by Clara Bonzi Teixeira
The Center for Child and Family Policy welcomed two child advocacy professionals on February 3, 2023, Morgan Forrester Ray, director of the EarlyWell Initiative at NC Child, and Morgan Wittman Gramann, executive director at North Carolina Alliance for Health, for its Career Series. Although Ray and Gramann have had very different career trajectories from one another, they both now work to improve the health and well-being of children and families in North Carolina through policies that reduce health disparities, prevent chronic disease, and promote health, respectively.
During the talk, Ray reflected on the two-year gap she took between her undergraduate and graduate degrees (both in social work), in which she took a job working directly with families as a case manager. While most of her peers went straight to graduate programs, Ray wanted to “understand what it was like for children before [she] started to work on policy.” Ray always knew she had a passion for doing policy work, but she felt that she needed to understand firsthand how children and families experience social services and other interactions with government policies. After nearly a decade, she shifted her career from program-based work to policy-level advocacy work, which allowed her to “see the bigger solutions” and have an even larger impact on children and families in NC.
On the other hand, Gramann started her advocacy work at a young age when she began taking part in tobacco use peer prevention programs in high school. After completing her undergraduate degree, Gramann went directly to law school, but found herself unsure of how to proceed in her career. She “fell in love with [advocacy work] all over again” when she took up a job as a coalition manager at the North Carolina Alliance for Health. Gramann was promoted to Executive Director and has held that role for six years.
In their respective roles, Ray and Gramann engage in both advocacy and lobbying work. While their advocacy work mainly involves creating and supporting partnerships across the state at the local level, their lobbying work involves interacting with policymakers to promote the interests of children and families. Gramann asserted that both types of work are essential to making sure voices are heard at the policymaking level. She talked about the work they have done to learn about priorities in communities across North Carolina and how that has helped focus their current legislative priority advocating for free school meals for all students. However, for organizations who ground their work in community voice, as these do, it often takes years of community building before organizations are able to progress to the lobbying stage: Ray and her colleagues at NC Child spent three years listening to families, engaging stakeholders, and building relationships before beginning their lobbying work.
This Career Series talk demonstrates the diversity of academic and career experiences that can lead to child advocacy work. While Ray and Gramann took vastly different paths in their professional development, they both make measurable impacts on child and family well-being and health in NC. The talk also highlights advocacy and lobbying are critical and engaging paths for those interested in working in the field of child and family policy. Ray and Gramann concluded that policy-level change can be slow, but seeing its impacts is gratifying.
Clara Bonzi Teixeira is a junior majoring in Public Policy (B.A.) with minors in Cultural Anthropology and Asian and Middle Eastern Studies. She is planning on attending law school and has an interest in international development, with a focus on child and family wellbeing.