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Change the game by getting a seat at the table

  • Kyra Mungia

Kyra Mungia believes in the power of lived experiences and having the right people at the table. As a Public Policy Fellow (PPF), she had the opportunity to work in the Oakland Mayor's Office, where she began working her way to a seat. Below, she shares a little bit of what she learned in PPF. 

Explain what led you to care deeply about educational equity. What personal values, experiences or beliefs inform this?

In Oakland and across this country, we are failing our black and brown children. However, this isn’t new: the system isn’t broken, but rather it is doing exactly what it was designed to do by institutionalizing and perpetuating racial advantage and disadvantage, and unequal distributions of money and power. As a woman of color myself and as a former teacher who witnessed this daily in the education system, this is deeply personal for me. These disparities are what drive my work.

How did the Public Policy Fellowship help you in your mission to end educational inequity?

If it were not for the LEE Public Policy Fellowship, I would undoubtedly not be where I am today. In the fall of 2016, I was placed in the Oakland Mayor’s Office for my fellowship and was offered a full-time job afterwards.

I believe that in order for us to reach equity in education, we (people from marginalized groups, educators, those with lived experiences) need to be at the decision-making table. While I’m still working to get at the table, the fellowship helped me get a foot in the door; I am now in a place where I’m working with top leaders in this city and they listen when I speak. My voice, my thoughts, and my work matter.

Tell us about your current role. What’s a typical day like? What is the impact you’re having on educational equity?

Two years out of the Public Policy Fellowship, I am now an Education Project Director for the Office of Mayor Schaaf. My role is to support the Mayor’s Director of Education to prioritize, streamline, and align activities within the organization -- I assess matters directed to our office, determine the proper course of action, and delegate to the appropriate staff to manage; act as a thought partner to the Director of Education; coordinate the execution of strategic projects; essentially, I do whatever needs to be done to move the work forward.  

With everything occurring at the national level, it’s easy to lose hope. However, I know that these inequities are human-made, and so I remain hopeful that they can also be dismantled through our human efforts, like the Oakland Promise or the Children’s Initiative, and with passionate leaders like you.  

What is your vision for ending educational inequity in the U.S.?

My vision for educational equity is one where our youth thrive in education, regardless of race, home country, income, or any other common predictor of disparity. For us to achieve that, it’s critical we understand the connection education has with health, wealth, safety, and housing.

We need to address the systems of oppression that are currently operating by transforming how those systems operate, changing what is taught in schools and how it’s taught, by learning the history and contributions of our people. When making those changes, we must center the voices of those most marginalized.

To get there, we need leaders in decision-making seats who believe in this vision, who are actively working together to change the current reality, and who have lived experiences. By giving educational leaders of color the skills, strength, and knowledge to take our leadership to the next level, we can then advance to decision-making roles and passionately fight for and with the community to affect real, positive change.

What do you see as your role in achieving this vision?

Now that we’re adults, people expect us to know what we want to with our lives, but to be perfectly honest, I’m still figuring that out. What I do know is that I care deeply about education, specifically here in Oakland.

What does that role look like? I’m exploring whether I’d consider running for office or whether I’d rather stay behind the scenes, whether I prefer government or the nonprofit space. I believe it’s perfectly ok to not have everything answered and to let my experiences guide me.

What advice would you give to the 2018-19 cohort of Public Policy Fellows?

Imposter syndrome is a real thing. When deciding whether to apply for the LEE Public Policy Fellowship, I was actually told I should wait until I had more experience. I was fortunate enough to have been pushed by my now boss, so I applied anyway.  

When I then joined the 2016 Cohort of Public Policy Fellows, I continuously doubted whether I belonged there and if I was good enough, and I was anxiously counting down the moments until I was exposed for the incompetent fraud I felt I was. As someone who is still often the youngest person in the room or one of the few people of color, those questions still creep up in the back of my mind. I don’t necessarily have any tangible advice to help you overcome it, but I hope you know that you are good enough: you were chosen for a reason. Your passion, intelligence, and overall ability stood out among the rest. You got this.  


If you are interested in becoming a Public Policy Fellow like Kyra, you can learn more about the program here.