Danae Davis and Parvathi Santhosh-Kumar
DescriptionDanae Davis (64) discusses with her colleague, Parvathi Santhosh-Kumar (30), her career trajectory and her hopes for the city of Milwaukee.
Subject Log / Time Code
- Parvathi Santhosh-Kumar
Recording LocationChicago Hilton Hotel
Partnership TypeFee for Service
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00:01 My name is Danae Davis. I'm 64 years old and today's date is Thursday, November 14th, 2019. And we're in Chicago the name of my interview partner is the lovely parm and we are very strong leader colleagues in the struggle.
00:24 Love it. I am parve and I am 30 years old. Today's date is Thursday, November 14th, 2019. We're here in Chicago, which is amazing. I'm here with the wonderful today and we are colleagues working together for equity and justice.
00:41 So we have known each other for almost five years, I think and we met each other when you started working at Milwaukee succeeds. So, can you start by telling us a little bit about what your connection to Milwaukee is in what brought you there in the first place? You know, it's a cute story. I tell all the time because of my family if I said before I from Chicago my Mom married my stepfather we move to Louisville and I always say that we stopped in Milwaukee and never made it back to Chicago probably not true. But it's always makes everybody laugh. So that's how we got to Milwaukee. I was in high school, but I've lived there almost my entire life and I think that what it's like to be there is constant struggle with like I seem to have a million stories that I can think of throughout the time. I've been there
01:36 Before we got to the struggle. What do you enjoy most about Milwaukee? Oh my God this summer. And the reason is because there's so much to do outside. I'm kind of a William a summer solstice baby and I just love being out in parks on the lake. I love eating outdoors. I just love the beauty of it all and Milwaukee has so much music is all kind of fun things to do people seem to like each other better. If you know how they spend time together this Autumn or laughter. There's a lot more diversity, you know in all respects people come out. That's what I love most.
02:21 And what do you want to change about the city?
02:24 I want to change the way that we accept racial inequities in always particular between black and white. I really want to change how we feel about that so that we actually do something about that as a community because it's so pervasive. It's been so persistent. It's so I mean Jeff today, there was another study worst place for black people. I mean how many more of those do we have to see in here and read about before we say enough of this, you know Milwaukee is better than that's what I want for Milwaukee.
03:04 I'm curious. What what is that change when I look like from your what do you see is the possibility for that change, you know, what inspires me is because I see that change in young people. They are expectations of five different than the persistency. We older people exhibit around holding onto or accepting or being resilient or being survivors of I think they're more demanding. So what I'm excited about is that we in the work that we're doing get to encourage that Inspire that give power to that meeting young people's voice in action. It shows up and political it shows up in nonprofits. It shows up in business and that's what inspires me. I know it's going to happen. Just don't know quite win.
04:01 So you joined Milwaukee succeeds, which is part of the stripe together Cradle to Career Network about 5 years ago. What made you decide to take on that work? Oh my goodness. I drank the Kool-Aid of better together. If you will the notion that a partnership comprised of everyone who could influence change including systems honors connects to make a difference in ways, they cannot do alone that if they unite around a common cause and if they use data and information to guide what will really make meaningful change and results be different for everyone that you actually can get somewhere the policy can be changed resources can be devoted. And once I understood the model I said, this is what will help Milwaukee.
04:50 And I want to be a part of it.
04:54 How's your job different than what most people think it might be working at a nonprofit doing collaboration?
05:01 You know, it's so evident that we or I operate as an influencer. I don't control nothing. I can't make nothing happened. I can though figure out people and what makes them move a pair of them connect them together get them to commit to very specific strategies. These are things I can do because it's the power my personality. It's my commitment. I drive my driver.
05:29 But I'm also someone that people feel trust they can trust and someone I could can use all of that and everybody knows that it's not about me and I'm not doing all this is Danae on her climb or any such thing. They say she's really genuine and she's persistent. So I think that's what my job really is is being persistent, you know challenging us to be better being able to tell stories and ways of rich people.
06:00 I feel like that urgency is part of your superpower because I think about your Genius. It's it's like maintaining that sense of urgency and and pulling people's feet to the fire and keeping them believing that changes possible. I like that part too. Yeah, what keeps you motivated since this work is so hard on people.
06:23 I feel that we and you talked about the sense of urgency.
