“Every day you have is a day to change the world:” Florence Malone-Crump advocates for education

For many Cincinnati families, meeting Florence Malone-Crump is the first step in securing their child’s quality education.

She is the Outreach and Enrollment Manager at Cincinnati Preschool Promise, a non-profit tasked with administrating public funds for high-quality preschool programs across Cincinnati. Outside the office, she is a gifted writer, poet, gardener, minister, and a source of positive energy and enthusiasm in her community.

She is overcoming her own obstacles to pay-it-forward to Cincinnati families.

Changing seasons

In 2016, voters approved a tax levy with Cincinnati Public Schools that included $15M a year to expand access to quality preschool. Cincinnati Preschool Promise (CPP) was created to help administrate the levy funds.

When the new nonprofit began recruiting its first staff, Malone-Crump was compelled by the mission of the organization.

Earlier in her career, Malone-Crump worked in real estate. But, in 2016, she was working at a preschool early learning center. She had been hired a few years earlier to help with the center’s new teen parent program.

Malone-Crump grew up in the West End and graduated from West High. A teen mother at age 14, she navigated the complex dynamics of economics and motherhood. She remembers being a young mother working on commission as a real estate agent. At that time, paying for preschool felt almost impossible.

“I’ve been a parent. I’m a grandmother. And I have a daughter who’s now making those decisions,” she says.

“I understand the importance of preschool for children and for families. I wanted to get involved in that space and help other parents understand the importance of preschool for their children.”

She was hired on as a recruiter with Cincinnati Preschool Promise when it launched in 2017 and she moved into her role as outreach and enrollment manager two years later.

Her job at CPP involves direct engagement with the Cincinnati community. She works with families enrolled in preschool, as well as their providers. She also works to recruit new providers into the program, offering them the funding and support that will improve their services to the community.

She works directly with families looking for a high-quality preschool program for their children. And some of her clients, she says, are in difficult situations. In addition to economic concerns, they are battling with a mistrust or devaluing of education.

“We assume that everyone wants preschool for their children,” she explains, “but some have underlying conditions that make them question its value.”

To these families, she offers her understanding. She’s been there and knows it can be hard to take a chance and start something new.

“I really try to keep things in focus and be as helpful as I can … but as honest as I can,” she says.

“I tell them you should never be scared to change your season.”
Coming out on the other side

Florence Malone-Crump knows about changing seasons and overcoming obstacles.

Most recently, in early 2021, she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Unfortunately, the cancer journey isn’t new to her. She fought — and beat — breast cancer in 2019.

Sometime in the next few weeks, she’ll undergo a bone marrow transplant. Together with the two rounds of chemotherapy she’s undergone this year, the transplant should help rebuild her immune system from the ground up.

But, even while she’s neck-deep in treatment, she speaks about her situation like she has already come out on the other side.

“In the big scheme of things,” she explains, “I’m not ‘sick,’ I’ve been ‘diagnosed’ with things. There’s a big difference. If you live in this world long enough, everyone’s going to be diagnosed with something.”

“Here’s the trick to life,” she continues. “You can get bogged down with what’s going on with you or you can go ahead and press through.”

Keeping the preschool promise

Chara Fisher Jackson is the executive director of Cincinnati Preschool Promise. She has worked with Malone-Crump for about two years. And she remembers the first time she met “Flo.”

“She was very welcoming and very direct,” she recalls. “She was serious about the mission and goal of the Promise. I was very appreciative of that.”

The mission of CPP is to prepare children for kindergarten by expanding local access to quality preschool programs. The organization is directly funded by a tax-levy with Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS). And, while CPS manages the funds distributed to their own institutional preschools, Cincinnati Preschool Promise works with community providers and their students’ families.
“Every day, I’m inspired by Flo’s dedication, and also the fact that she doesn’t think it’s extraordinary,” Jackson says.

She says that Malone-Crump has a unique ability to both connect with families and navigate the politics of a taxpayer-funded organization. She’s very professional, Jackson says, and knows what community organizing and outreach really look like. She can clearly articulate the mission of the Cincinnati Preschool Promise to any audience, in any room, anywhere in the city.

She recalls how, during the height of the pandemic, Malone-Crump stepped up in a really important way to support the community-based providers who continued to care for young children and families across the city when other schools and providers were forced to close their doors. She worked to connect parents to these centers and to make sure they had the resources and support they needed to remain an anchor in the community during a vulnerable time.

“Flo is the glue that helps keep us together,” she explains. Her organizational knowledge is unmatched, as is her commitment to ‘keeping the Promise.’”

Now, as Malone-Crump walks through another difficult season, Jackson offers her full support as her supervisor and friend. She wants their workplace to be a source of stability, accomplishment, and familiarity — not added stress.

“When I arrived,” she remembers, “Flo was on the back end of chemo … What I’ve seen in this new journey [with leukemia] is that she’s prepared for it this time around”

But she acknowledges that, for a high performer like Malone-Crump, it might be hard to slow down and take care of herself. Even so, Jackson says, this is her chance to focus on her own needs.

“I told Flo,” she recalls, “‘Maybe it’s not that you’re slowing down, you may just be going at the speed the rest of us are going.’”

Coping and surviving

Florence Malone-Crump isn’t just pressing through a difficult season; she continues giving along the way.

In addition to her valuable work with CPP, she is an advocate for women’s health, especially related to bone marrow transplant needs within the African American community. She is also an accomplished writer and poet, performing under the name Floetic Flo, and she is a devoted volunteer at a community garden in the West End.

Gardening, she says, gives her a sense of peace. She enjoys the fruitful labor of planting and reaping, which is a powerful illustration of grit and survival. And it was this love of gardening that birthed another of her passion projects ­— homemade jams and jellies.

After yielding abundant produce in her garden years ago, she taught herself to can. When she started making jams and jellies, she saw it as a way of creating special memories with her grandchildren. Something simple and unique like jam might not mean a lot to the rest of the world, she said, but it would mean something to her family. It was the kind of thing they would always remember her by. Over time, her interest in wholesome, healthy food developed in a cottage-industry jam and jelly business called Urban Flo’s Kitchen.

In all of life — and in jams and jellies — her husband, Michael Crump, is her partner and strongest supporter. They are married with a blended family of six grown children, with seven grandchildren. They now live on Cincinnati’s West Side.

“Everybody needs someone to help manage their visions. I couldn’t do all the stuff I do without him,” she says. “He supports me in everything and helps me plan to see if [something] is feasible and reasonable for me.”

Her husband supported her through her first cancer diagnosis. Then, in 2020, he fell ill with a serious case of COVID-19. He was a on a ventilator for 35 days, but he pulled through.

It wasn’t her work, the gardening, or writing poetry that helped Malone-Crump cope with her first cancer battle, or with a gravely ill husband. And she says those things aren’t helping them cope now, with her new diagnosis and treatment.

“We cope through our faith,” she says.

Over the past few years, even before her diagnoses, Malone-Crump says she has developed “a crazy faith” that alleviates the burden and gives her perspective. In response to that faith, she currently serves as a minister at The Shepherd’s Heart Christian Fellowship Ministry.

“God has done a good work in me,” she says. “I look forward to getting through all this to see what God has for us to do next.”

“That’s not a say I don’t ever have a [bad] day,’” she continues, “but there are so many worse things in this world than being sick. Every day you have is a day to change the world.”
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Liz McEwan is a proud wife, mama, urbanite, musician and blogger. Follow her at The Walking Green and on twitter at @thewalkinggreen.