Poverty & Safety Net
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Race, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Work: Is it still worth it?

Zulma Zabala
Senior Fellow, Community and Racial Equity
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January 22, 2024
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Three years ago, many nonprofits declared they would actively address racial equity and diversity matters for their employees and communities served. Even some major for-profit corporations promised to do better and join the sea of declarations. The Center for Community Solutions shared its commitment to embark on our own Racial Equity Journey. Deep diving from culture, policies, to collective and individual behaviors, all became fair game to explore.We learned in a safe space—with caring facilitators—that we were far from perfect. Through the work we do for the community, we demonstrate an intent to apply an equity lens within the organization. Internally, like many other organizations courageous enough to examine culture, policies, and practices we needed to enhance and nurture the lens.Our mission, our regard for one another and the communities we serve, drive our commitment to do the work. It’s not easy work…and as we look back at 2023, it is fitting to explore how, despite recent Supreme Court decisions and the elimination of Race, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion (RDEI) work across the country, we have not been swayed! While others are slowly stepping away, we keep choosing to say yes. The Center for Community Solutions will remain on the course to equity.

Our 2023 journey produced at least six notable outcomes

First, our team courageously worked alongside an RDEI Consultant, and each of our team members took part in an Intercultural Development Inventory to assess their understanding of RDEI. Each staff member is responsible for addressing personal growth needs and is provided with individual coaching to help them meet personal goals. Our internal Racial Equity Media Club supports this process by convening dialogues about books, documentaries, and other media we collectively review.Second, our team created and adopted a North Star Statement to drive our commitment. To support this statement, we have also named and defined five values that shall drive our actions toward each other and the communities we serve.

Our North Star Statement:

“We strive for collective uplift. Empathy anchors us in our pursuit of equity, anti-racism, belonging, and justice for our colleagues and for the people impacted by our work. This journey requires us to learn, act with compassion, and evaluate our actions, our relationships, and our continuous commitment to the work. The Values we uphold include Integrity, Accountability, Belonging, Collaboration, and Diversity.”

  1. Integrity
  2. Accountability
  3. Belonging
  4. Collaboration
  5. Diversity

Moving forward, we will be taking steps to implement and practice our North Star and values in all that we do. We are also discovering ways that we can assess our growth and ways to hold each other accountable in our commitment to equity.Third, our Board’s DEI Ad Hoc Committee was unanimously adopted by the Community Solutions Board as a permanent committee. This team is composed of both staff and board members that led the creation of the North Star and values, by engaging the staff in surveys and several dialogues. Community Solutions has a diverse Board of Directors, thus far showing immense commitment to working on racial equity matters. Kyle Miller, Chair of the Board, led an amazing first board meeting this past December welcoming our new CEO and the charge to remain committed to equity work. The DEI Committee, chaired by Jenice Contreras, is already busy drafting next steps for the board to focus on DEI matters directly affecting its role.

We are also welcoming a new era with our President and CEO, Emily Campbell.

Fourth, in the history of Community Solutions, we are much more diverse today, with 40% of the team representing BIPOC communities. Community Solutions is committed to ensuring that BIPOC staff are recognized for their leadership; two women of color are part of Community Solutions leadership team. We are also welcoming a new era with our President and CEO, Emily Campbell. She breaks the gendered history of primarily male dominated CEO leadership at Community Solutions, just the third woman leader in our history. Emily is committed to continue the work begun by her predecessors and continues to directly work with me, as Senior Fellow of Racial Equity for the team. Important to note since some corporations often leave RDEI employees alone in the work, without authentic engagement for change. Emily shares that she wants to ensure that the journey continues and that we lead the work for tangible impact!Fifth, a group of Community Solutions team members were selected by the national organization Equity in the Center/EIC. The six members involved with this cohort include our Racial Equity staff, HR Director and three other staff members representing other departments. They are charged with sharing lessons learned with the rest of our team. The team is parts of Equity in the Centers’ inaugural cohort, receiving training and guidance on how to establish best practices to lead RDEI. We additionally completed EIC’s Racial Pulse assessment, which evaluates various organizational components—organizational culture, leadership, board, data. Our current score demonstrates that while we can use some growth, we are showing intentionality and significant promise in our commitment to Racial Equity work.Sixth, we have been focusing on building stronger and more active relationships with local community organizations, with authentic interaction with Black and Brown led neighborhood organizations. Several of our well-known forums and webinars in 2023 elevated matters of race, diversity, equity and inclusion, laying the foundation for our newest initiative.

