Building on a Legacy: Reflections on the First Year of Policy and Advocacy

Khadijah Williams reflects on her first year as LIFT’s National Director of Policy and Advocacy, the successes of the first year of the program, and her vision for the future. 

When I secured my dream job as the first National Director of Policy and Advocacy at LIFT, I immediately had a long-term vision of how this work would take shape and evolve, inspired by the amazing 25-year legacy that LIFT had built. Not only did LIFT create a national, 2-generation model for coaching— a model which has proven, statistically significant impact on families by empowering parents to set and achieve goals that put their families on the path to economic mobility— LIFT then also implemented that same model in new sectors with our Technical Assistance work, building capacity for like-minded organizations to deliver LIFT’s program to those who do not have the privilege of being LIFT members at our brick-and-mortar sites. I also had the amazing legacy of policy work at LIFT Chicago to follow, whose leadership and partnership with key coalitions secured groundbreaking guaranteed income pilots. LIFT provides an inspiring and impressive legacy to build upon; and, with previous experience building both parent advocates and national models within family engagement and education, I knew that I was not only up for the challenge to stretch my muscles in new and exciting ways, but also excited for the opportunity to contribute to scaling LIFT’s impact and break the cycle of poverty for millions of families across the country.  

The impact of LIFT’s model is important to me personally, for I witnessed the chasm between the belief my mom had in me, despite our deep poverty, and the disbelief those in power had in my mom because of it. Here was LIFT, an organization that knew the inherent power of moms just like my mom and put that belief into action through a transformative, 2-generation model for economic mobility for all families. As an intersectional professional, I stand as a living embodiment of the promise of generational economic mobility. I not only see my role leading the Policy and Advocacy work as a dream job, but as a testament to LIFT as an organization that values lived expertise as integral to how we scale our impact and bring about systemic change.   

The ability of our Policy and Advocacy work to scale organizational impact is grounded in our model for systems change at LIFT. LIFT’s cash+coaching model is an infusion of, as our CEO would say, Hope, Money, and Love. This model is the critical underpinning of our work, where we partner directly with parents to achieve the goals that they set and learn firsthand the challenges families must overcome to achieve economic mobility. This critical information—coupled with the knowledge that LIFT’s model supports and propels families to achieve their financial, educational and well-being goals—provides the foundation for our Technical Assistance work. Through TA, we build bespoke training programs in social service sectors such as higher education, early childhood centers, health systems, and government institutions, to meet thousands of families where they already show up, so that they too can achieve economic mobility.  

Our Policy and Advocacy work builds upon both our Direct Service and Technical Assistance work by addressing the underlying systemic inequities that perpetuate the cycles of poverty. Traditional policy work excludes our families and communities from the very processes which govern their lives, contributing to ineffective policies that inadvertently introduce more barriers to economic mobility. LIFT’s Policy and Advocacy work centers our families in the policy-making process and build the skills of our families and staff to advocate for the change that they wish to see– change that will fundamentally and systematically transform systems, through legislative and administrative policy change. Our Policy and Advocacy work would not be possible without the insights gained from both our Direct Service and Technical Assistance work, and it is this special, trifold model—each component critical to systems change—that uniquely positions LIFT to carry out the kind of change that we will achieve.  

In just one year of operation as a department, Policy and Advocacy has already made change-making waves! We launched the largest listening tours in LIFT’s history, where current members and alumni were directly involved in shaping our policy and advocacy strategy; earned an appointment to a city-wide commission to end poverty; developed LIFT’s first advocacy training series for members and alumni across our regions; served in leadership roles in local coalitions to secure a hearing for the District Child Tax credit, where staff and LIFT members provided testimonies; brought members and staff together to discuss the impact of the benefits cliff on their communities; connected members to intimate gatherings with their elected officials; and uplifted the voices of members and alumni to share their lived expertise and insights on systems change solutions. And we are just getting started.  

Through our systems change work, we are preparing to create a world where LIFT is no longer necessary. In 25 years, our legacy will entail an activated, engaged, and effective member-advocate base, an organization that comes together powerfully to advocate for the systems they want to see, and a world where family insight, expertise, and vision is not only expected in policy change, but required. Policy and Advocacy will change narratives around poverty and economic mobility, by changing how decisions are made and, ultimately, who is making them. When LIFT members and alumni run for office and become decision makers, when economic policies are crafted by those with lived experience to create generational cycles of wealth, not poverty, we will know our work is complete.  

I believe this world is possible, and this is the charge that I have set for myself as I undertake the most important role of my life. I can’t help but think of my mom, who used to call me Oprah, extolling her belief in me to change the world. That belief guides my ambitions to carry out this work, and I will not be changing the world alone – at LIFT, we have an entire organization of dedicated and inspiring staff, coaches, members, and alumni working with changing systems as our north star; and so together, we will.