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Show Notes

In this introductory episode of Speaking of Kids, co-hosts Bruce Lesley and Messellech “Selley” Looby discuss the fact that children are often an afterthought in public policy. While most people care deeply about the children in their lives, there is a clear disconnect between personal opinions and policy goals. Children can’t vote, they don’t have political action committees, and they don’t have paid lobbyists. They are in dire need of strong advocates, which is why Speaking of Kids will highlight the most urgent issues facing children at home and abroad, and will prepare the public to advocate for them. 

In this episode, Bruce, Selley, and First Focus on Children Vice President of Advocacy and Mobilization Leila Nimatallah share what drew them to child advocacy and offer takeaways from their career experiences.

Join the conversation. Follow First Focus on Children on Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Connect with our hosts and tell us what you would like to hear on the podcast at:

Please rate and review this podcast and share it with friends and family.

Want to be a voice for kids? Become an Ambassador for Children here. Connect with First Focus Campaign for Children for easy training on how to be a powerful advocate for children. Please consider donating to First Focus on Children here.

Full Transcript

Bruce Lesley 0:06
From First Focus on Children, this is Speaking of Kids. I’m Bruce Lesley,

Selley Looby 0:09
And I’m Messellech Looby. Speaking of Kids is a podcast that puts kids at the center of public policy. Thank you for listening. Here on speaking of kids, we are uncovering why children are treated as an afterthought in politics and policy, we’ll discuss how we can unify our efforts to demand change that will improve the well being of all of our children.

Bruce Lesley 0:30
And today, we are joined by our producers, Elizabeth Windom. And J. Woodward. Hi, Elizabeth.

Selley Looby 0:35
Hi, Jay.

elizabeth windom 0:35
Hello. Great to be with you.

J Woodward 0:38
Thank you for having us. It’s a rather unusual move to have your producers step out from, you know, behind the little desk where we do our business in the dark. But we wanted to flip the mic around on you guys. Just to explore a little bit where this podcast came from, and why you felt like you really needed to start having conversations and putting them out there in this particular way.

Bruce Lesley 1:03
Absolutely. I mean, we recognize that children can vote, they don’t have political action committees, their voices are rarely heard, they don’t have paid lobbyists. And so the idea is that we really need other voices to speak up for them, but also even to cultivate their voices in government. And so how can we have a conversation with parents and with kids and with teachers and other people who interact with children on daily basis. And so for us, that’s why we really thought this podcast would be really important to sort of bring up the issues and voices of kids and the and their needs and well being. So

elizabeth windom 1:41
before we deep dive into why we’re doing this podcast, I’d love to just kind of introduce you all. So Bruce, why don’t you go ahead and introduce yourself like, who are you?

Bruce Lesley 1:54
No, absolutely. So I’m Bruce Leslie. And I grew up in El Paso, Texas, when High School in El Paso, but went to University of Texas at El Paso, and the University of Texas at Austin. And my parents were both educators. And so I grew up listening to them talk about the importance of children, and in them always thinking about how to improve their lives, I will say that I am certainly the product of my parents. But also in my first couple of jobs, I worked at the county government, and I saw that kids were the afterthought. And I saw it in state government. And I saw it time and time again. And it really struck me that they didn’t really have voice. And if I worked in public policy, that’s really where I should focus my attention.

J Woodward 2:39
You know, that’s something that we noticed, first meeting that we had Elizabeth and I, as well have parents who are educators. And that really set the stage really well for us to get together and start to create these conversations where we have to take these complicated, difficult legislative conversations and make them things that everybody wants to listen to, to try and get it out there. So message. What was it that drew you to first focus and this mission of prioritizing kids?

