The Birmingham resident settles into her latest role.
Most of Crystal Sanford-Brown's adult life has been spent devoted to young children – first as an educator and advocate, then as an instructor to the educators and, most recently, she was elected vice president of the National Association for the Education of Young Children's governing board. NAEYC is the leading organization for early childhood educators, providing its 60,000 members with professional development and accreditations for higher education programs, and taking on initiatives designed to promote high-quality learning for children from birth through age 8.
Sanford-Brown became associated with NAEYC's Michigan affiliate in 2001. The Bloomfield Hills resident moved up the ranks, serving in several different roles before being elected president of the Michigan affiliate in 2010 – the first black person in the organization's 92-year history to hold the title. Certainly on her voting colleagues' minds was that it was Sanford-Brown who got several local McDonald's restaurants to use MIAEYC's Month of the Young Child calendar – filled with activities and resources for parents – as food tray liners. Oakland Community College and the Child Care Coordinating Council backed the calendar, which also found its way into local libraries and Head Start programs "to really bring out that awareness." Sanford-Brown adds, "I was really proud of that."
While on the Michigan board, she also sat on the national board's affiliate relations committee, pivotal in a recent organization-wide restructuring that trimmed 300-plus affiliates down to just 52. "That was my first introduction to some of the intertwining of NAEYC, while having been a member of that organization for years." Sanford-Brown started her work as an in-home family provider, meaning she was able to care for up to six unrelated children in her home. This eventually led to her becoming co-owner of a day care center where she worked for two years before being diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1998. She decided to step away from the day care and go back to school – Wayne State University – to major in pharmacology. But her own child inspired another change.
"My oldest son – I have three children – was born visually impaired due to domestic abuse – hence I'm divorced – but learning all of the processes and all of the brain development and how children learn" fascinated and inspired her. "I wanted to be his advocate so he can advocate for himself. I became very interested." Sanford-Brown changed her major to early childhood education and says, "That was my pivotal point in that paradigm shift for me, and it hasn't stopped since then." Fast-forward to an associate's degree in early childhood education, a bachelor's in community development and relations, a master's in public administration and policy – plus two post master's degrees in higher education leadership and college curriculum. "All of those different things kind of work together." And she's currently a doctoral candidate at Central Michigan University.
June 1 was the start of her newest act as vice president, a four-year commitment. She'll be responsible for supporting the president, Amy O'Leary, acting as a liaison between different committees and the board, assuring that no conflicts of interest exist with other organizations or programs in regards to, say, awarding grants and supporting new initiatives. Sanford-Brown is working closely on the org's Power to the Profession program, which aims to address and make improvements to the low wages that most early childhood educators – mostly women of color – earn compared to K-12 teachers.
She's also looking ahead to the NAEYC's annual conference being held in Washington, D.C. – the organization's headquarters – this November, which'll join "a very diverse group of attendees" including teachers, superintendents and policymakers for three days of workshops, networking and focus groups. " I would like to make sure that whatever I'm able to accomplish in these four years as vice president, that it's impactful," Sanford-Brown says. "I see this role as not just a role that Crystal Sanford-Brown holds, but I am upholding so many other individuals. And I hope to never give any doubt to those who elected me that they made the right choice."