Connecting Parents to Build a Loving Community of Families of Color

The vision of Families of Color Seattle (FOCS) is that our children of color are born into a loving community that is racially and economically just. To work towards this, FOCS’ mission is to build a strong community by supporting families of color through parenting programs, resource sharing and fostering meaningful connections. For example, programs include regular parenting groups led by trained parent facilitators of color, multi-cultural art classes for kids and adults, and community events and resources on relevant topics for families of color. FOCS is unique in providing safe spaces where families of color can build community with a focus on race, identity, culture and ethnicity through a lens of social and racial justice.  Since our founding in 2013, FOCS has evolved into an active base of over 1000 interethnic, intercultural families of color in South Seattle and the greater Seattle/King County area in Pacific Northwest of United States of America. .

Born out of the desire for alternatives to mainstream parenting groups, FOCS tackles serious challenges head on. There is a lack of effective opportunities for community dialogues on race and family. Culturally-relevant and multiracial parenting resources are unknown or unwritten. Mainstream organizations aren’t committed to anti-racist policies and practices for our children of color. And families of color seek a safe community where shared experiences and cultural understanding are the norm.

Today, FOCS is a nonprofit organization led by women of color including the Executive Director and Founder Amy Pak as well as FOCS’ 7-member board of directors. Prior to incorporation, core volunteers dedicated hundreds of hours to evolve and solidify the needs of our community based on what we’d be hearing from our families. We have grown from an all-volunteer start-up group to one that is led by .5 FTE staff, 2 interns, 1 Rainier Valley Corps Fellow, professional and diverse Board of directors and hundreds of dedicated family volunteers. It is critical to us that FOCS employs and utilizes the assets of our parents of color network for “peer to peer” learning and sharing. This builds strong community and ensures our voices are lifted up and valued.

Since 2013, 30 parent groups have been organized, providing weekly support and reduced social isolation for over 180 parenting group participants. FOCS ARTS cultural arts programming has engaged over 800 families in fun, interactive, multicultural learning opportunities. The FOCS online community forum involves resources sharing between over 430 families of color.  In 2015-16, FOCS successfully executed five dialogues in Seattle around issues of equity on race/multiracial identity, anti-bias education, reproductive justice, and transracial adoption and included a total of 500 people and 75 volunteers. Our reach is wide and it is getting stronger. FOCS was recently awarded the Ron Chisom Anti-Racism Award by the Seattle Services Coalition for our work in racial justice for families. The ceremony was June 1,2016 at City Hall, Seattle.

FOCS, a non-profit, was eventually founded in 2013 and it is now a women-led organization which connects parents and builds a loving community of families of color in Seattle. We’ve discovered a growing demand from families of color, young parents, transracial adoptive families, multi-national, multiracial families growing in Seattle, yet the city remains 70% white with growing displacement of families of color, immigrant and low income communities not being able to afford America’s city with the quickest rising cost of living in the nation. Seattle also boosts America’s largest multi-racial identifying people and also reflects where children of color are the majority nationally in Kindergarten.  FOCS fosters meaningful connects, engages parents and children with cultural arts, but also providing a platform where they can discuss everything, from returning work to breastfeeding, race, community, identity and social justice. It’s a powerful combination of professions, education, traditions and backgrounds. Our impact has been deep and quick, we have connected over 1000 families and trained and employed more than 35 parents as Parent Educators and Teaching Artists.

FOCS initially opened Cornerstone Cafe in Fall of 2014. The space offered a drop-in child care, and a cultural arts program including capoeira and Hawaiian and Spanish talk story. We now operate FOCS ARTS cultural arts programming for 0-7 year olds with parents each week, facilitate community dialogues on race and family, parenting groups for newborns and waddlers and consult and provide race and equity workshops for parents and educators at preschools and elementary schools.

We became part of commuinity led de-gentrification of South Seattle, where our community resources reflect the historical community of residents. Instead, FOCS members are connected by the culture of inclusivity, community building and play-centered learning. Our values are women of color and mother leadership, racial equity, economic impact, dismantling racism, education equity, and an intercultural interethnic community. We envision a world where children of color are born into a loving community that is racially and economically just.

One Filipina American mother of mixed race Filipino, Salvadorian and White two young boys said about FOCS,

“I gave birth to my first son in 2010. My pregnancy was difficult, it was unplanned, my relationship was unstable, my partner was unemployed and I suffered internal bleeding during the first trimester resulting in an emergency surgery; I often cried during my prenatal appointments, and the midwives expressed concern that I was at risk for post-partum depression and they recommended joining a parent group when my baby arrived to build a supportive community. My son arrived 3 weeks early and the birth was long and ended in a c-section. When my baby arrived I continued to face difficulty. My son was very small but healthy, but he failed to gain weight as I was unable to produce the milk he needed, and he rarely slept more than 2 hours at a time for nearly the first 6 months of his life. I had never felt more scared, tired, or overwhelmed. After 6 months I went back to my midwife with signs of Postpartum Depression and worked with my health care providers and my partner on a plan to help me manage my symptoms and the stressors in my life.

Looking back through this experience what was missing from my life was an opportunity to build authentic relationships and community with other mothers. I was part of a parent group, but never felt like I could be myself in these groups and share what was going on in mothering experience and within myself. I often felt lonely and isolated even in the presence of the group. I attribute this experience to having a space where both mothers and partners were included as well as the facilitation of the group which focused primarily on the baby and not on the identity or needs of the parent. When I joined a FOCS (Families of Color Seattle) group last Spring, after the birth of my second son, I knew I found the place I had yearned for earlier in my motherhood. The circumstances with the birth of my second were entirely different so I was in a better place emotionally, physically, and financially, but I know that every mother still needs support and community.

What I found with FOCS was an intentional space to build authentic relationships and community. As mothers we are welcomed in and acknowledged as whole people with cultures, professions, fears and passions, not just as care taker of a child. FOCS openly discusses and acknowledges race, ethnicity, culture, language, and identity and its importance in motherhood, parenting, and raising children. In my experience these topics were left out of other traditional parenting groups in the community. When these topics are left out, people of color and their experiences are neglected and excluded. When FOCS brings our multiple identities to the forefront the result is more authentic conversation and relationship building. My first year with my second son has been extremely positive and I attribute much of this to my on-going connection with FOCS. I felt supported as an individual and mother, and was able to transfer the love I felt to the love I share with my child. It is so important to provide support for mothers so that we can be better mothers. I believe that the strength of the community that is being built is a testimony of the need that families of color in Seattle are looking for spaces to connect".

Love the Cornerstone Cafe idea!

Hi @focseattle, welcome to Edgeryders! How did you hear about us, I wonder? I think you’re the first community initiative I’ve heard about in that area of the US…  so lovely to meet you. I’m not a mother (yet) but I can imagine the comfort in a period which can be very depressing for women for reasons that are not simple to grasp by mothers themselves, let alone by the community without a support structure.

I see the cafe was crowdfunded. Is it working now after two years? I wonder if you’ve managed to grow your support base to not just families of color, but to others who are keen on hanging out in a more culturally aware environment…

And also: is your