As we draw close to the end of this year, we have an opportunity to reflect on how we’ve grown in our work toward racial equity and recommit to it in the year to come. I reflected on our racial equity journey quite a bit this fall, particularly at the Equity in the Center Summit, a gathering of nonprofit and philanthropic leaders exploring ways to advance racial equity inside organizations and across the social sector. I left the summit feeling humbled by how much more work I need to do and energized about what’s possible. I credit Kerrien Suarez, Monisha Kapila, and Andrew Plumley at ProInspire for designing powerful sessions at the summit where I gained insights and takeaways that will become part of our firm’s continuing racial equity learning journey and that may help you reflect on your own journey.
One of my most valuable takeaways from the summit was a reminder that working toward racial equity requires persistent commitment to systems change through educating myself and others, self-reflection, and a willingness to engage in conversations that are often difficult. As we continue our own learning, as individuals and as a team, here is some helpful advice I picked up from the summit.
- When talking about equity, it’s critical to acknowledge the systems and structures that have enabled racism and oppression in our country for generations. It helps to have the language to talk about racism and the history to understand it. One consultant, Heather Hackman, who works with white people on understanding whiteness, carries books with her to show her clients the laws, practices, language, and decisions that created the conditions that benefit a few and maintain systems of oppression.
- Liberalism should not be confused with racial justice. Cities that have progressive policies are not more equitable. Racism’s purpose is to deny, extract, and exploit resources from people of color for the benefit of white people and for this to seem normal. Racial justice requires intentional focus on realigning systems with our values and who we want to be as a society.
- Racial equity work must include an organization’s leaders, executives, and board. Having leaders fully committed to doing the work is critical to advancing racial equity. Also, it isn’t enough to have people of color on the board; the board must be willing to push for change.
A couple of questions were in the back of my mind throughout the conference as I thought about how I do my own work and play a role in leading our firm toward fully living our equity values: How do I continue to push myself? And where do I get the energy to do it? Racial equity work is personal and difficult. I was relieved to see that others were also asking these questions. Here are ways we can continue to push ourselves and our organizations in our racial equity journeys.
Recommendations for Individuals
- Take an unflinching look at yourself. Ask yourself, “How is colonization and white fragility showing up in how I engage?” (If you’re not sure, see the recommended resources below to spur deeper reflection)
- Continue to work on your own implicit biases and internalized oppression
- Hold yourself accountable to a specific community—this can be friends, mentors, colleagues, or the community you are trying to impact through your work
- Increase your awareness of your own privilege and how you are using it
- Get comfortable with being uncomfortable
- Take time to take care of yourself (i.e., practice silent Sundays, or don’t engage when you know you have reached your energy limit)
- Show compassion and grace to others when they are learning or processing something hard
Recommendations for Organizations
- Embed racial equity and inclusion in organizational policies and practices
- Create space for regular conversations and learning about racial equity
- Create spaces for people of color to make organizational change, and support their work
- Get staff buy-in on the organizational culture to which you aspire, and regularly check in on how you are doing in achieving that desired culture
- Don’t be afraid to fail. Talk about the “ouch” moments, lean in to curiosity, and avoid judgement and shame
- Recognize colleagues’ humanity (e.g., do head and heart check-ins during meetings; come together to process tragic events; prioritize colleagues’ ability to take care of themselves)
For more suggestions of steps you can take to advance racial equity in your relationships, organizations, and community, check out Equity in the Center’s Call to Action.
I would love to hear about your journey and learn about what’s working for you. What else are you doing to center equity in your work? What tools or resources have you found helpful? What successes and challenges have you experienced? Reply below or reach out to me.
Here are some additional resources that may help further your understanding of how to advance racial equity in the nonprofit sector.
- Money as Medicine by Edgar Villanueva (Stanford Social Innovation Review)
- The Path to Liberation- How to Walk the Talk of Equity Rather Than White Supremacy in Philanthropy by Jennifer Near (Medium.com)
- Philanthropy’s Ultimate Power-Sharing Opportunity: Governance by Jim Canales and Barbara Hostetter (Stanford Social Innovation Review)
- The Effect of Intersectionality in the Workplace by Alina Tugend (New York Times)
- Systems Change with an Equity Lens by Natalie Bamdad and Noelia Mann (Management Assistance Group & Building Movement Project)
- The Gentrification of Movements: Four Ways Funders Can Stop Putting Raisins in the Potato Salad by Vanessa Daniels (National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy)
- Awake to Woke to Work: Building a Race Equity Culture from Equity in the Center
- How to Lose/Retain Diverse Leaders in 365 Days from Equity in the Center
The visual map was created for Equity in the Center by Julie Stuart of Making Ideas Visible