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Working to Make California a Better Place for Kids

We know that parents are their kids' best advocates. Join our parent-powered movement to make kids California's top priority.

I grew up on the West Side of Chicago across the street from a crack house. My mother was a crackhead, and I didn't know my father until I was 12 years old. My mother abused me as a child -- yes, physically, but much more painful was the mental abuse. She would say things like, "You ain't never going to do shit, be shit, or have shit." Or, "I only had you for a welfare check." After one very harrowing night that involved a naked beating in front of my cousins, I was taken away from my mother and given to my grandmother.

My grandmother loved me more than words could ever express. Even though she wanted the best for me, sometimes folks from lower socioeconomic levels stifle aspiration. This isn't usually done in malice but as a method of protection from failure. There's one visit to the doctor's office with my grandmother that sticks out in my mind. It was just a routine checkup and booster shots before I headed back to junior high. Dr. Alexandria was an immigrant from Jamaica with her own practice. She asked me the completely normal question that practically every child gets asked: "What do you want to be when you grow up?" I enthusiastically said, "I want to be a doctor and a lawyer." My grandmother interjected, "Boy, hush. You ain't going to be no doctor and a lawyer." Dr. Alexandria turned to my grandmother and calmly told her, "No, you hush. Don't tell that boy what he can and cannot do. If he wants to be a doctor and a lawyer, he can be a doctor and a lawyer. I have friends that are both doctors and lawyers."

That small moment of affirmation in the doctor's office meant so much and pushed me to succeed. I got good grades in high school and graduated from Northwestern University. Although I'm not a doctor or a lawyer, I'm in Los Angeles helping to make a difference in the lives of others.

Unfortunately, in California there are millions of children who don't have a grandmother to save them or a Jamaican doctor to inspire them. In fact, too many kids don't see a doctor in their early lives. Nearly 75 percent of young children don't get vital developmental health screenings in their first years. For many kids, their school is the place that saves them from home. But, right now in California, our schools are falling behind. Roughly half of the children in the state live in families that are in or near poverty. One in four kids don't regularly have enough food to eat. We have to do better.

I'm working to change the unacceptable reality for our kids in California. As deputy director of mobilization for Common Sense, I partner with parents and educators across California to build a movement dedicated to ensuring that every child has the opportunity to flourish in our state.

Common Sense is an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to helping kids thrive in a world of media and technology. Common Sense Kids Action works with policymakers, business leaders, and other advocates across the nation to ensure that every child has the opportunity to succeed. We started the California Kids Campaign to build a movement of parents who will be a powerful voice for children across the state.

We have a great team of folks, many of whom have worked multiple campaigns, including the groundbreaking efforts of the Obama campaign. We're looking to hire, teach, and empower 20 part-time parent organizers around the state of California on how to advocate on behalf of children.

Initially, we'll be working to help pass the Children's Education and Health Protection Act, which is an extension of a tax imposed a few years ago, taxing the richest Californians to fund schools. Over the long term, we want parents to be able to fight for kid-positive stances like paid family leave, broadband internet for all children, raising the minimum wage, funding for early childhood education, and protecting children's online privacy.

Here's how you can help: Our program's success hinges on the power of parents. We need parents to be the passionate voices for their kids and all children across the state. When thousands of parents stand together, we can demand that our legislators prioritize our children. If you're in California and these are issues that interest you, please go to our online application and apply. If you know someone you think would be interested, send them my way.

Every child should grow up -- whether they're a boy or a girl, rich or poor, black, white, Latino, Asian, or other -- with the hope and opportunity to be a doctor, a lawyer, or president of the United States of America. Please help us make that happen.

Marquis Olison
Marquis Olison is the Deputy Director of Mobilization, Southern California and is based in Los Angeles. Marquis joined Common Sense in May after serving as a Mobilization Lead for Airbnb. Previously, Marquis served as a member of the Palms Neighborhood Council in Los Angeles and was a city Field Manager for Marquis’ focus with the California Kids Campaign is to mobilize parents across Southern California.