What a Powerful Voice!

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She’s the most difficult person to interview. So busy day and evening, there is no time for anything but the important work. And if you can pin her down, she is so humble she waves off talking about herself after only a sentence or two.

But Khadijah Sabir is such a powerful, passionate voice for high-quality childcare that it’s easy to find leaders in the Philadelphia childcare community to speak about her. Here are a few of the tributes readily given.

Dewetta Logan, Owner and Director of Smart Beginnings Early Learning Center

I was new to childcare. I had a passion, a dream, but I didn’t know anything about what quality was, what Keystone STARS meant. [Standards, Training/Professional Development, Assistance, Resources, and Supports is a rating system that promotes improvement in early learning and development programs; a rating from STAR 1 to STAR 4 (best quality) informs parents about the degree that their children are safe, respected, and stimulated.]

I had my own day care. There was a luncheon for providers … and Khadijah had received an award. I had never seen a woman who is Muslim getting so many accolades. I was inspired, and I knew I wanted to get to know her.

She would come in and consult with me. Anything pertinent: She called and said, we’re going to this. She inspired me to be passionate about the love and care of children in Philadelphia. I am a STAR 4 because of her. She was instrumental in getting me to STAR 3, then STAR 4. Every time I was overwhelmed, she would say, “Just have faith. Just be positive.” When things got really bad, she would hear it in my voice and tell me, “This is how we can do this.” It’s constant encouragement … she’s grooming me to be an advocate.

I’ve never seen a Muslim woman in that leadership position in this day and age.

She doesn’t downplay her religion, but she works out how to integrate it into her work life. Even if it was Ramadan, she would go to that conference, but she would be fasting while everyone else enjoyed the luncheon.

She’s a sister that I never had. The funny thing about her is, she talks so loud. You hear her before you see her. But nothing stops her from being heard, and there’s nothing funny about that.

Arlene Saunders, Family Service Worker at Precious Angels Child Care & Academy

Khadijah is the hardest working woman I know in childcare. She knows everybody. She makes it a point to know who you are. Doesn’t matter your race, your religion, if you’re in Philadelphia or Montgomery County. From Day One, it’s always been about high-quality childcare. Since Day One, she has been at every meeting, testifying, taking her kids, holding up signs.

She’s the voice of childcare. They would call her Miss Pre-K for PA, or Ms. Pre-Khadijah for PA.

I met Khadijah when I first came into childcare about 18 years ago. I met her through my sister, who was always partnering with Khadijah. Once when my sister couldn’t go to a meeting, she got me to go with Khadijah instead. From there on out, I have been going to every meeting or training that comes down the pike. Khadijah would say, “C’mon, we gotta go to this.” “C’mon we gotta go here.” “C’mon we gotta go there.”

Every bit of knowledge she had, she was willing to share. She’s the most passionate person I’ve ever met in the field. From caring about the children, the workers, the parents, the owners. Home childcare (6 or fewer children), group day care (12 or fewer children), her own day care, which she ran with her daughter, who still runs it, and center-based childcare (more than 12 kids). She would always fight for group childcare to get the same benefits as center-based.

As an advocate, she would do things like bring the legislators to the childcare centers in their districts. Have them visit a STAR 1 center and a STAR 4, so they could understand the difference and the importance of quality.

She always said to me, “Our kids are worth it, and they should have the best.”

Pamela Haines, Public Policy Director, First Up (where Khadijah Sabir holds the post of Public Policy Field Organizer)

During the summer of 2016, after the soda tax was passed and the City was trying to get ready to launch its new pre-K program by fall, Khadijah poured so much effort into helping other programs through an extraordinarily challenging application process that she never got around to applying on behalf of the program she and her daughter run.

She pours her heart into helping others improve their quality. She freely shares her encyclopedic knowledge of childcare regulations to help programs prepare for assessment visits, helps move furniture around to create new learning centers, offers everything a program needs in order to set up an advocacy table and bulletin board. Once when she was working with someone whose program was in an old building in a poor neighborhood, she went over on a Saturday and spent the day helping the director paint the walls.

State Representative Jared G. Solomon, 202nd Legislative District in Pennsylvania

How to be an effective advocate? You’ve got to agitate. Be loud and persistent. Like Khadijah. Those are the ones I hear. Not the ones who meet with me once, and then I never hear from again.

Philadelphia City Councilwoman Cherelle Parker, Ninth District

Khadijah Sabir with Councilwoman Cherelle Parker

Khadijah has been and continues to be a phenomenal, unapologetic champion for early childhood education. As the owner of a STAR 4 group-based day care located in my district, I consider Khadijah an expert on family and group-based pre-K, and have often looked to her for feedback on how to improve access to government funding for these providers. She is unselfish, dependable, and gets the job done.”

US Congressman Dwight Evans

Khadijah Sabir with Congressman Dwight Evans

Khadijah Sabir is a fearless and selfless advocate for quality childcare for children across Philadelphia and the entire Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Simply put, if we had more Khadijah’s fighting for quality childcare, our city and country would be a much better place.

Storyville columnist Eleanor Levie with Khadijah Sabir at this year's First Up Conference.

Storyville columnist Eleanor Levie with Khadijah Sabir at this year’s First Up Conference.
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Eleanor Levie
Eleanor Levie is a volunteer advocate for quality early childhood programs. Through the power of storytelling, she works to inspire communities and policy makers to lift up children and families. Eleanor is a member of the steering committee of the Southeast Pennsylvania Early Childhood Coalition, and a longtime leader and activist for the National Council of Jewish Women. Born and raised in Baltimore, she spent many years in the metropolitan New York City and greater Philadelphia areas, and now lives with her husband in Center City Philadelphia. Professionally, Eleanor has taught in urban secondary schools and Sunday schools, has written, edited, and produced dozens of books and magazines on needlework and crafts. She travels to quilt guilds around the country to present trunk shows and workshops to inspire out-of-the-box quilting. She is the founder of an online gallery, United We Quilt: Sewing Justice.

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