How Policy & Advocacy Roles Can Influence Equity

A career in policy and advocacy requires dedication and perseverance, and is a foundational piece for the upward progression in our communities. Individuals who pursue careers in policy and advocacy work tirelessly to address systemic inequalities and injustices that exist in our society. Professionals like our LEE members advocate for policies that promote fairness, equity, and opportunities for everyone, especially those who are marginalized or disadvantaged. 

By working to influence decision-makers, shape public opinion, and mobilize communities, policy and advocacy changemakers are instrumental and vital in creating positive change and advancing social and civic initiatives. These positions and individuals are crucial components and these are some of the most poignant ways in which they impact our communities:

1. Addressing Systemic Inequalities

One of the main ways policy and advocacy careers lift up equity is by shining a light on the systemic issues that keep inequality in place. By digging into data and trends, individuals in these fields can pinpoint where discrimination is happening and push for policies that tackle these root causes. For example, an analyst might uncover disparities in educational access for low-income communities and work on solutions to make sure marginalized students get the proper education they need.

2. Influencing Legislation and Funding

Individuals working in policy and advocacy roles wield significant influence over the passage of legislation and allocation of funds. Through cultivating connections with legislators and governmental bodies, these experts are able to advocate for marginalized communities and send necessary financial assistance. 

3. Raising Public Awareness

Policy and advocacy careers also educate the public about important social issues. Through smart communication strategies, individuals in policy and advocacy can adequately illustrate the issues that are plaguing communities, clarify pertinent solutions derived from analysis and research, and rally effective support for changes in policy.

4. Empowering Communities

These professions also lift up individuals from underrepresented groups to advocate for themselves and enact tangible transformations for their communities. By providing support and education to community leaders and advocates, experts in these sectors can elevate the voices of individuals who are disproportionately affected by inequity. For instance, a community leader could collaborate with immigrant families to advocate for policies safeguarding their rights and ensuring equitable access to good education and healthcare for all. 

Policy and advocacy careers play a vital role in addressing the root causes of inequity and discrimination, working to create lasting change at both the local and national levels. By advocating for policies that prioritize equity and justice, the dismantling of systemically oppressive systems can begin. Though the work is far from complete, policy and advocacy roles offer the daily opportunity to marginalized groups and communities to amplify their voices, working towards a more equitable and inclusive world for everyone.

If you’re ready to enter or advance your career in policy or advocacy, sign up to get matched with our career coaching supports. And read on to learn more about some of the members working in the fields and who have been supported by LEE during their career journey.

Meet Our Policy and Advocacy Leaders

Our members are doing intentional work in their civic spaces and we want to recognize a few of their stories and triumphs. Their journeys are inspirational, impactful, and are prime examples of the change that is needed to take place to dismantle systemic inequities.

Adrienne Simmons

Q: What inspired you to pursue a career in policy and advocacy?

A: I have worked in public education for the last 20+ years with much of my experience serving students from low-income, marginalized communities. Experience has taught me that in order to leverage positive outcomes for students and families that are often overlooked requires improvement in policies. Being an advocate is one thing, but owning the responsibility of approving, changing, and creating policy is another. 

As a district level board member I have direct influence on student experiences across schools and classrooms. Anyone who is fueled to close achievement gaps and continuously improve the experiences of learners, their families, and communities should pursue a career in policy and advocacy. 

Q: Can you share a pivotal moment that solidified your decision to enter the field of policy and advocacy?

A: If I had to choose just one, it would be about encountering what I consider to be the most significant civil rights issue of our time: poor literacy attainment. The number of students graduating from schools across the country that cannot read is disgraceful.

As a former classroom teacher, I understand that learning to read and write is foundational to succeeding in all other content areas (including math). I pursue my work in the field of policy and advocacy with a laser focus on student achievement. No child should leave K-12 education illiterate. Yet, there are many adults that cannot read and comprehend on a fourth-grade level. We can do better for our students...and we must.   

Q: How do you believe your background and experiences have influenced your passion for policy and advocacy work?

A: My uncompromising passion for student success stems from experience working alongside others who were committed to changing lives. It is easy to make excuses as to why certain groups of students are not showing progress. However, I have witnessed firsthand how strategic planning coupled with hard work can alter the trajectory of a student's academic achievement. 

I know for a fact that it is possible for students to gain two years of academic growth in one year's time. Is it easy...NO. Is it attainable...ABSOLUTELY. Our communities deserve to have children that graduate prepared for college and careers. Economic stability is intricately linked to education. My work in the field of education is but one piece of the puzzle in cultivating communities that thrive.   

Q: What are some career highlights you have?

