Reimagining Communities: CPAL’s Alan Cohen Wants to Cut Dallas Childhood Poverty in Half Within a Single Generation

Child Poverty Action Lab's President and CEO Alan Cohen will be a featured speaker next Wednesday at Capital One's Reimagine Communities Summit. He'll be on the "Navigating a Pandemic” data analytics panel at the virtual summit. Here are a few of his insights on how we can empower change.

Dallas is a bustling city with a gleaming skyline, glossy attractions, and wealth in wide abundance. But one in three Dallas children live in poverty, says Alan Cohen, president and CEO of the Child Poverty Action Lab, who believes that threatens our future both morally and economically. Next week at Capital One’s Reimagine Communities Summit, he’ll share his insights on how the pandemic has impacted kids and families in poverty—and what we can do to help transform their future.

For Cohen, everything comes back to one goal: He believes that by working together collectively and strategically, Dallas can cut childhood poverty in half within a single generation.

The Dallas native has worked for years to bring together government, private, and non-profit organizations to better support children and their families. He’s the architect of the Dallas Independent School District’s nationally recognized early childhood education strategy, and volunteers locally on the boards of TexProtects, United To Learn, Dallas Thrives, Workforce Solutions, and Habitat for Humanity.

On Wednesday, October 6, Cohen will be one of the noon panel speakers at the Reimagine Communities Summit presented by Capital One. The free, virtual online event runs from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. with a theme of “Empowering Our Communities Beyond the Pandemic.” We wrote last week about the summit’s topics and speakers, who include keynote speaker Valerie Jarrett, former senior advisor to President Barack Obama. You can find out more and register for free here.


Q&A: Alan Cohen

Why is the Reimagine Communities Summit important, and how can it help nonprofits?

“Capital One’s timing for the Reimagine Communities Summit is spot-on. We’ve now had more than a year and a half tackling the social and economic issues the pandemic has brought to the forefront, enough time to learn from emerging innovation while planning for a more responsive and resilient future. From public health crises to climate events, the abnormal is the new normal. Nonprofits across the country can gain practical tips on how to tailor their services to address people’s real needs, while expanding pathways inside their organization and with fellow travelers in their space to increase equity of opportunity.”

Alan Cohen

You’re on the “Navigating a Pandemic” data analytics panel at the summit. How will your work with the Child Poverty Action Lab impact the perspective you’ll bring?

“We consider ourselves both a ‘think tank’ and ‘do tank’ at CPAL. Our expertise lies in six evidence-backed issue areas predictive of one’s ability to escape poverty, like housing affordability and trauma prevention and ways to act on data and insight to improve outcomes. As a think tank, our data on need, disparities, and resource inequities across Dallas along with insights we cultivate from the most impacted communities has been critical to focusing the local response. As a do tank, we work with organizations and people on the ground to act, giving my team a lot of perspective on how the pandemic has been affecting residents across Dallas.”

Are there ways the pandemic has actually created opportunities for change?

“The pandemic has helped catalyze lots of ‘innovation by necessity.’ For example, something as simple as internet access. We should have been dramatically expanding high-speed internet as a basic utility available to all families for decades. It’s a no-brainer. Yet, it’s taken this extended moment of crisis to bring focus and resources to this priority. We are now seeing some real progress on this and other no-brainers.” 

One in three Dallas kids grows up in poverty. What impact has that had on the pandemic in Dallas, especially regarding schooling, internet access, etc.?

“There’s no denying it has been difficult. Families and communities with the greatest needs have been hit hardest. More than half of students have experienced learning loss, food insecurity has increased, and housing evictions have spiked. Levels of gun violence and suspected child abuse, both indicators of child trauma, also grew markedly. A Dallas that values its children and equity needs to invest in the infrastructure of health, education, childcare, and safety.”

Your goal at CPAL is to reduce poverty in Dallas by 50 percent in a single generation. How has the pandemic impacted your work?

“While the pandemic has exacerbated conditions of poverty—and I don’t want to diminish its impact on people’s day-to-day lives—it has also helped unlock much-needed resources to address root causes of intergenerational poverty. The federal government’s unprecedented stimulus and expansion of the Child Tax Credit is getting money into more people’s hands while bringing much-deserved attention to how public systems can do their part to eradicate poverty. Recovery funding directed to local government gives regions like Dallas a unique opportunity to meet problems of scale with solutions of scale.”

What would you change right now about how the Dallas area is navigating the pandemic, and what will it take to make that happen?

“One of my favorite things about Dallas is our bias for action. Throughout the pandemic, it has been easy to fall into the trap of using data to ‘admire the problem.’ We need to stay focused on solutions and action.”

This Q&A has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Dallas Innovates is a media sponsor of Capital One’s Reimagine Communities Summit.

Read Next:

Some of the featured speakers at Capital One’s Reimagine Communities Summit, clockwise from upper left: Chastity Lord, John Ficken, Valerie Jarrett, Vu Le, Alan Cohen, Marty McDonald, and Ali Wajahat. [Photos via Capital One]

Changemakers Will Explore Transformational Leadership and Innovative Strategies at Virtual Summit

The free, half-day event focuses on the power of positive change and navigating these uncharted times. Capital One’s Reimagine Communities Summit features a keynote from Valerie Jarrett, former senior advisor to President Obama, along with insights from a diverse cross-section of innovators, industry disruptors, and content experts.

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