What makes your family a Strong Family?

Friday, June 08, 2012

By Nicole Clark

Originally posted on Nicole's blog.

This week, I’ve been in Oakland, California. This is my second trip out to California in less than 3 months, and I love having any excuse to make it over to the West Coast (or the Left Coast, as some of my friends like to call it).

Along with having a mini-vacation, I traveled to Oakland to participate in the 2012 Strong Families Summit, hosted by Forward Together. Strong Families is a 10-year national initiative to change how people feel and think about families, and how lawmakers can develop more policy that is reflective of the fact that many families do not fit the stereotypical image of the nuclear family. While I’ve highlighted Strong Families before, attending the Summit gave me an even better understanding of what Strong Families represents.

The Summit brought in over 130 individuals (representing themselves, their families, communities, and organizations) to collaborate, engage, and build more around the core principles of Strong Families: building alignment and synergy based on the work organizations and communities are already doing and leveraging the unique strengths of this work, cultivating valued-based relationships that build foundation and capacity building, and expanding opportunities and resources to move beyond their community and organizational needs in order to work collaboratively.

There was so much rich information, tools, and conversations I received at the Strong Families Summit. Here are some of the highlights:

Policy Priorities and Analysis
Strong Families is expanding the definition of “family” by generating a cultural shift towards broad public support for policies on the local, state, and national level that support more families that have the least amount of resources and are the most under attack, including low-income families, immigrant families, LGBTQI families, single parent families, young parents, and families of color. There were several strategy sessions, including “Building Momentum for Strong Families Policies”. We were given two awesome tools: Policy Priorities and Policy Analysis. We were able to choose which area we wanted to focused on—LGBTQI, reproductive justice, Indigenous, immigrant rights, environmental justice, criminalization of families, safety nets/budgets, youth—and discuss what we feel should be priorities for policy makers.

Policy Priorities
The following questions gave us the opportunity to generate conversation:

1) The policy, administrative rule or budget line item we are trying to pass or stop is:_________________________________

2) The decision-maker(s) for this policy, administrative rule or budget line item is/are:_____________________________

I intentionally came to the Summit to focus more on youth, so here’s an example:

The policy, administrative rule or budget line item we are trying to pass or stop is: We are trying to pass federal and state comprehensive sex education for young people.

The decision-maker(s) for this policy, administrative rule or budget line item is/are: United States Congress. Congress continues to allocate million in federal funds for abstinence-only-until marriage programs.

Policy Analysis
Since I chose comprehensive sex education as a policy priority, the questions below helped me to think more critically about how comprehensive sex education can affect families:

1) How does this policy campaign recognize our families? Does it change the perception or definition of family in policy or culture?

2) How does this policy campaign increase resources to our families? Does it provide more money, access, or system supports?

3) How does this policy campaign extend rights to our families? Does it establish what our families need as a right or ensure our families have the same rights that other families have?

4) How does this policy campaign create opportunities to work in alliance with other groups/communities?

Organizing Young People for Strong Families
I also attended the “Organizing Young People for Strong Families” strategy session. I got the most out of this strategy session. We explored opportunities that engage young people as leaders in Strong Families campaigns at the local, state, and national levels. It was co-facilitated by Advocates For Youth. We discussed the spectrum of youth-adult partnerships:

Youth as objects: Youth are tokenized the most, are not being engaged effectively, and chosen based on quotas.

Youth as recipients: Adults feel that being part of the decisions making process “will be good for [youth]”.

Youth as partners: Adults respect the views/opinions of young people, and recognize that youth have something significant to offer.

Youth led/youth run: Youth are the experts, defining creating, delivering the final campaign/product.

It was very enlightening to hear what other organizations and people are doing with youth: Forward Together has developed teachings tool to help engage young people in sharing their family stories (birth & chosen); Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health (ICAH) uses teach-backs to help youth utilize what they’re learning in order to bring it back to their families. Young Women United has utilized various forms of research (surveys, focus groups, interviews, etc.) to engage youth; and Choice USA has helped college students to organizing against direct opposition to open broader conversations on how to engage youth in organizing work. As we continued to talk, we started to discuss the following questions:

*How can young people be a key constituency of the Strong Families movement? Strong Families recognizes young parents, but how can the message resonate with youth who aren’t parents?

*What concerns youth the most? How can we meet young people where they are while recognizing that our priorities (sex education, birth control, abortion, etc) may not the top priorities for youth?

*How can Strong Families speak to youth that have been traumatized by family, and whose definition of “family” symbolizes pain, heartache, displacement, and fear?

*How can the Strong Families’ message resonate with youth in communities in which the “nuclear family” is held onto as the standard or the ideal?

Forward Stance
The most enlightening moment I took away from the Strong Families Summit was the Forward Stance. Forward Stance is a mind-body approach to brings movements together to strengthen families and communities. It was developed by Forward Together and Norma Wong to help build capacity to understand movement building challenges and identify strategic solutions. A lot of time, we focus more on what’s going on in our heads that we don’t take the time to see how we can connect our minds in movement. Forward Stance uses stance, energy, rhythm, and awareness to help communities move as one. (Confused? Check out this video to see how it’s done. )

I had such an amazing time here in Oakland and at the Strong Families Summit. It was so refreshing to meet new colleagues, re-connect with old friends, and experience the Bay Area. Being in spaces such as the Strong Families Summit always helps to remind me of why I continue to be in the reproductive justice movement.

Check out pictures, messages, and other reflections from the 2012 Strong Families Summit.