In March, Suzette Espinoza-Cruz visited Washington, D.C. with a goal: to speak directly to her representatives in Congress about the importance of giving kids the best start in life. Thanks to her work as a preschool teacher and a Volunteer Leader in Washington state, we asked her to join us in D.C. for our annual Advocacy Summit, where advocates from around the country came together to call on their elected leaders to invest in kids.
And Suzette certainly did use her voice on the Hill. Here’s what she had to say about her experiences:
Why are you an advocate?
I grew up in a community where poverty, discrimination, and the injustice of racial disparity was always present in our lives. Despite this, I was able to have opportunities that few of my neighbors, friends, and family members were able to experience. I was set apart from the crowd as the “lucky one” the “special one.” I was never comfortable with that and always believed that everyone should have the same opportunities and those opportunities should be their right, not just the luck of the draw.
I am living proof of the return on investments made in early childhood education and Head Start. I went from being a child born into poverty to a first-generation high school graduate and first-generation college graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in Child and Family Studies. After college, I went on to teach preschool for eight years. And now as a volunteer with SCAN, I have the honor to advocate on Capitol Hill for fully funding early education and Head Start.
How has being a mother influenced your advocacy work?
My love for my children inspires me to speak up for all mothers and children in the U.S. and around the world to ensure that they are given the same opportunity I have to live a full, healthy, happy, and peaceful life.
I am a strong believer that changing the world for the better starts with me in my home. Each day I strive to model the empathy and respect for humanity I wish to inspire in my own children so that they can continue to use their voices to advocate on behalf of others.
Tell us about the greatest challenge you’ve experienced advocating on these issues.
The greatest challenge in advocating for early learning and ending the preventable deaths of moms and kids around the world is that many of my fellow Americans may not see the importance of how investing and supporting children and mothers today truly makes a difference for the future.
Since children cannot vote and many of the mothers and children affected by preventable disease and deaths are living outside the U.S., it can be difficult at times to convince legislators that their support of these issues is important. We need to be their voice.
If you could give one piece of advice to a new advocate, what would it be?
Be confident in your ability to affect change no matter who you are or where you are from. Most of all: never give up!
What were your most memorable experiences at the Advocacy Summit in March?
Having my teenage daughter join me at the summit to learn about advocacy and the amazing opportunity to meet with Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) in the President’s Room of our nation’s capital is an experience that I will always remember.
Going in, I really did not know what to expect. Even with all the amazing information and support that we had received during the previous two days of the summit, I was super nervous. I spent a few hours the night before practicing my talking points and making sure that I had all my facts and statistics correct.
The next day, as our group prepared to meet with Senator Cantwell’s staff, the unexpected happened: Senator Cantwell, who had been on the Senate floor preparing for a vote, decided that she would like to meet with our team in person, in the Capitol building!
We were whisked away to an underground tram which took us from the Senate offices to the Capitol where Senator Cantwell was waiting to receive us in the historic President’s Room.
As we entered the room, the senator shook our hands and personally thanked each of us for making the trip from Washington state to come meet with her.
Senator Cantwell was very kind and generous with her time. She told us about the historical significance of the room where we were meeting with her. She listened to each of the speakers as we told our heartfelt stories and when we explained the facts about the importance of early childhood education in the U.S. and ending preventable deaths around the world.
Overall, the experience was one that was empowering, positive, and inspiring. I left D.C. feeling like I was truly making a difference in my community and in the world.