A: Being elected to the Gwinnett County Public Schools Board of Education has afforded me influence and opportunity to meet the needs of students on a large scale. My current role with Pearson, Inc. allows me to impact education globally working to deliver high-quality assessments in support of student learning. Other positions I have held since making the tough decision to leave the classroom include serving as district literacy coordinator for Atlanta Public Schools and assessment program manager for the Georgia Department of Education.

Kumar Sathy

Kumar Sathy is a District Equity Facilitator at Orange County Schools in North Carolina.

Q: What inspired you to pursue a career in policy and advocacy?

A: As a classroom teacher, I found myself constantly facing barriers and resistance that clearly originated from beyond the walls of my classroom and school building. Although there was comfort and safety in knowing that I was using a "whatever it takes" approach to benefit the students in my own classroom every year, at some point, I had to ultimately reckon with the reality that if someone in a policy or advocacy role in a larger system had a similar "whatever it takes" approach to educational equity, I wouldn't be facing many of those barriers in the first place. 

I felt the need to over-prepare my students not just academically but in terms of social emotional awareness and in advocating for themselves because I knew that the system wasn't designed to always meet their needs or advocate for them once they left my classroom. Yes, there was comfort and safety in knowing that for 25 to 30 students at a time, I was doing whatever I could, given the limitations I faced, but I began to realize that if I could take on a role that utilized advocacy to impact policy, I could go from facing limitations to erasing them. 

Q: Can you share a pivotal moment that solidified your decision to enter the field of policy and advocacy?

A: During the pandemic, I was asked to speak at a vigil condemning anti-Asian hate and racism. I immediately pushed back against the invitations, not believing I was "the right person" for this, and feeling like I was "just" a classroom teacher, not someone with the community organizing or public speaking experience to rally support or motivate others into taking substantive action against hate. I reluctantly agreed, and opted to speak from the heart, not from a prepared speech. 

When I took the mic, it was as if the words spoke through me, rather effortlessly. I disconnected from the feelings of inadequacy and discomfort, and simply said what needed to be said about larger policy decisions and rhetoric designed to adversely impact my own classroom conversations about race and racism. 

The speech was caught on camera by a news crew, a reporter from a youth press agency interviewed me for a magazine article, and influential community members who hadn't known anything about me prior to that speech approached me and connected me with leadership opportunities that ultimately led to my current district role. 

This experience speaks to the importance of elevating voices, particularly historically marginalized BIPOC voices at meetings and events, while also being keenly aware of the fact that imposter syndrome and trespasser syndrome may play a significant role in keeping these important voices from ever being heard. Those simple acknowledgments and comments after one short speech significantly impacted and sustained the way I continue to use my voice in policy and advocacy work to this day.

Q: How do you believe your background and experiences have influenced your passion for policy and advocacy work?

A: I didn't always have the best educators or educational experiences growing up, so it took a long time to realize that many of my challenges were not my own fault, but perhaps an indication of the inadequacies of the systems that were supposed to meet all of our needs. This realization, along with early experiences speaking out against racism and injustices that I experienced in high school, helped me see that I not only enjoyed speaking up, but I was actually facilitating real change, even at a young age. 

I complained to school staff and wrote an article in my local newspaper condemning the use of the confederate flag as our high school flag. A week later, the superintendent ordered it painted over in the gym. After I distributed a letter I wrote to every high school staff member denouncing a racist homecoming tradition of an educator dressing up as a Native American and burning down a teepee on school grounds, I received death threats in my locker from students, but managed to gather enough support from local indigenous groups to facilitate a necessary conversation about the practice. 

I didn't have models of activism among family or friends growing up. In fact, I was considered an outlier in this regard, and even my close friends either found it annoying or remained neutral about it. Those early experiences of fighting alone led to the realization that my actions, and particularly my words could both facilitate resistance and forge new connections with people who believed in what I was doing (educators, organizations, and adults in the community). I always fought alone, until my actions and words led me to fight together. That pattern, originating at such a young age about such divisive and controversial topics, made it so that I would continue to speak up and speak out in my adult life, regardless of the risk. 

Q: What are some career highlights you have?

A: Here's the thing: I have been awarded three impactful fellowships, received a promotion to a district-level equity role, presented at numerous speaking engagements, authored an award-winning children's book, and published more articles than I can name without assistance, but even with all of those rewarding opportunities, my most significant career highlights have undoubtedly been my classroom teaching achievements. 

They are the student gains, growth, and classroom victories I facilitated: big and small. They are the improved student outcomes that occurred as a result of a community of support and my investment in continuously improving instruction and classroom culture. Those were the hardest-earned highlights, the awards that didn't come on plaques or certificates, and the achievements that can't be adequately described on a CV. 

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