For Rocio Mancera, an Evanston mother of four, Early Childhood Advocacy Day on April 18 is an opportunity to fight for the voiceless. 

“If we don’t advocate for the children, who else can?” said Mancera, in an interview translated from Spanish. “They can’t speak for themselves; they’re babies. We have to advocate for them as parents.” 

On Tuesday, April 18, Evanston Cradle to Career (C2C) hopes to bus 50 parents, local residents and members of community organizations to the state Capitol in Springfield. The advocates would show support for Gov. JB Pritzker’s Smart Start Illinois proposal and recommend ways to strengthen it. There are still 20 free, vacant seats on the bus. Those interested can register in English or Spanish

Cradle to Career’s Advocates Para La Acción, the fourth cohort of Latinx advocates for action, has 21 members. Credit: Cradle to Career

Pritzker’s four-year plan would invest $250 million in early childhood programs and another $100 million into child care providers’ facilities. Pritzker said the proposal “will eliminate early childhood deserts for 3- and 4-year olds by 2027.” More than half, $130 million, would go toward Childcare Workforce Compensation Contracts to increase educators’ salaries, an idea that both educators and the State Board of Education have supported, though at different amounts.

Evanston needs to support its early education workforce and access to early education, said C2C Executive Director Blake Noel.

“We need to make sure that people are paid fairly and are able to do the work – that, in early education, is the key to being able to open more seats to serve more families,” Noel said. “We’re really excited about Pritzker’s budget and the idea of putting more money and resources into communities for early childhood. We believe it would really help the community of Evanston.”

Jesse Rojo, a community organizer for Community Organizing and Family Issues, and Arisbeth Martinez, a member of Advocates Para La Acción, speak during leadership training.

The urgency to support early education comes from the fact a child’s brain develops its fastest between birth and age 5, as Start Early Illinois, a nonprofit focused on early education, states in its Illinois policy agenda for 2021-2023.

“The first five years of a child’s life are the most critical for healthy development and long-term well-being,” the policy agenda says. “Yet, far too many children and families lack access to quality early education and care – particularly those living in communities left under-resourced by decades of historical and institutional racism.”

There are major disparities in third grade reading proficiency in Evanston, according to 2019 data cited in the Evanston Project for the Local Assessment of Needs.

Evanston/Skokie School District 65’s average third grade reading proficiency, 49.5%, is above the 36.4% statewide average. But for low income, Black and Latino students, third grade reading proficiency is below 29%.

The Evanston Project for the Local Assessment of Needs shows major disparities in third grade reading proficiency, based on 2019 pre-pandemic data.

Start Early Illinois is leading the charge to advocate for Early Childhood Advocacy Day.

Hundreds of parents and representatives of organizations from across Illinois will be traveling to Springfield to tell Pritzker and state representatives about gaps in education they have witnessed.

It’s crucial for elected officials to hear directly from low income, working-class families, said Jesse Rojo, a community organizer for the nonprofit Community Organizing and Family Issues, also known as COFI. The direct lobbying effort can convince legislators that proposals such as Smart Start Illinois are necessary, Rojo said.

“These people are struggling, whether it’s immigrants or African Americans struggling with generational poverty – they’re the ones having to face systematic injustice,” Rojo said. “Sharing stories about the reality of their community and the desperate need for change that exists – is what needs to be shared with the legislators.

“A lot of them [legislators] don’t know the reality of situations. They haven’t lived the life of a poor person, so to be able to share that reality with them changes their perspective, and therefore – fingers crossed – changes their vote.”

COFI seeks to empower parents and guardians to combat racial, economic and social obstacles. It partners with C2C to teach leadership skills to Advocates Para La Acción, the fourth cohort of Latinx advocates for action. COFI is picking up parents from Elgin and Aurora to take them to Springfield. 

Mancera, the team lead of Advocates Para La Acción, is passionate about community organizing and opening doors for Black and Brown families. She serves on COFI’s Bilingual Parents Advisory Committee, is involved in Evanston Latinos and the city’s participatory budgeting process and she recently graduated from the Evanston Police Department’s first community police academy class conducted in Spanish

People gathered around a silver table making tamales
Rocio Mancera (right) teaches a tamale cooking class in December for an event with Evanston Latinos. Credit: Gina Castro

Mancera says she knows how important early education opportunities can be for children. Her eldest is 21 years old and her youngest is 3. 

“If there aren’t many resources, it is difficult to reach them [children],” Mancera said. “If you don’t advocate, they won’t have the services they need. It’s harder and less effective to reach them when they are older, so we’re going to Advocacy Day in Springfield to tell them about the importance of early education at 3 years old.”

The action groups work with C2C and its parents for two years to learn leadership and advocacy skills. This year’s cohort is in its three-month leadership and training phase. Previous Advocates Para La Acción cohorts have worked on expanding access to basic needs, closing the achievement gap in education and confronting racism, said Kim Holmes-Ross, C2C’s director of community engagement. 

Mancera and other Latinx parents who are part of Advocates Para La Acción, along with members from other C2C’s advocate groups, the Childcare Network of Evanston, Early Education Council and others will be headed to Springfield.  

Noel said one of the things he’s most excited about is the diversity coming from Evanston to advocate.

“I think that’s important for the people in Evanston and for the folks in Springfield to see,” Noel said. “We’re taking Latin folks, Black folks, white folks, leaders, people who work, family members, a bunch of children. We are representing the community the way it really is, which is a lot of different folks with different races and backgrounds.”

Avatar photo

Gina Castro

Gina Castro is a Racial Justice fellow for the RoundTable. She recently earned a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism where she studied investigative reporting....

Join the Conversation

1 Comment

The RoundTable will try to post comments within a few hours, but there may be a longer delay at times. Comments containing mean-spirited, libelous or ad hominem attacks will not be posted. Your full name and email is required. We do not post anonymous comments. Your e-mail will not be posted.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Yes, “The urgency to support early education comes from the fact a child’s brain develops its fastest between birth and age 5,” And as Rocio Mancera says, “It’s harder and less effective to reach them when they are older” and the kids of Evanston are not exempt from that natural rule.
    So I suggest that “Cradle to Career” organize visits to colleges and universities (not to Springfield!) for parents and their very YOUNG ONES WITH DEVELOPING BRAINS, to expose them and their parents, to the idea of education as a way to grow intellectually and as a KEY OUT OF POVERTY, at a moment when children are beginning to make life-impacting decisions.
    Years back the, Organization of LATINOS of Evanston (OLE), used to organize such trips, plus invite representatives AND STUDENTS, from colleges and universities to meet with, and inform parents and their children about the ins and outs of college education, and answer important parents’ questions, meeting in parents’ homes or “borrowed” school rooms. It was EXTREMELY IMPACTING! This made it possible for LATINO parents to understand the workings of education in this country which is so different from our native lands. We have amazing opportunities here in Evanston for ALL PEOPLE, RICH AND POOR! And it is disquieting to constantly read that “There are major disparities in third grade reading proficiency in Evanston,” after years and years of spending outrageous amounts of TAXPAYERS’ money to solve this problem. I came to Evanston in 1966 and can attest to this terrible failure.
    It should NOT be necessary for “parents and representatives of organizations from across Illinois” to travel to Springfield when we have SCHOOL BOARDS, and administrators who are HIGHLY PAID (I hear all over Illinois!), who should be aware of “low income, working-class families’ problems,” “immigrants or African Americans struggling with generational poverty,” without them needing to go all the way to Springfield!!
    And worse, to go to Springfield to talk to legislators who ““A lot of them don’t know the reality of situations (!!!) They haven’t lived the life of a poor person…” If this is true, why are we paying them to do the job that they are not fully prepared to do, the job they ran for office to do???!!!