Promoting Policy Change from the Bottom-Up

This article is a personal reflection of the 2021 Washington Week Holmes Policy Institute by attendee Kamilah Bywaters.

Kamilah BywatersAACTE’s Holmes Policy Institute was literally “a breath of fresh air.” The gathering was a reminder of the extraordinary leaders within our nation who are dedicated and committed to forward thinking ideas that are good for all of humanity. I was more than thrilled to hear from Jessica Cardichon, assistant secretary in the Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development with the U.S. Department of Education. Her specific role that day was to inform Holmes Scholars of the initiatives and goals of the Biden Administration. To top it off, Nick Lee, the deputy assistant secretary for higher education, Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development with the U.S. Department of Education, provided valuable information on one of the objectives to ensure that higher education is equity focused and affordable to underserved and underrepresented communities. I am filled with hope to know that many of our nation’s leaders listen to the communities they serve and strive to implement policy that provides access and does good in the world.

The information-packed breakout session with Denise Forte, interim CEO at EdTrust and Sarita Brown, co-founder and president of Excelencia in Education gave us tips on how to promote policy change from the bottom-up. In this session, we were given some guidelines to consider when advocating for policy change. These include

  1. Have a clear ask
  2. Be concise
  3. Do the research
  4. Have the will

The dialogue and reflection time within the sessions reminded me of one of my favorite quotes by Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Every speaker imparted knowledge and shared with us their experiences and how we can be agents of change within our communities. I am forever grateful to have had an opportunity to learn from leaders who advance policy in our nation. I will apply what I learned by committing myself to lifelong learning, being unapologetic for serving, and learning from setbacks.

Throughout our sessions, many takeaways encouraged and increased my desire to grow as a scholar, obtain knowledge, and advocate for underserved communities. As an educational advocate in my local community, I have learned the importance of consistency and staying on the intended path. I remember a vivid conversation with a community member who did not agree with consistently advocating for community needs with our leaders because the thought was “their minds are made up and they will do what they want anyway.” I can admit, some discouragement tried to negotiate its way into the core of my being. To my surprise, the day was saved by closing keynote, Josh Delaney, the legislative director and policy advisor to Senator Raphael Warnock (D-GA). Delaney said something so powerful that will always resonate with me, “Even if the answer is no, you work as if the answer is yes.” Now, that my friends, was liberating.

Kamilah Bywaters, M.Ed., M.Div., is a doctoral student and Rodman Scholarship Fellow, Department of Early Childhood, Multilingual and Special Education at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.


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