Our Policy Ambassador Initiative will translate and deliver policy information directly to community residents and grassroot leaders.

Our Policy Ambassador Initiative will translate and deliver policy information directly to community residents and grassroot leaders. This initiative, we believe, will address a significant gap in how policy organizations inform and engage communities. We will pilot the initiative with a small number of participants. Participants will be an intergenerational collective: Young adults embedded in community leadership and Seniors, recruited from two local senior centers known for their organic engagement with civic matters.

Why abandon good outcomes from our RDEI commitment?

Serving as the Senior Fellow for Racial Equity, this work for me is both personal and professional. I get the opportunity to lead this work not only at Community Solutions, but additionally in various roles I hold in the community. In these diverse spaces, I’ve observed the vulnerabilities DEI work causes to emerge. For instance, when I speak about the power of authenticity to building relationships, push back from most participants is common. However, in a recent experience where the audience did not push back, there was authentic sharing of fears. This group wanted to speak beyond the value of RDEI and instead speak to the challenge of doing the work under current negative focus on corporations that are aiming to uphold RDEI matters.How could RDEI work continue in the face of the recent decisions by the United States Supreme Court? Several cases and decisions around Cuyahoga County cause concerns. First the focus on RDEI was placed on higher education institutions and then schools. DEI initiatives have been defunded at colleges and universities in Florida, Texas, Tennessee, and other states. According to a recent article in Forbes by Shaun Harper, 44 States have introduced legislative bans on teaching topics related to RDEI in K-12 schools. Next under scrutiny are corporations! Fearless Fund, for instance a small player in the approximately $200 billion global venture capital market, has “become symbolic of the fight over corporate diversity policies” since becoming the target of a lawsuit. What is the charge? They are allegedly guilty of offering business grants to Black women so that they can become part of our corporate industry. The corporation is aiming to double the percentage of capital funding that goes to businesses owned by Black and Latina women from 1% to 2%!!

Be courageous and dare to exercise caring leadership

Anti-RDEI legal developments are a cause for apprehension. But sharing positive outcomes Community Solutions has produced in its own journey may serve as a hopeful model. It takes courage, commitment and a firm stand for equity despite challenges. Working on RDEI matters is working on behalf of humanity. If we sustain the rights of every human being, especially the historically marginalized, then we protect everyone’s rights!Also, let’s approach the journey by not dropping the “R” for race in the RDEI work. Let’s recognize that if not for the accomplishments of the Civil Rights Movement the rights of many others would not exist today! Right now, these decisions by the Supreme Court, as expected, may directly affect Black, Indigenous, People of Color. However, as history demonstrates, others will eventually be affected.

Our service for the good of communities cannot authentically service anyone if we do not correct our own shortcomings.

Some of the lessons we have learned may apply to our nonprofit partners. Our service for the good of communities cannot authentically service anyone if we do not correct our own shortcomings in the true inclusion of RDEI in our structures, policies, practice, and organizational cultures. In her book, The Power of Privilege, June Sarpong reminds us to “achieve awareness, and don’t be afraid to learn about the past,” for that is how we avoid repeating the mistakes of our past. Build authentic relationships with people that don’t look like you and who have different experiences. Challenge what you think you know and know that you don’t know. Do not operate from guilt and instead adopt a sense of responsibility to do better. Be courageous and dare to exercise caring leadership.I love this quote by Ibram X, in How to Be And Antiracist. Kendi as he admits that in present time and based on history, “there’s nothing I see in our world today giving me hope that one day antiracists will win the fight, that one day the flag of antiracism will fly over a world of equity. What gives me hope is a simple truism. Once we lose hope, we are guaranteed to lose. But if we ignore the odds and fight to create an antiracist world, then we give humanity a chance to one day survive, a chance to live in communion, a chance to be forever free.”So, let’s say YES to RDEI work. Let our work at The Center for Community Solutions inspire you to stay the course. Ubuntu!Dem AGs warn corporations not to bow to GOP’s anti-DEI push (msnbc.com)Why A ‘Lay Low’ DEI Strategy Is Especially Bad Right Now (forbes.com)A small venture capital player becomes a symbol in the fight over corporate diversity policies | AP NewsA Journey for Racial Equity to reach OUR North Star! - The Center for Community SolutionsThe Power of Privilege: How White People Can Challenge Racism by June SarpongHow To Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

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