06:30 You know, we we've lost a lot of ground in a lot of generations by being passive and looking the other way and worse. I feel as though our children and particularly our black and brown and male.
06:46 Work at me as you may remember with an organization with girl that work for girls. I'm absolutely certain that girl Powers really really important to but the disparities most cute and Milwaukee in our essay affect our black boys and young men. So I feel like you know, we better get on it and pretty soon.
07:11 I'm not going to stop and you know our community kick it better to this little thing people should realize our community cannot get better if we continue to set up a whole people back through, you know, the barriers in the structural racism in and all of those things flip it if everybody can be successful. Imagine what our community is going to be the United States Community the city of Milwaukee the counting of the region so they're just so so much that argues in favor of it's so hard to be like we are right now, it would be far easier if we weren't if we actually tapped into the full potential of everyone in her in our places.
08:00 I loved having the opportunity to see you grow during the striped feather leadership program a few years ago where you are working with other leaders across our Cradle to Career Network and learning and growing together to work towards a Cruller results. What's one of your favorite memories from that experience you do? I pick one of my favorite favorite favorite memories from that experience was and I think it was Journey mapping we did and so Mary Jean who also from Chicago, but I think it was Skokie is where she's from and so we have we realize a we're the same age be it's almost like we grew up on the opposite side of the track literally.
08:47 So she grew up with racism being a okay, and she has some very painful memories of things that she used to do and be involved in eye on the other hand was a community activist. I was raised, you know, what operation breadbasket and pushed in all that kind of stuff and I just remember the fear that anger of what racism feels like you don't want when you were the recipient of it. So we were doing this journey mapping which required us to go back to the womb and all the way to your current and as we map and you paired up with person at paired up with the fundraising and as you went through each phase we were so connected without knowing each other. It was one of the most and here were both in leadership roles where we're trying to change systems to be more Equitable and just for people
09:47 I'm almost crying just even thinking about when she and I arrived at that point in our discovery about each other and that was during the senior leadership program. It has not only moved us then it remains.
10:06 Something you'll never forget the inspiration of what can happen.
10:12 Yeah, it's it's so powerful to see like to really amazing lady leaders in our Network finding each other and using each other as a as a source of strength. Feels like and that like that's can continue to energize and and feed that flame and she's in Seattle or in that area. So who would have thought our paths will cross but for being in the net worth of tried together Network and being in the accelerator fund, you know, I'm cohort that we were young. It was kind of amazing like it was supposed to happen. Yeah.
10:55 People working on the same people working towards the same goals. I feel like that's part of what the movement is about in terms of we are part of this drive together Cradle to Career Network. This movement of hundreds of the leader is across the country working on behalf of 13.7 million young people 8.7 million young people of color in 70 or communities across the country right now has so much power and potential. How does it feel knowing you're part of this national movement and that you're part of the fabric feels power. It feels determined. Like we really will do something because of the magnitude of it, but it's not just the magnitude how many in in the back of the representative of every area in the United States. It's also
11:50 But the way that we are disciplined about how we share learning. So this is the tough stuff. We talkin not just how Educational Systems failed our children and what it will take for them to be successful from cradle through their post-secondary careers, but what are those you know contextual systems housing transportation and mental health in incarceration and all of those. What are those other? How do they intersect and how do we get engage those systems owners in the solution because we discovered together. It isn't just about being in the education world. Do you know what I mean? The can't keep our blinders on and just focus on creating great education system. So when you see that magnitude that momentum bad movement
12:47 And you see that we can influence you can you can actually see the pathway to influencing those other systems that affect our children and our young people in their families. So the power of it is like exponentially multiply.
13:04 Yeah, we don't give up. We never give up. We just keep working at it continuously. So yeah, fighting strengthen each other and moving the goal even higher and higher because as long as there is the haves have-nots where I work is not done, right? So, you know, that's that's the motivation in and I think when we can get government of philanthropy to be much more strategic by the use of resources, and I think we're seeing some positive examples of that work happening in my community, but I'll Crown around the country that's sustaining that's when you know, this is changing the way of life in terms of how things work. We're actually seeing that it's possible to create that lasting change and their examples of it all over the country. We just really inspiring this work really is about people coming together to create that.
14:04 Change particularly for kids of color and people of color what change for Milwaukee's kids. Are you most proud of?
14:13 Well, I think
14:15 There's so many things that that affect change today, but I'm looking forward to the things that are happening now that will affect long-term. So when I look at that, I'm I'm looking at how early childhood education people are starting to get the difference between empowering parents and families to be participants in the development of their children's brains at the earliest point in vitro through 2nd Year too and making it easy for them to be empowered in that respect. I think that's got long-term positive that I look forward to for our children in Milwaukee. We've seen some really good results in terms of access to Quality Care. We seen some really good results with respect to our high school or is having the funds, but they'll need in order to go to college or to get certification or however, they want to see their future to be
15:15 Racine Unified Partners across sectors working in the same direction for years. So not chasing shiny toy. That is a really big deal for children in Milwaukee. Just the other day our mayor.
15:33 Spontaneously talk about Milwaukee succeeds and how important are new priorities that I do but our focus on priorities over the next three years is so important for this community and he talked about Early Childhood many talk about high school completion and I would like is that our mayor talking like he really gets what we're doing. I don't mean to sound like that. I guess the point I wanted to make is that
16:02 Everybody who gets introduced to our partnership wanted to be successful. It takes them a bit of a journey to understand what it is. So they'll come to meeting still have the nice lunch in Encino.
16:16 What exactly is this partnership? What is the super soft? What what is their role in it? And then once it lands on them, then they're hooked the next day so I know that's a long answer but I think that Milwaukee is poised for really making change. It really comes down to like walking the talk in a way that is one thing to get people bought into the vision and I could not be about the vision of every child Cradle to Career but then getting people to actually step up and own their piece of the puzzle on their contributions when they're real change happens with another example something you're proud of how you've been able to help out of the
17:03 Growth in
17:05 God team in terms of their skills and their leadership and Leadership looks different, you know, we're getting closer and closer to me understand what are roles and spread of our roles are and the more than we do that I think the more impactful we're being I am very proud of our funders collaborative model where we've got major funders corporate and family philanthropy investing their resources together around a line strategies. I know that sounds but that it the power of that is they're not just doing charity. They actually are trying to invest in what works that is a huge deal. That's it game changing shift. If you will. I'm around the fact that our excuse me are hiring at Partners 18 two and four-year private and public institutions are united.
18:05 Call themselves The Higher Education Regional Alliance around common goals of college completion with no disparities. I mean, that's why he does all of them are experiencing enrollment challenges and yet they do see the power in implementing programs that award for each other and transitioning are high schoolers to this system better.
18:27 Those are things that come to mind ya across the word cradle to Career. There are examples of these shining bright spots that you're sitting across the community and one of the biggest latest is the partnership across communities so our Wisconsin partnership, which is Milwaukee Racine Kenosha and Brown County United around mobilizing parents and families and others to advocate for what they want in policy changed that is huge that lets us know. It's another version of Greater together in a way because for communities then began to influence state my policy based on how many children we have, you know, and where the action needs to be in order to really change things for children across the state. So that is a 3-year investment from strive together. But actually, I think it's going to be long-term changing model.
19:27 What I love about the Wisconsin partnership is the promise of bringing together really different types of communities around that common Vision that you all have urban communities like Milwaukee and more rural places like Kenosha and Racine and you're really lifting up the voices of families to drive with what change looks like and particularly in like in our time and place and contacts in the world where there's so much polarisation and people just talked about what a fractured world we live in that you all have really been able to work across political divides to to get people focus on what really matters which is actually putting kids in families at the center.
20:16 You know the order is you build trust first.
20:22 What is that expression speed of the change of crossed anyway, something like that. It's true because you know Milwaukee is the biggest city among those four partners and heretofore. It's been Milwaukee versus the rest of the state and it shows up a lot of times even when people are trying to be intense. Do you know what I mean? So when we first one is Partnership if truth be told it's is it was is Milwaukee going to force something down our throats? So we had to step back and start right, which was let's listen to one another about our communities cultures and priorities particular Focus around early childhood education, and we had to come up with ground rules that shared power across all of the communities from the get-go so that
21:19 Will you demonstrated that end and the core team is equal in power in terms of decisions to be made for the partnership and then we all participated in hiring the staff in the team. And so that just, you know, we took the time the first year was a lot of build that trust introduced the partnership in each Community equally to their partnership, you know what I mean? So their leadership local leadership got to understand the partnership the way they needed to understand it Milwaukee is not the same as Racine. Kenosha is not the same as Brown County and we took the time to do that. So I think having started with billtrust first, then you go to the common agenda. What are the two or three things? We agree that we want to focus on shares and subsidy for child care is one of the things that we all agreed Northeast community may have something else they want to do and will support you.