Selley Looby 3:14
You know, that’s a great question, Jay. I mean, like Bruce said, I’m a product of my parents, both of them came to the States from Ethiopia in their 20s and found each other and settled in a small town called Plainville, Connecticut, and the name of the town is reflective of, of just the excitement level that you encountered day to day there. But it was a great place to grow up, right? It was like white picket fence, very safe environment. And they poured everything they had into us, you know, but they also always tried to support their community. And so they established the Ethiopian community center of Connecticut, and just observing them and how hard they worked over the years, just to pour into their kids is really what drives me, you know, I’m a fundraiser by trade, I work primarily to help organizations behind the scenes to build their capacity. And when I landed at first focus now, almost 12 years ago, and over the last seven years, I became a mom, I’m a mom of three now, and it changes your whole world and your perspective. And so the mission of first focus is really important to me, because there’s still so much that we need to do for kids and they’re 100% of our future. And they just don’t get the recognition and the support and the level of resources that they need.

Elizabeth Windom 4:32
I love hearing your story, your background, how your parents had such a strong role into developing to who you became and why you are doing the work that you do. And we have a third person in our group here on this team for this podcast. And that’s Leila Nimatallah. Leila, I would love to hear about who you are and how do you help people speak for kids?

Leila Nimatallah 5:00
Thank you so much, Elizabeth. If I had to describe myself, I’ve always had trouble, you know, telling people where I’m from. Because I am a product of an American mom and a Saudi dad. I grew up overseas. And so whenever folks say, like, Where were you born? Well, I was born in Massachusetts, but I lived all over. And I don’t know, I don’t know what to say about myself. Except that I’ve always had a real sense of needing to do something about justice, and make things right in the world. And I think it was, because when I was living overseas, and also in my work, before coming to first focus, I was able to travel to a lot of countries, you know, I had American citizenship, and I had Saudi citizenship. And I really saw, you know, for all our troubles and problems in our country, how very lucky we are in so many ways. And I went to high school in DC. And I could see that the fact that you can take small actions and actually connect directly with your legislators, most countries in the world don’t have that aspect of their governance to allow the everyday person to do that. So I was thinking, Well, gosh, I really am gonna lean into this growing up. And as it’s kind of like what Selly said, as I became a mom, I’m a mom of two boys. So like, I was born again, or something, because, you know, I like kids before, they were fine. But when I became a mom, I was like, Oh, my God, I love them, they are so cute. Even when they’re not my own. I thought they were so cute. And I really wanted to make sure that the benefits and the access that my kids had was available to kids, both in our country and worldwide. And in terms of first focus, you know, I’m relatively new to the team. I’ve been here almost a year, actually, next week, it’ll be a year. And I was just so impressed with how Bruce and Selley and my colleagues now, we’re able to get to the heart of things with Congress and be so strategic and how they provide the information and direct the conversation I had in my early career worked on the Hill. So I was able to kind of see what Bruce and Selly were doing was so clever. And I was so excited to have the opportunity to bring that advocacy, that policy knowledge and know how to a wider audience, meaning that now my role is to reach out to everyday folks around the country, and provide them with easy accessible tools, and know how and inspiration and fun hopefully, so that they can reach out to the administration and to Congress. And let members of Congress know that they care about kids, because most of us do. Most of us really prioritize kids, the US is a very generous country, I speak from the global side, because that’s where I came from, were the biggest donor worldwide for other countries. And I’m so proud of that. So I know if we can just ensure that everyday folks who might otherwise think they can’t have an impact on Congress, or maybe they’re too nervous about knowing how to do it. If we provide them a little bit of training, they can get up there and make the case and change the way that Congress does its business every day. And really, you know, when members of Congress say they care about kids to really put their money where their mouth is?

elizabeth windom 8:43
Yes. Obviously, you all are part of an organization called first focus on children. Bruce, I’d like to ask you, what does first focus on children do to speak for kids?

