Written by Ally Margolis, Policy and Communications Manager,
Every Hour Counts
Honestly, I have attended many racial equity trainings and workshops, and was wondering, ‘What am I going to learn over the next couple of days that will deepen my understanding of my lived experiences having to navigate being black and a woman in this society and in my everyday world?’
Why I do the work I do is a direct reflection of how I was raised and the importance of the expanded learning opportunities I plugged into. The Every Hour Counts racial equity training filled a gap of unknowns that was only a feeling until they gave language and history to ‘why’ I stay the course.
–Fahren Johnson, Senior Program Officer, Greater Tacoma Community Foundation, Tacoma, WA
Understanding Our History to Better Inform Our Present & Future
Fahren Johnson was one of forty participants, from thirteen communities across the country, who traveled to the Minneapolis YMCA Equity Innovation Center of Excellence in June to take part in our racial equity workshop, facilitated by the Racial Equity Institute (REI) and hosted in partnership with Youthprise. Our group was comprised of Every Hour Counts leaders who are essential stakeholders in their communities’ expanded learning systems, and included intermediary leaders, funders, youth fellows, board members, city and school district partners, and program directors.
Together we delved into the history of race and racism in America – not just of the last fifty years, nor even of the last one hundred. We began in the mid-1400s with the colonization of Native Americans; we dove into the colonists’ first construction of a white race in 1680; and continued throughout this journey to present day.
Why start as early as the 15th century? How do these origin points ground us in the current work of building equitable systems and institutions today? Well, there are many reasons, but Fahren gets at the heart of it, explaining, “the importance of knowing that if you don’t understand how a system was built, you will never understand how to build something that counters a systemic way of being. This context filled a gap of unknowns that was only a feeling until REI gave language and history to the ‘why,’ I stay the course and push up against systems that say they build equity, but were intentionally built to keep people of color from having access to quality and equity in every sector.”
Are our Systems Digging Deep Enough?
When we look at our expanded learning systems now, and other systems that were designed to rectify inequities and injustices, or to create solutions to problems that disproportionately affect communities of color, it’s important to ask ourselves whether they are really working to these ends.
REI facilitated our discussions around this question using their Groundwater Approach, highlighting the ways racial inequities are seeped into our society’s many systems and structures. For the builders and contributors of systems, this means that it is not enough to address societal challenges solely by providing programs and services designed to meet specific individual and community needs. We must also dig deeper to confront the interconnected historical, political, cultural, institutional, and other contexts that have created these challenges in the first place. As Tess Larson of The Sherwood Foundation put it, “we were able to look critically and intentionally at the programs we provide and how they are directly related to combating racist structures. If we are working to empower youth but ignoring some of the main challenges that their families face — how history and racism have played a critical role — then we are doing a disservice to the youth and to our work.”
So What Now?
We did not leave Minneapolis with a set of ready-to-implement steps or promising practices. In fact, we would argue that if we did, this would signify a lack of understanding for the gravity of our work ahead. However, many of us did walk away with a greater capacity for thinking through our own systems — their histories, their implications, their structures, and the policies that surround them. Some of these insights are captured below to help propel the deeper work of advancing racial equity in and beyond the expanded learning field:
The training has moved my board member so much that she is advocating for a youth training, our partners being trained, and a training open for the community of Omaha. Also, we have never looked at our data based on race, so we are looking at our youth outcomes based on race and our staff survey that way we can see the disparities in our own system.
— Megan Addison, Executive Director, Collective for Youth, Omaha, NE
This experience deepened my thinking about how expanded-learning organizations can affect positive change. We all work tirelessly to change systems so that young people have opportunities to thrive in life, and we have the best intentions. But now I am asking: what more can we do to address root and systemic causes of racial inequity? And how can we better partner with communities, families, and young people to lead the design of systems that can dismantle racial inequities in our society?
— Jessica Donner, Executive Director, Every Hour Counts
I left the training with even more resolve to continue to have racial equity at the forefront of any decisions we make here at Prime Time Palm Beach County. Our calling is to explore our services and supports, as well as to look at internal structures and see where bias and inequity might exist. This work is not easy nor is there any quick fix to address centuries of institutional racism that have set the foundation for much of the work in the nonprofit sector, however, REI does provide guideposts for us to make important changes within our spheres of influence.
–Suzette Harvey, President & CEO, Prime Time Palm Beach County, FL
For years my work was solely focused on direct service, treating fish issues, and my new journey allows me the opportunity to work in systems that address why we have to go deeper than just trying to treat fish, but the lake they live in, and the groundwater that feeds into the lake.
–Fahren Johnson, Senior Program Officer, Greater Tacoma Community Foundation, WA
I’m feeling less willing to participate in or make small changes in a system that was built to perpetuate racism, exclusion, and oppression. I am asking myself questions like, ‘What would change the system? How do we help people create their own systems?’ I don’t have magical answers but I know that this thinking will lead to stronger outcomes and more thoughtful programs.
–Tess Larson, Program Associate, Sherwood Foundation, Omaha, NE
What was powerful about that experience was the willingness to commit to doing the work. I was struck that people from different parts of the country felt there was still urgent work to be done to get to changing the lake and the groundwater.
–Wokie Weah, President, Youthprise, Minneapolis, MN