About five years ago, Dalvery Blackwell, president and founder of the African American Breastfeeding Network, heard someone at a meeting mention the Milwaukee Childcare Collective – a group of volunteers who provide child care services to organizations that advocate for racial and socioeconomic justice.
The African American Breastfeeding Network often has meetings and events where staff educate people on the importance of breastfeeding. The organization – which is heavily involved in the mission to decrease the Black maternal and infant mortality rate – also trains birth doulas to support people of color through their pregnancies and births, and often holds events like their annual Lift Up Every Baby celebration.
“All my staff have children under 8 years old. The doulas are of child-bearing age, and many of them have very young children,” Blackwell said. “When I heard about the mission of the Milwaukee Childcare Collective, I thought, ‘we need them now!'”
Lane Burns said she got the idea for the Milwaukee Childcare Collective, also known as MilChiCo, in 2016 when she attended workshops led by SURJ (Standing Up for Racial Justice).
“There was often someone putting together child care at these events so more people could attend, and I thought that was a really good idea,” Burns said.
She and some of her colleagues started providing child care for other groups and events in the community, like UBLAC (Uplifting Black Liberation and Community), African-American Roundtable and the annual Dontre Day to remember Dontre Hamilton, who was killed by a police officer in Red Arrow Park in 2014.
It was around that time that Burns found out about the Chicago Childcare Collective. Burns and her fellow child care volunteers went to Chicago, where they received training. Upon their return to Milwaukee, they started their own group.
“Basically what we do is create a partnership with local groups focused on liberation movements and racial and socioeconomic justice work,” Burns said. “We volunteer as child care providers at their events and meetings for these groups that don’t have a lot of money. That allows them to invite everyone to the table.”
As the COVID-19 pandemic canceled many in-person events, MilChiCo hasn’t been as active as before the pandemic when they had 30 volunteers who were providing child care for five different groups. But with more in-person events and meetings restarting, they’re building up their schedule again, working on regaining some partnerships and adding more. They’ve also been providing child care throughout the pandemic for meetings and events held by the African American Breastfeeding Network, their most consistent client.
It’s for activists who otherwise wouldn’t be able to participate
Burns was initially inspired to form MilChiCo when she realized that single mothers, mothers who are people of color and mothers who live in poverty are silenced in more than one way. She said their perspectives are often undervalued in society.
“People who have caregiving responsibilities are the same people who are marginalized in other ways in society,” said Amber Chavez, another volunteer with MilChiCo. “Low-income women of color are affected by the systems that liberation work is looking to change.”
But even organizations whose goal is to help marginalized women often don’t provide them with what they need in order to get to the meetings and events where they can advocate for themselves. One key necessity is child care.
“At so many of these events and gatherings, there are voices missing because they need to stay home to take care of children,” Burns said. “If they feel comfortable bringing the children so they can take part, you have more voices at the table and then you get more perspectives.”
It’s for volunteers with different skill sets to help the cause
In addition to attracting more perspectives to the table by providing child care, MilChiCo also works to honor a more diverse set of skill sets and personalities.
Burns and her husband have a background in early childhood education, but Burns said she hadn’t been deeply involved in racial and economic justice issues before her own child was born in 2013. At that point, she started reading and learning more about racial and socioeconomic justice.
“Having a child really opened me up to seeing how much white privilege plays in how we frame things, and I started thinking about what kind of world I wanted my child to be a part of,” Burns said.
“I had always wanted to be involved, but before I felt like I didn’t know anything and I didn’t have any credibility or skills in how to organize these things. But then I had a moment where I went, ‘Maybe I don’t know what I’m doing, but why does that matter? ‘”
She didn’t feel she could organize protests, but she did feel confident in her abilities to organize and provide child care for the groups she wanted to support.
Chavez noted that even within the group, there are multiple ways for people to utilize their own strengths and personalities to help the cause. For example, people who don’t want to provide child care can do administrative work like communicating with the organizations that need help or coordinating volunteers’ schedules ahead of events.
Amy Horst, who also volunteers with MilChiCo, said child care feels like an accessible way for people to be involved in causes they care about.
“Not everyone can go to like a fire and police commission every month because they have to work, but they may have a couple hours on a weekend or a Tuesday evening where they can provide child care for a meeting,” Horst said. “Not everybody is going to be able to be all in on the movement, but if everybody does just a little bit, things can get done. I feel like this is my thumb on the scale.”
It’s for kids who want to learn about social justice activism
For organizers of social justice causes, the sustainability of their movements depends on future participants, which is another reason the MilChiCo’s participation is important. Onsite child care allows children to observe and even participate in the same activism as their parents.
Because of the variety of ages represented by the kids who attend the meetings and events, there’s also a variety of activities going on in the child care spaces. Young kids often play their own games with the volunteers or sit quietly doing crafts or coloring.
Older kids, though, are often interested in paying attention to what their parents are doing.
“Children have a part to play in this work too,” Burns said. “They have questions, and they’re having conversations in their houses, so why shouldn’t they also be a part of the work that’s happening in these spaces?”
Chavez said when her own daughter – who is now 11 – was younger, they would have the “Mr. Rogers” talk about looking for the helpers.
Chavez was referring to Fred Rogers ‘famous quotation: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me,’ Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping. ‘ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world. ”
“Now I get to model being a helper for her,” Chavez said. “But she gets to be a helper too. She can see that she has the capacity to make changes, too.”
It’s for society as a whole to learn how to accept, respect and care for children
One of MilChiCo’s core values is anti-adultism, which they describe as treating “young people as powerful human beings by engaging their fierce questions, respecting their bodies and honoring their feelings.”
“We generally follow the kids’ lead in a way that keeps them safe,” Horst said. “We’re not telling kids they have to play certain games or what to do because kids are great at making their own fun.”
Horst said volunteers also emphasize a second important value – consent. For example, if a child looks like they need a hug, they ask first.
“I’m glad to practice these skills and values, and I feel like they’re important in my own parenting,” Horst said. “The next generation should be realizing, ‘this is how we should be treated.'”
Alexa Marquez Nutile is one of the group’s newest child care volunteers. She feels MilChiCo’s core values are important not only for parents to grasp for their own families but for people who don’t have children.
“A lot of people who are initially interested in this type of work are women, teachers and people who have children,” Marquez Nutile said. “What will sustain the effort is for other people who don’t have that background in child care to see the need for these values in our society.”
She hopes groups like MilChiCo will provide the model for people to realize the importance of respectful child care. “I’m always advocating for childless adults, especially men, to do this kind of work, because that’s what we really need in order to live collectively and help each other out.”
Marquez Nutile also said it’s important for childless adults to learn how to care for children because parents and child care professionals are often already overwhelmed with caring for their children while also working and finding time to advocate for themselves.
“Culturally, we always seem to think we need a superhero to solve things, and then they burn out because we’re asking them to do everything,” Horst said. “But social movements don’t need to take superhuman effort from someone. It just takes a little effort from lots of people. Not only is that more sustainable, but it’s also the healthiest way to be together with our co-humans.”
Contact Amy Schwabe at (262) 875-9488 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @WisFamilyJSInstagram at @wisfamilyjs or Facebook at WisconsinFamily.