Photo courtesy of Momentous Institute.

The work of building social-emotional health in children — helping them to cultivate the ability to manage emotions, reactions, and relationships — is complex and often means going beyond visible behaviors and challenges. Hidden systems, like those driving issues of addiction, inequity, family permanence, and immigration, could influence how a child develops and the person that he or she ultimately becomes. But too often, professional gatherings leave those complicated discussions untouched, which means few of us working directly with children and families have the resources or tools to navigate those challenges.

That’s why the annual Changing the Odds conference is so powerful. Each year, the Momentous Institute brings internationally recognized experts together with an audience of educators, therapists, and child advocates to explore how what we believe — and the identities or perceptions we hold about others — can create blind spots in the work we do and erect unintended barriers to communication and impact for the communities we serve.

Held October 23-25 at the Omni Dallas Hotel in Dallas, Texas, the 2019 conference featured opportunities for peer learning, resource sharing, and connections. But make no mistake: It was far from the average conference. Instead, participants experienced two days of power-packed discussions on race, justice, family stability, and identity divided into hour-long sessions with thought leaders from around the globe.

“My wish for this conference is that it be deeply nourishing for you,” wrote Momentous Institute Executive Director Jessica Trudeau in a message to participants. “To breathe life into your being, your work, and the beautiful children you support.”

Psychotherapist and addiction expert Christo Pallas delivering a simple, powerful explanation of how trauma alters brain functioning. Photo courtesy of the ACE Awareness Foundation.

The following leading voices were among the featured speakers at this year’s conference:

  • “I’m Still Here,” author Austin Channing Brown, exploring the intersections of racial justice, faith, and black womanhood
  • “Three Little Words,” author Ashley Rhodes-Courter, weaving her personal story of growing up in foster care with a larger focus on what children face in that system
  • Clinical psychologist Howard Stevenson, whose work on emotional and racial literacy has proven transformative for those confronting issues of racial trauma
  • Psychology professor and author Jean Twenge, presenting research on the evolving relationships among teens, technology, and social emotional health
  • Nationally renowned STEM educator Fredi Lajvardi, offering his perspectives on embracing diversity in education and student experience.

ACE Awareness Foundation Communications and Development Associate Jouy Thomas, Communications Consultant Tiffany Thomas-Turner, and Office Manager Krystal Ross with author Austin Channing Brown, following her speech opening the 2019 Momentous Institute Annual Conference in Dallas, Texas.

But what was perhaps most impressive about the event was the way organizers encouraged mindfulness and reflection, even in an agenda packed with new ideas and information. “I appreciated that after every speaker, we were given the opportunity to pause and write out our reactions,” said ACE Awareness Foundation Director of Outreach Frank Jemison. “With each new presentation, there were all these connections that I didn’t want to miss, ideas that I wanted to save. I thought Momentous did a great job allowing space for that and challenging us to think of ways to apply what was said.”

For more information about the Momentous Institute, click here. For more highlights from the 2019 Changing the Odds conference, visit their Twitter feed.