional in a handful of ways: They were the first class to go through an open application process where we received more than 80 applications for the 25 available spots, they were the first class asked to design a full-scale advocacy strategy as part of their capstone project and they were the first class to have a series of unexpected challenges and tragedies that fell at the feet of more than one class member. The 23 participants who completed the program rose to the challenge.
Becoming movement builders
Since our first gathering in October 2022, I made it clear that the public perception of advocacy falls far short of the reality. Without a doubt, there is a time and place for those television-worthy moments on the capitol steps or a strongly worded letter to a legislator. But in the Policy Leadership Academy, we were going to focus on the kind of advocacy that may get a little less press, but a lot more return on investment. From day one, I encouraged each participant to think of themselves not just as an advocate or a legislative veteran, but to see themselves as a movement builder.
Each step along the program was built upon that foundation. It’s a bit of a turn-around for most of us who think of policy influence as being solely focused on legislators and highlight our calendars during the legislative session. There was a learning curve for our class participants as well, many of whom already had established relationships with their elected officials or were seasoned veterans when it came to testifying at a committee hearing or submitting a comment for the record. For six months, this diverse and dedicated group of 23 Nebraskans acquired a deeper skill set around building a movement inside their local communities and collaborated to bridge those local groundswell movements with needed legislative impact.
Our final workshop together in North Platte was a showcase of this work: Each participant, either individually or in collaboration with other PLA classmates, was expected to build out a full advocacy strategy beginning with a problem statement, following through with necessary research and discovery and landing on how they were going to work with their ever-growing network of local leaders and the First Five Nebraska team to create meaningful outcomes at the state level. What was designated on the agenda as a two-and-a-half-hour portion of our day turned into a five-hour showcase of presentations and projects from the PLA class members followed by questions, feedback and affirmation from their peers. As a 20+-year veteran of community building and policy advocacy, I was giddy to the point of tears at the creativity, thoughtfulness and humility of the presenters.
Above and beyond the brainpower of this group, we celebrate the allyships and friendships that were formed over the past six months. Movement building is hard work. It’s focused on the long game and requires clear vision and endurance. It’s our allies and friends who keep us up for the task when the small hits come or the goal feels far off and maybe even a tad impossible.
This class will join classes 1, 2, and 3 for our next alumni call and our ongoing work for this legislative session. They will be a powerful addition to our active and excellent alumni and I genuinely cannot wait to see what they accomplish on behalf of Nebraska’s children and families.
Read more about this PLA class: