An afternoon with Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, Representative Katie Dempsey, and other early childhood champions.
In 2015, pediatrician Mona Hanna-Attisha exposed Flint, Michigan’s water crisis to the world. Ever since she’s been fighting for the children whose futures have been dimmed by lead poisoning.
At Leadership Matters, a luncheon hosted by GEEARS on April 12th, “Dr. Mona” told a crowd of over 100 attendees why her mission is one of hope, not despair.
“Yes, this is the story of a crisis and it’s sad and it should never have happened,” she said in a riveting conversation with GEEARS Board Chair Stephanie Blank. “But what I want folks to take away is this amazing story of how an unexpected team came together and fought and fought and fought with that single-minded mission on behalf of children.”
She could just as well have been talking about the people in her audience at the Loudermilk Conference Center—the policymakers, educators, and community leaders who have joined GEEARS to advocate for Georgia’s youngest children. At this, GEEARS’ first in-person gathering in two and a half years, the banquet hall was filled with a thrum of excitement that matched Dr. Mona’s sparkling energy. All in attendance were clearly thrilled to be together and ready to build on recent wins for young children and families.
A few of these, noted GEEARS Executive Director Mindy Binderman, happened during Georgia’s legislative session. The legislature passed child-focused bills like the Mental Health Parity Act and pay raises for not only K-12 but the often-overlooked assistant and lead teachers in Georgia’s Pre-K program.
So, it made sense that Leadership Matters also featured Representative Katie Dempsey, the sponsor of another successful bill, the Child Lead Exposure Act. GEEARS honored her with the Early Childhood Champion Award.
“If you don’t have a good beginning, it’s really hard to have a great future,” Dempsey said, before sharing credit for her legislation with attendee Representative Robert Dickey.
“How wonderful he was to find the dollars and the space and the place to not say, ‘Well, this can wait a little bit longer. It’s just for little kids,’” Dempsey said. “We did it! And we did it quickly.”
Like Dr. Mona, Dempsey gave voice to the day’s theme—a community coming together to improve children’s lives and doing so with urgency.
Two retiring members of the GEEARS network exemplify this value and they were honored at the luncheon as well:
Pam Tatum, outgoing president, and CEO of Quality Care for Children had this to say: “I have been so lucky to spend my career working on behalf of child care providers, families, and young children. It was an honor to be recognized by my wonderful colleagues at GEEARS and I am thankful that organizations like GEEARS and Quality Care for Children will continue to move Georgia forward in early care and education.”
Joe Perreault, who leaves the Professional Family Child Care Alliance of Georgia in a few months, shared, “I started in early education in 1969, when women weren’t expected to work and child care was a volunteer activity. We now have a level of professionalism I never dreamed was possible. Nevertheless, early education issues are still daunting.”
Dr. Mona, both in her comments to the GEEARS community and her book, What the Eyes Don’t See, seemed to agree. Crusading for children, she acknowledged, means constantly battling factors like systemic racism, public health disinvestment, anti-science sentiment, misinformation, and more.
And yet, she urged all Leadership Matters attendees to persist, listing a few other “P-words” she uses to keep her own spirits up.
“Find your passion . . . find your people,” she instructed.
And when you face resistance, she added with a glint behind her angular eyeglasses, “Be pleasantly persistent.”