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Hillary Clinton begins partnership with Univision to reach Hispanic parents

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attends a roundtable discussion in New York City held by Univision between parents of elementary-school children and politicians regarding language learning and preschool. (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

For a stateswoman-celebrity whose public life has been a whirl of black-tie galas and glitzy awards ceremonies, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s event here Tuesday morning was a stark departure.

The prospective 2016 presidential candidate came to an East Harlem classroom, sat beneath crayon posters and alphabet letters, and urged Hispanic parents to read and sing to their children to help develop their language skills.

“Every child — every single child — in our country deserves to have a fair chance to live up to his or her God-given potential,” Clinton said.

The appearance was tied to the beginning of a multi-year partnership between Too Small to Fail, a charitable initiative that Clinton started last year, and Univision, an influential Spanish-language media company.

Branded in Spanish as “Pequeños y Valiosos” (Young and Valuable), the campaign will include public-service announcements on Univision encouraging Hispanic parents to help their preschool children better develop their language skills.

Tuesday’s event was Clinton’s first significant appearance outside the paid-speaking circuit and into a more campaign-like environment. The agreement with Univision provides her with a bridge to the nation’s fast-growing and politically influential Hispanic community.

Early childhood development has been a passion of Clinton’s throughout her adult life. Since stepping down as secretary of state a year ago, she has leveraged her star power to promote her Too Small to Fail initiative and attract corporate and nonprofit partners.

“Bill and I probably took it to an extreme reading to our poor little baby girl,” Clinton said. “I even sang to her until she developed an ear. We had a little house in Little Rock, and before I’d put her to bed, I’d put her in a rocking chair and read to her. And then I’d sing to her. I’d sing, ‘Moon River.’

“And then,” Clinton continued, “literally when she was about 16 months, she took her little finger, she put it on her lip and she said, ‘No sing, Mommy, no sing.’ ”

Clinton’s appearance here was carefully choreographed. She spoke for about five minutes, and aides said she would take no questions from reporters. Journalists were escorted out of the room after the opening remarks so that Clinton’s conversations with parents and nonprofit advocates could take place in private.

In her remarks, Clinton took credit for being a driving force behind the nation’s focus on early childhood education and the national push for universal pre-kindergarten education — a proposal that President Obama championed in his State of the Union address last week.

Clinton praised New York Mayor Bill De Blasio (D) and his wife, Chirlane McCray, who appeared at Tuesday’s event, for putting early childhood education “at the top of the city’s agenda.”

She added, “As somebody who has worked on this for a very long time — I hate to think how long — it is exciting to see everybody from the mayor to Governor [Andrew M.] Cuomo to President Obama and literally people across the country taking on this important issue.”

Upon graduation from Yale Law School, Clinton worked for the Children’s Defense Fund. As first lady, she published a book on the subject, “It Takes a Village: And Other Lessons Children Teach Us.”

De Blasio, who served as Clinton’s Senate campaign manager, praised Clinton for her work on child-development issues and as a public figure.

“She’s been an inspiration,” he said. “She’s been a guide. She has been giving Chirlane free lessons in how to be a first lady.”

Univision anchor Barbara Bermudo, who is serving as the on-camera spokeswoman for the Too Small to Fail initiative, unveiled two public service announcements that will begin airing on the network. In the videos, Bermudo is shown around the house reading, talking and singing to two young girls.

Univision reaches nearly all of the Hispanic television households in the United States, and its audience is on a par with the country’s three major television networks: ABC, CBS and NBC.

Clinton started Too Small to Fail in the summer of 2013 through her family’s charitable foundation. The Univision initiative — which is being done in partnership with a nonprofit group called Next Generation — focuses on closing what researchers call a “word gap,” because many children from lower-income families begin school with smaller vocabularies than their classmates.

Philip Rucker is a national political correspondent for The Washington Post, where he has reported since 2005.

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