Bruce Lesley 8:55
Yeah, we tried to work on all the issues facing kids, I think in in advocacy, there’s a lot of groups that work on very specific issues around kids. So there’s a lot of groups that work on Education Policy, or early childhood or, you know, whatever the various issues are in what we try to do is really think about the children in from a holistic point of view. And so we work on all the issues of importance to kids. So we also work on child health, and child abuse and neglect, housing insecurity, child poverty, homelessness, nutrition, so everything really, really the whole kid. And that’s really where people live in their lives. The fact is, is that kids need all those things. They don’t need just one of those things. And so we’re really trying to be a voice of thinking about how can we really improve the well being of kids and really serve their best interests, as massage said earlier? People really, really are an afterthought. And we really are trying to just infuse this conversation about public policy in this country, to really Think about kids.

J Woodward 10:01
Bruce, one of the things that we’ve noticed as we produce these episodes is that there’s really a core tension, it seems in all of the conversations no matter who we’re talking to. And it really comes down to this idea of exploring why there is a disconnect between how people talk about what they want to do for children, and how they act on what they want to do for children in the public sphere, in government, in their private homes. It’s something that we wrestle as a country with all the time. So I’m curious, what does that disconnect look like for you? And how does it drive, the mission of first focus,

Bruce Lesley 10:40
we often talk about what kids need is support from parents and government, right. And they also need protection sometimes from parents and government. And so you can think about that, in the terms of parents certainly are the most important, you know, people to children, and they raise them and provide services for them. But so does government, you know, on a daily basis, kids go to school, and kids are in school for a large portion of their lives. And that school, they get health care services and nutritional services. And parents and government need to work together in the best interests of children. And they also need to understand what kids really need and listen to them and really hear them, the kids are often telling us that they have needs, we’re ignoring them sometimes. And that needs to end they really are an afterthought, and sometimes invisible alized. Think about like in child abuse and neglect cases like this sometimes goes on for years before people actually hear the kids. And so that’s really what we’re trying to do is really lift up their voices and their needs and their best interests, and really get policymakers to focus on them. And again, policymakers, you know, they don’t get money from them, they don’t vote, so they just ignore them. And we work to try to change that dynamic.

elizabeth windom 11:57
Miss silage, we have been talking about how first focus on children really focuses on policies and issues in Congress and up the hill. So I’d really love to hear from you like why does first focus on children want to make a podcast speaking for kids?

Selley Looby 12:15
That’s a great question, Elizabeth. And, you know, I think it really comes down to, I don’t think the average person understands the impact they can have on government in a variety of ways. Even for me, you know, like I shared earlier, I didn’t come from the policy space. My undergraduate degree was in poli sci. But aside from that, my career wasn’t really focused on Hill engagement or policy. And the more I’ve learned over the last 11 and a half years working at first focuses, it doesn’t get enough attention. And when you stop to think about the average member of Congress, or the average elected official across the board, they’re tasked with so much, and their staffers, their entire team, they’re looking at a very high level, aerial view of all the issues that they have to encounter and deal with on a day to day basis. And oftentimes, children are an afterthought. They’re not really centered in their decision making. But when you stop to think about it, in the best interests of our national security, it will serve us well to make these investments early and often, and really establish different touch points, because 20 years from now, 50 years from now, you know, that’s all we really have to show as a nation is our country and how we treated our kids that soon will grow up. So I think this podcast really is an opportunity to share some small bytes of information that that folks can really start to chew on and start to see. Oh, wow, like, it’s really not that difficult. Oh, wow, there is a connection point. There may be people that really are coming to this and may, you know, watch an episode focused on education, for example. But there’s a correlation between education and so many other issues, right, poverty, nutrition, even when you talk about complex things that we’ll get into in a little bit, the child tax credit, we know that all that plays a role in a child’s education in terms of the resources they receive, both from their families, and their school community. And so really, this podcast is an outlet to pull people in, get them excited about the opportunities that they have, you know, Bruce has worked on the Hill, and he’s a firm believer, and don’t come to me with some, you know, a long list of problems, give me some solutions. And I think that’s really the unique value that first focus always uses to approach their work via on the hill or even through this podcast is every episode we want to be able to give viewers an opportunity to say here, here’s what you can do. Here are some very easy steps that you can take. So, you know, I really think it’s just an opportunity to come along on our journey. Learn a little bit more about our work here for some elected officials and other smart people. And Bruce and I and Leila.

