My mother would say, “I’m always in the school of learning” until she passed at the age of 84, and I’ve followed her lead in that mindset. We never stop learning. And the more we learn and grow in our understanding of social injustice in all of its forms, the more we realize this is a life journey that takes intentionality and commitment.
At the League, our racial equity journey began over a decade ago with the understanding that we can’t do the external work if we aren’t internally, as a staff, becoming culturally competent. We began with outside facilitators helping us assess where we were on the cultural competency continuum.
The experience was eye-opening and heart wrenching, bringing feelings of guilt and empathy to the surface for many of us. It was so intense that we had to postpone the second session, but we dug in and continued, and because of that we are a stronger organization, committed to ensuring our products and posture reflect ethnic diversity and inclusion.
This is hard work, but it’s the work that needs to happen.
We intentionally developed a workgroup to continue our internal work to operationalize equity and inclusion. This group, the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Team (EDIT), designs opportunities for staff to share individual growth and trainings to help us progress down the path of cultural competency. We hold “lunch and learn” sessions on equity, create tools to hold ourselves accountable for our work and—most recently—launched a 21-Day Racial Equity Challenge to help guide ourselves and others through the difficult work of dismantling white supremacy.
Over the last several years, the League has also made racial equity the central focus of our annual policy forums. Keynote speaker Rinku Sen, a national advocate for racial justice, challenged us to creating a more equitable Michigan and last year’s speaker Dr. Joy DeGruy opened a dialogue on the effects of trauma based on her book, Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome. This year Trabian Shorters, a leading authority on an approach to diversity, equity and inclusion, will address racial equity through asset framing. There’s still time to register for this year’s forum…and admission is free!
Because of this journey, we also developed a process in 2018 to hear directly from communities across Michigan about how they are experiencing policies, the barriers holding them back and what policies would improve opportunities. Combined with their responses and data, we produced the Owner’s Manual to make a better Michigan for and by the people of our state. This year we went back to those same communities to have them evaluate our work. Getting feedback is an important component in valuing the diversity in community voice. There is no panacea that solves all the challenges people face in our state, but we must begin with including the voices of all people.
I sometimes use a tool, the Accountability Pathway, to gauge our commitment to the work. The continuum begins with “unaccountable”: unaware and blaming others—and ends with “accountable”: finding solutions and making it happen. We are determined to reach “making it happen” by fighting for equitable and inclusive policies for the children and families in Michigan. I thank all of you who have been part of our journey so far, and I look forward to more of you joining us in the future.