For over a quarter-century, Phyllis Brunson elevated the voices of marginalized young people and their families as they sought to reshape the course of their lives.
Now, former colleagues at the influential Washington, D.C-based Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP) and her wide network of friends and those whole lives she touched are mourning her passing. Bronson died on March 26.
In memorial tributes, she is celebrated as an innovator for her work empowering youth and parents in child welfare systems and for elevating community voices.
Brunson served as the policy and advocacy shop’s director of community capacity, advocacy and voice from 1994 until the end of 2019. She helped create a network of states interested in putting citizens, rather than politicians, bureaucrats and special interests, at the center of government decision-making, according to a statement by her longtime employer. Working with Consumer Reports, she built a body of work that championed the idea that government programs should be expected to uphold the principles of “customer satisfaction.”
Within the center, she was at the heart of the organization’s efforts to put racial equity at the center of all its work.
“I worked with Phyllis most closely with the Casey Alliance on Racial Equity during the years they made a big investment in addressing this issue,” said Bill Bettencourt, a senior fellow at CSSP. “She led the work to bring the voice of the people with lived experience, the tribal people, the young people, the parents and community advocates. This was her strength and we all learned so much from her passion for ensuring their voices were heard and they were seen not viewed as other.”
Brunson’s work on community-based decision-making spread across the globe through the International Initiative for Children, Youth, and Families, a network of policymakers, managers, practitioners and researchers that pushes for the delivery of effective services. She also worked with the Council of Europe’s Intercultural Cities Program, which helps cities manage diversity and recognize its advantages.
The Center for the Study of Social Policy said Brunson’s death left the world “a less bright place.”
“Phyllis’s life blazed with color, flair, and, occasionally, drama,” it wrote in its tribute to her legacy. “It was not accidental that a sign saying ‘DIVA!’ hung permanently on her office wall. Yet her office and home were places for thoughtful, consoling, and inspiring conversations with friends and colleagues. Phyllis knew the pain of life as well as its joys and could help her friends deal with both.
“Phyllis will be missed.”