22:19 What you want to do, but we're not forcing all of us to do the same thing. And once we agree on what we're going to advocate for and how we're going to advocate for it and how we're going to deploy resources to support the advocacy towards winning.
22:36 Then we build for the next phase of that partnership being successful at influencing policy. So
22:44 That's kind of what I think happened so far. Yeah powerful ingredients right people and heard the common vision and trusting relationships clear clear path to Victory.
23:01 One thing I'm wondering about is in the work that you do. What's something that you see really clearly about the world that you wish everyone else could just know as well.
23:17 This is going to sound kind of emotional but
23:21 I think our children simply want people to believe in their dreams.
23:27 I want to take people out adults. So let's parents and families and everyone who interacts and engages. It's the grocery store owner. It's the gas station. It's the child care provider. It's the school's it's the nonprofits for after school programs. It's you know, the strangers and how they react to the children caring about them and their dreams which means you have to kind of treat them as individuals and get to know him.
24:00 When it happens, I think about a leading man follows for example, so
24:06 Those young man fresh out of high school, but committed to you know, being positive influences in kindergarten and Head Start.
24:17 The Joy they bring to these babies based upon how they treat them as they're helping them to learn how to spell their names out how to count their numbers to use the fun games and Barrett so much so that these babies
24:36 Always a saying I love you and that impact on those young men to have a child say to them three and four and five years old. I love you. I love you too. They didn't step up and say you know what? I got to be a really good person. So my point in math example is to say that
24:58 Young man in pretty short order based upon the nurturing approach that they take with the kids Inspire them to be successful and anything those young men are trying to get them to do that's part of Paving a way of believing and drink, you know, so I think about all of us as adults.
25:24 Where to commit to
25:27 Our children and believe in in their dreams. We would change our Behavior. This is what I know. I have seen it and it's not that complicated.
25:44 What's not complicated about it?
25:50 Always say positive spiritual use positive results, and I think that's
25:56 And we can do it all in our own ways. You know what? I mean? I've seen this young man is going back to believing them fellows example the influence they have over teachers who for whatever reason I have chosen to be more focused on disciplinary striden Behavior with these young people. They see how these children react to these young men. And as you know, they're black and brown young man and they want that too. I think sometimes I think they're reminded of why they went into education in the first place. So they'll start to do goofy songs and dances to do I look at that and I say see that that one hard was it that this Johnny or just you know, lekisha that you were swearing was a you know bad kid.
26:50 Melts your heart because you changed how you treat her or him right? Like it comes down to Leading with optimism and leading with kindness and believing in the power of another person's dreams.
27:10 Know that they have them maybe if you know that they have them then you won't scratch him alone support them.
27:18 Hanging out with that be yeah, I think.
27:22 And I think that to be true.
27:25 Regardless of from whence our children are coming, you know, so there despite their race their zip code or circumstance. I think if if we can set systems to be positive.
27:43 Then we're going to get positive results if we spent all our money on, you know law enforcement and how many metal detectors were going to put in the school building. So now we're going to have to teach what's that called gun? What's the stuff that I do but they're trying to kids like for mass shootings. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah exactly. How awful is that is incredibly bad. Let's try to figure out what are the mental emotional social health issues that have to be addressed by so many people that have not been treated and try to invest resources in that as a means of you know, eliminating and by the way, let's get all the guns off the street to you know,
28:38 I got Big Dreams for a community is going to happen.
28:43 So to keep dreaming if you envision Milwaukee 10 years from now, what do you see?
28:52 I see and I really struggle with this question because today makes it so hard to see 10 years from now.
29:04 I see Milwaukee haven't figured out how it transitions.
29:11 Employment and I mean family supporting employment from the good old days of manufacturing to what is today so that everybody can participate I'm right now.
29:24 We never we were so far behind and I mean manufacturing left 30 years ago.