J Woodward 15:04
Leila, you have a great title for your position at first focus. Can you tell everybody what it is?

Leila Nimatallah 15:11
Yes, I am the advocacy and mobilization vice president.

J Woodward 15:17
I mean, that is a great name. It is, as I understand it, you are bringing people into the tent. And I’m wondering why it’s so important to have new voices, new advocates for children, and how you even set about doing that.

Leila Nimatallah 15:33
It’s so important to have new voices, especially voices in unexpected places around the country, we are really effective in getting the ear of members of Congress. But there’s so many of them, there’s 435, you know, we have to get to. And our goal is to have advocates all around the country in each of those districts and all the states so that we can let our elected officials know that children matter to everyday citizens. And how we do it is is easy, it’s not hard, I promise, everyone has the ability to do it. It’s just a little bit nerve wracking at first. But you know, I’ve been doing advocacy with grassroots and grasstops for over 20 years. And I’ve seen them, you know, very nervous going into their first meeting. But when they come out, their faces are just lit up, because they can see firsthand how easy it is they’re just meeting with a person. It’s just a person, you know, and they go in there, we provide them with the talking points, we provide them with the background. And the truth is they don’t have to be experts, all they have to be is a constituent of that member of Congress to get a listening. That’s why they’re important. So everyone can do it, all of us can do it. And so we’re really hoping this podcast reaches the folks that need to hear it. And the folks that are willing to join us in this effort, because we need you we really want to change the paradigm of how our elected officials are thinking and working right now. They’re great folks, for the most part, but they are not prioritizing kids.

elizabeth windom 17:14
Yeah. Thank you for that, Leila. We have the great honor to have Bruce Leslie, on the mic in this podcast. Because Bruce has been working for decades for children. And he’s been fighting for making children visible, that are invisible right now. And so one question that I have for you, Bruce, is, how do you keep going? How do you keep that faith envisioning out that someday America will balance it out and prioritize children just as much as every other citizen in our country?

Bruce Lesley 17:53
What gives me hope is that I know that when you talk to people, that they may not think about children as a policy issue. But when you scratch the surface, and you you ask them about specific things like the child tax credit, or the health care of children, or their nutritional needs, or education, people are like very passionate, once they sort of get the connection, that policy does matter for kids. And that money matters. They are passionate, we know we’ve seen it when we have conversations with with people about their kids that it is their biggest passion. And so what we’re trying to do is really tap into that and really hold policymakers accountable, that there is a power of support for kids. We’re just trying to get the question asked and raised of who’s really for kids and who’s not so who’s for kids, and who’s just kidding. And we see that, you know, we see that some policymakers are absolutely all in for kids, and others are neglectful, and sometimes even abusive, and the American people need to know that. And they need to understand that. And we’re hoping that as a nation, we start people will vote kids and they will express their voices on behalf of kids.

J Woodward 19:11
All right. So one thing that we’re doing with all of the guests is you guys are asking the questions that are really going to be addressing this deeply, intentionally, carefully. And you’re also asking them what their favorite song is. And what keeps them going. I wonder if you guys have a soundtrack going on in your head sometimes. Bruce, why don’t you start?

