MELA launches “Leading From Strength” Empowerment Network to Promote the Professional Advancement of Women of Color

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Women of color are a cornerstone of early care and education. Nationally, the field is composed mostly of women, 40% of whom are people of color. Looking past the numbers, we at the Mississippi Early Learning Alliance (MELA) recognize that the perspectives and life experiences of women of color are critical to ensure the future success of all children, especially children of color. For instance, research shows that children benefit from caregivers who share their ethnicity – and 51% of children in Mississippi are children of color.

In many professional settings, however, women of color do not receive the respect, trust, and opportunities their qualifications and expertise demand. Across many fields and industries, they are not given access to the leadership roles that they are ready and equipped to hold.

To disrupt this unacceptable status quo, MELA launched the Leading from Strength Empowerment Network, a new initiative to promote the professional advancement of women of color working in early childhood care and education. We know that Mississippi is home to many highly skilled and dynamic women in this field. Our purpose in creating this initiative is to build a powerful network of female leaders who have the connections and expertise necessary to advocate on behalf of themselves, each other, and Mississippi children and families. We’ve partnered with Leading for Children to help ensure this initiative is a success.

The initiative will consist of small cohorts of highly-qualified women of color who will engage in a series of learning experiences over the course of one year. These experiences are designed to honor and elevate members’ wisdom and lived experiences, foster collaboration among women across disciplines, and provide professional leadership training. We recognize each woman as the author and authenticator of her own growth and development – as such, Leading from Strength activities and experiences are designed to help women capitalize on their own inner strength and power. Leading from Strength will cultivate a space for women to share their experiences and skills, receive mentorship, and work in collaboration – not competition – with one another.

Our first Leading from Strength cohort met on Wednesday, February 16 – it consists of 14 members. We are thrilled to welcome the following professionals to the cohort:

  • Latasha Hadley
  • Angela Bass
  • April May
  • Kenecha Brooks Smith
  • Leigh Sargent
  • Tiffani Grant
  • Marneshia Cathey
  • Nikki McCelleis
  • Tina Routh
  • Shuronda C Common
  • Lakeisha Alexander
  • Larramie Sylvester
  • Candice Pittman
  • Tunga Otis

For more information, please contact April May, MELA Coalitions and Programs Director, at