The other day, my kid found $20 on the ground, we used that to buy pho for lunch– we got lucky. I can’t count on him finding money every day; that doesn’t sound like a sustainable system for eating. Same goes for children. I’ve heard stories of the really lucky children of color who grew up in poverty, found a great mentor, and graduated from an Ivy League university, goes on to a really great life. Guess what, that isn’t an equitable system, that is luck.
Luck doesn’t help all children, luck doesn’t ensure children or color have a fair chance at life, luck isn’t a system, luck isn’t sustainable, luck is just that luck. Relying on luck is synonymous with fakequity. The principles of racial equity ensure children farthest behind have the same chance as other ‘lucky’ or privileged children.
Luck Isn’t a System
Heidi, of Equity Matters and part of the fakequity team, said her goal for the lunar Year of the Ram is to think about how work is designed. How we design projects, physically arrange rooms or items, or how we design our lives says a lot about what we value. Designs also predict outcomes and solutions and serves as an anchor point for future work. This is why it is so important to embed the principles of racial equity into everything we do, the more anchor points in place the more equitable the long term results. Anchor points are components of a program, they can be anything from the leadership team to customer interaction, recruitment, to forms and data collected, location, etc. The fewer equitable anchor points, the more entrenched inequity becomes in the system and the harder it is to create positive change. Systems are there to preserve the status quo, which is why it is important to create policies that embed equity.
As an example of this, I facilitate a monthly coalition meeting around education. I love our coalition work together. At the meetings we have a wide mix of people; the attendees in the room are reflective of the community we aim to serve. We also have a wide variety of disciplines involved—government, educators, community and human service organizations, law enforcement, etc. It makes for a dynamic meeting. This diversity didn’t happen by luck or accident, it took cultivation and work to bring people together and to keep them coming back. Diversity isn’t equity, it is a component, like the shoe laces to the shoe it helps to tie the shoe to the foot (bad analogy, but it is what you get at 12.15 a.m.).
We design our meetings to capture the essence of our community, we can’t count on lucky charms to get us through. Everything from location, time, outreach efforts, agenda items, meeting format, etc.—in other words, we do our best to embed racial equity anchor points into our meetings. We don’t get everything right, but we try and we tinker with our format to get more and better anchor points in there. Our successes didn’t happen by luck, it happened by being intentional and creating systems that hold us accountable to our community.
Designing Better Systems
- Be clear about what you are designing and the outcomes—What is the ultimate outcome of your project/program? Are you clear about the goals as they relates to race? Aristotle said “A good style must, first of all, be clear.” Be clear in your racial equity goals, let that drive your system design.
- Think about your design as it relates to anchor points— Anchor points can be anything from where an engagement takes place such as recruitment to infrastructure such as are HR policies and recruitment. The more of these that are aligned the better the racial equity results.
- Design your systems to allow unheard voices to rise up—Are you intentionally allowing unheard voices time to share. How are you designing your meetings—are people sitting in a circle, small groups, or are they sitting by themselves isolated? Do you break people into small teams to work? Small group work allows for people to interact more. Are you breaking up cliques? When people walk into my meeting I strongly encourage (some would say I’m bossy about it) people who know each other to sit at different tables this forces new relationships to be built.
- Force accountability—Build in accountability both formal and informal. I am accountable to our coalition members and I remind them of this. At our meetings I force people to turn in exit cards, answering three questions: 1) what did they learn or like, 2) what didn’t work or they want changed, and 3) anything else they want me to know. I stand at the door and make people turn in exit cards before they leave. This builds in accountability for me, but it also builds accountability for coalition members to think about why they came and participated. Trust me when I say they didn’t come for the free food, our snacks are mediocre. In the future I may tweak the questions to be more explicit about equity.
- Fix your design as you go along—Some anchor points will be right, others will need to be tweaked. Is your design getting you the racial equity goals? If not make adjustments. Communities change and we have to adapt and change with them too.
Good design will bring, good results and after a while luck will be on your side. Just the other day, I got really lucky and a coalition member offered to bring a really great speaker to a future meeting. To some it may look like we got lucky, but it took a lot of hard work into designing and carrying out strong meetings that focus on equity. I’ll take the luck and keep working on equity.
Posted by Erin