29:31 We're still experiencing the ills of that in terms of unemployment rates that have wide disparity gaps between black and white.
29:41 Housing the lack of affordable housing if you got a good job the likelihood of being able to afford what is available. Is that much more enhanced? So 10 years from now.
29:53 I see us having solved the issue of employment opportunities for way more people. I see young people choosing to stay here and take their rightful place in leadership. I see folks not just wanted to be here in the summer because you know, all seasons are for all of us.
30:19 I see.
30:22 The whole moniker of the most hyper segregated City in Milwaukee no longer being owned by Milwaukee. I think we can do it. That's what I see. I see organizations across all affiliations working on common agenda. That's how we get to the 10 years that I envisioned is because we see the power in being united around, and goals and we understand that that's the only way we get results at scale affecting positively everyone.
31:06 Is if we do that and of course, I'm going to dominate as we're acting with urgency, right?
31:13 And what do you think we'll still need to change 10 years from now?
31:17 Going to own racism call it acknowledged it.
31:23 And then do something about it if number one and iPod.
31:30 I think all of the excuse-making and the you know the mistrust and even it's not just about you know, we got a lot of lately dialogues going on at the foundation that I work at. They we have this annual on the table event. We took it from Chicago Community Trust and it's it's a wonderful opportunity for people to dialogue and learn and Etc.
31:58 But at the end of the day if we're in our separate networks, and we're not calling a thing a thing.
32:05 You know privilege whatever then we are perpetuating Life as a currently is so we kind of got to acknowledge it on it and do something about I think that's the number one. I think a lot happens good when we do that.
32:25 Yeah, it's like so much more as possible when we can truly speak our truths and in an in an unvarnished way almost like not hiding behind the pretty language but actually opening yourself up to be vulnerable enough to share the the risky thing. That's exactly right the vulnerability. That's so the point are uncomfortable for everybody. You know what I mean? There's a there's no corner on the market on being uncomfortable. I'm not putting a mirror in front of your face because I want you to be uncomfortable and I'm not uncomfortable. I'm comfortable being in this but I think we have to appreciate each other's life experiences.
33:11 And meet each other where we are, but but with a common goal of doing something about each other where we are, you know, I'm getting something. Yes talk but actually moving that talk to action exactly required urgent crisis seriously, and you know,
33:32 The young ones coming up behind us, they're watching us and they get they know whether I'm serious, you know how but think about how well-meaning well-intentioned activity looks like let's do some focus groups in the neighborhood and among the parents at Moana whoever is are the
33:55 One for home service is not
33:58 Being provided at an equitable level and everybody wants to hear your story and it wants you to tell him one more time how this looks and feels to you, you know, two people were to be homeless to be named it, right?
34:14 And then everybody goes back and say oh that's just so so much a shame, you know, but that's not ownership that that's not like, what did I contribute to that? Right? That's just admiring the problem exactly.
34:29 So, you know the time for that is kind of over men over I think so. Yeah for a long time. So I think
34:38 I can remember before Milwaukee succeeds and before strive together.
34:43 Maybe even before I left government not government private sector to come into the non-profit world. I was scared. I was one of those to be honest we were saying I can't wait to leave Milwaukee. I got to get out of here. I've lived my entire adult life in this I see no redeeming value. I got to go somewhere where at least there's a Fighting Chance of
35:08 And it also look like
35:10 Being told thrilled on nicetown went away to college in Tennessee and then he came home and he's a teacher and I'm happy and now he's going to get in Houston enough. So what Flint MI from I've done all I can in other words given up was this movement that we're in I can see how we can do something different.
35:34 Do you know then I've ever experienced in all of the prior you no effort. Just call him. So I feel like I got renewed tramp and I got renewed.
35:50 Optimism I'm inspired.
35:53 And part of how I got there was the young people over and over again saying what must happen and when they're going to do to ensure. Well, how do I hide a ride at whatever age? I don't want to be a part of that. I really do want to be a part of that standing together in the service of Justice. We most definitely are this isn't so wonderful sharing hearing your stories and sharing this time with you. Thank you so much for being game to to talk with me today. I just adore you lose.
36:37 You've Been instrumental, but you just such a I don't know why I want to say awesome. That's the word that comes to mind. So I've enjoyed our time together to very much. Thank you. Thank you.