Bruce Lesley 19:35
I would say, I think about songs from my childhood, right? And so I’m a big r&b fan. There’s very songs that come to mind to me, but I remember my mom really loving Aretha Franklin and her song respect. And so that just, I don’t know, like I always think about that song and how kids actually need that. as well, it was really a power anthem for women when she was singing it, but it really is important to kids and then Cat Stevens has a song, where did the children play? And I remember as a kid loving that song and thinking that it really did speak to a lot of the issues that were important to kids. And then sort of on a hokey level, I was a big journey fan in high school, and so don’t stop believing is

elizabeth windom 20:28
so great. That’s

Selley Looby 20:29
awesome. Bruce,

elizabeth windom 20:31
what about UMSL,

Selley Looby 20:32
which Bob Marley was in heavy rotation throughout my childhood, and one of his songs redemption song really stands out to me, especially in this work. You know, we are advocating for all children. But honestly speaking, I mean, being a black woman raising three black children, two boys, it’s heavy, and it’s important, and we need to keep pushing forward. So I would say redemption song, followed by Jay Z’s legacy. That’s a good one for me,

J Woodward 21:02
Leila, do you have a song?

Leila Nimatallah 21:03
I’ve been struggling to think of one? Not really. I mean, no, not really. But the thing that keeps me going, as I said before, like, I just love my children so much, there’s something happened to me, that transformed me into a better person once I had them. And I don’t know what I was doing beforehand. Honestly, I’m okay with myself. But since then, I’m like, I get it. Now. I get what kids need. And you know, other people don’t need to have children to understand it, but I apparently did. And so now, I just can see very, very clearly the gaps that are there for some kids in our country and elsewhere. And I want to do all I can to fill them.

J Woodward 21:46
Oh my god, your children are your song. That’s amazing. Elizabeth, do you have a song?

elizabeth windom 21:53
Well, I love all sorts of music, but one that like is like a go to happy song is by this band called Jungle. They are a British Neo funk band. And their song is called Smile. And I dare you not to smile or start dancing, when you listen to the song, because it’ll change your mood right away. And what about you, Jay?

J Woodward 22:20
Well, you know, as a good producer should be, I am a bit of an audio nerd. And so I’m just going to own it for a second. So I have a Spotify playlist that is called headphone test. So you know, if I run into a pair of rogue headphones, and I really need to know what it’s all about, I dial this up. And it’s just the top 10 of all time, it’s a pretty broad spectrum, you know, from watching the detectives and young Americans. And so I feel like I should zero in on on one of the more uplifting of that set. And that’s higher ground with Stevie Wonder. That takes my sort of warm fuzzy optimism ratchets it right up to a great level.

Selley Looby 23:03
This is a pretty solid playlist.

elizabeth windom 23:05
I’m excited to create it. I just want to thank Bruce and massage and Leila today for sharing your story and your vision for speaking of kids, and to our audience. We encourage you to join us on this journey and become empowered to advocate for children. And also be people that are speaking for kids. If you’re listening, share this episode with other people Sure, follow rate review.

J Woodward 23:35
It’s as much about building a community as it is, you know, talking about you reach out and let us know if something’s happening in your neighborhood or if there’s something you care about, and we’ll put it all in the hopper.

Bruce Lesley 23:47
Now, if you want to drop us an email to all of us, you can do so at speaking of kids at first And you can also find find us on social media.

elizabeth windom 23:58
So on that note, we’ll see you next week.

Bruce Lesley 24:04
This is speaking of kids thanks for listening. I’m Bruce Leslie and I’m a selfish Looby speaking of kids is a podcast by first focus on children.

Selley Looby 24:12
Elizabeth Windom is the supervising producer and Julia Windham is the Associate Producer

Bruce Lesley 24:17
Leilani Metalla is the advocacy and mobilizing producer, and the senior producer is Jay Woodward.

Selley Looby 24:23
Our theme music is don’t look twice by Sam Parsh.

Bruce Lesley 24:27
For more information about this week’s episode, go to first You can find all our links in the show notes. If you

Selley Looby 24:34
have any thoughts, questions or interest in becoming a first focus on children ambassador, email us at speaking of kids at first

Bruce Lesley 24:43
and please follow rate and review on Apple podcasts Spotify or YouTube.

Selley Looby 24:48
Speaking of kids is produced by win Haven productions and blue J Atlantic