The Heart of Family Learning: Advancing equity in communities through multigenerational learning systems

Greetings to our community of families, practitioners, and supporters. It’s Black History Month, and NCFL is proud to honor and celebrate the contributions made by members of the Black community. Our digital learning platform, Wonderopolis, houses over 50 Wonders of the Day exploring Black history, arts, science, sports, and more. We encourage you to dive into these resources and find exciting ways to celebrate Black history in your communities while also supporting multigenerational learning opportunities through wondering.

Graphic with Dr. Felicia Cumings Smith's headshot and a red ribbon in the shape of a heart. The text reads At the Heart of Family Learning with Dr. Felicia Cumings Smith

Black history cannot and must not be confined to one month out of each year. The events and people of our shared past set the context that we’re living in now and must be a part of everything we do and set out to accomplish. By commemorating the achievements, innovations, and sacrifices of Black Americans, we recognize a legacy of persistence in overcoming challenges and barriers to create equitable experiences for multiple generations. Additionally, we seek to gain a deeper understanding of how interconnected our lives are to each other, to our past, and to everything we do today. 

The words spoken by Marian Wright Edelman, the founder and president emerita of the Children’s Defense Fund and lifelong children’s and civil rights activist, have been resonating with me as NCFL turns a corner toward a new era of work: “When I fight about what is going on in the neighborhood, or when I fight about what is happening to other people’s children, I’m doing that because I want to leave a community and a world that is better than the one I found.” Marian’s fighting spirit—one that doesn’t give up easily and stands firm on principles and convictions—is what we strive to embody in the work that we do each day. She has spent her life standing up for our nation’s poorest children and families. NCFL carries this responsibility when we work to eradicate poverty through scaling and spreading education solutions for and with families.

Every child and family deserves to live in an equitable community with systems of support that are accessible, relevant, and co-designed with families to meet their needs. According to the  2020-2021 National Survey of Children’s Health, only 44.7% of Black children live in a supportive neighborhood[1]. Yet we know that a socially cohesive neighborhood impacts the well-being and flourishing of children and families[2]. We need more equitable and inclusive policies and practices in local communities that are designed to help citizens contribute to solutions for their communities and overcome institutional barriers and challenges. That’s why we’re endeavoring to build family learning systems that create equitable learning opportunities, designed to have multigenerational impact. 

We believe that those who are most impacted by issues in a community must be included in developing solutions for those issues. When children and families are equipped with the knowledge, skills, and competencies for redesigning their contexts, families engage in transformative experiences that lead to exponential impact and innovation for communities.

As NCFL enters into communities, our work looks different because communities have differing and unique needs, and their family learning system must reflect that. However, there are three critical elements that each 60×30 community will have: family literacy, family engagement, and family leadership. Our goal is to listen to children and families, support coordination and alignment among community leaders and stakeholders, network families across neighborhoods, and build toward more comprehensive support for family learning. To learn more about the family learning systems approach to advancing equity in communities, read NCFL’s new resource, “A Future Design for Equitable Communities.” 

In much of our programming over the past few years, we’ve learned that parents and caregivers want more opportunities to connect with one another providing a peer-to-peer network of support. The learning experiences designed with and for children and families create the spaces for deeper engagement, social-emotional support, and education and economic attainment. Much of this work was highlighted in NCFL’s recently published 2022 Annual Report. This report showcases how our organization is working to realize our mission and vision and provides insights into our collaborative efforts to co-design with families, educators, and community partners during the past year. Across family literacy, family engagement, and family leadership programming we’ve seen creative solutions emerge from purposeful engagement in literacy and learning, research, and leadership experiences. 

I’ll close this post by sharing something else that Marian Wright Edelman once said that has stuck with me, “Though we face unprecedented challenges and threats to the safety and well-being of America’s children, we refuse to go backwards.” Her unwavering voice and fighting spirit are inspiration for our work in fulfilling our vision to get us closer to achieving our mission.

If you are part of a community that is ready to embark on this work with us, please complete the form at×30. To learn more about our 60×30 Vision, read my past blog posts.

1 Child and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative. 2020-2021 National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH) data query. Data Resource Center for Child and Adolescent Health supported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), Maternal and Child Health Bureau (MCHB). Retrieved 02/16/2023  from

2 Barnhart, S., Bode, M., Gearhart, M. C., & Maguire-Jack, K. (2022). Supportive Neighborhoods, Family Resilience and Flourishing in Childhood and Adolescence. Children, 9(4), 495. Retrieved 02/16/2023  from


Dr. Felicia Cumings Smith

A lifelong educator and national thought leader for teaching and learning, Dr. Felicia C. Smith brings decades of valuable experience to advance NCFL’s mission of working to eradicate poverty through education solutions for families. Having served in a variety of leadership roles in P-12, higher education, nonprofit, and philanthropy, her career has allowed her to experience leading systems and develop a unique vantage point of a learner’s educational trajectory from preschool to adulthood. Smith holds an Ed.D. in education leadership and administration from the University of Kentucky, and an M.A. in elementary education with an emphasis on K-12 literacy development and B.S. in elementary education from the University of Louisville. 

Follow Dr. Felicia C. Smith on Twitter and LinkedIn.