Not only is LEE member Laura Wilson Phelan (TFA Bay Area ’96) a representative for Ward 1 on the D.C. State Board of Education, but she’s also the founder and executive director of Kindred, a nonprofit dedicated to building trusting relationships between parents of diverse backgrounds.
For more than 20 years, Laura has been leading grassroots social change. Come along with us as we hear about where she’s been and where she’s headed.
Explain what led you to care deeply about educational equity. What personal values, experiences or beliefs inform this?
Growing up in a low-income household as one of 13 children in a wealthy community has driven my passion for understanding what influences people to prioritize the needs of others ahead of their own.
This burning question has taken me all over the world. I studied reconciliation in post-conflict El Salvador and post-apartheid Namibia by living with and interviewing villagers impacted by these conflicts. I had the privilege of learning about the social systems of more than 40 countries through Teach For All. Here at home, running for office reinforced my belief that most people really do want to make the world a better place and are searching for how to do that in their own lives.
These collective experiences have led me to believe that building community between people across differences — whether socioeconomic, racial, gender or something else — is the key to addressing educational inequity.
How has LEE helped you in your mission to end educational inequity?
When I first started Kindred, a startup social enterprise focused on building relationships between parents of diverse backgrounds, I felt very alone. Being a social entrepreneur is the rockiest road I’ve experienced over my 20+ year career.
The LEE Venture Fund & Fellowship provided me with community exactly when I needed it. Listening to the stories of other entrepreneurs made me feel connected and supported. In addition, LEE has helped me with technical assistance in the areas I need it most, including communications advice and organizing support.
Tell us about your current role. What’s a typical day like? What is the impact you’re having on educational equity?
As the founder and executive director of Kindred, my typical day oscillates between meeting parents one-on-one, to facilitating group dialogue, to writing long grant applications, to meeting with education leaders. I find myself moving between the 20,000-foot to 10-foot view of educational inequity multiple times within the same day.
Kindred is working to build an unstoppable force of parents of diverse socioeconomic and racial backgrounds who support one another to close the opportunity gap. We do this by facilitating small group dialogues between diverse groups of parents where they explore their identities, histories and aspirations.
We have seen incredible resource exchanges between parents over the course of this year. One parent helped another find summer camp opportunities. Another helped a family member with legal immigration supports. These are life-transforming supports. Over the past year, we have piloted our work in one elementary school and plan to grow to two additional schools and one early childcare center next year.
What is your vision for ending educational inequity in the U.S.?
The opportunity gap in the U.S. will only be solved when led by the people who most experience inequity. Yet today, policy and resource allocation decisions are made without their leadership — and in most cases, without their input.
Kindred strives to change the power dynamics within elementary schools so that parents, in collaboration with school staff, guide the priorities and approaches of the school. In diverse schools, this can only happen when there is true power-sharing, which requires parents to build empathy and understanding with one another and then to take collective action together. Kindred’s purpose is to facilitate the development of these relationships and support these actions.
What do you see as your role in achieving this vision?
My role in achieving this vision is to grow Kindred thoughtfully so that its priorities are determined by those who most experience educational inequity. That may very well mean that in the future Kindred will be led by a person whose children are experiencing the consequences of educational inequity, and I will embrace that change.