Hey Mainstream Organizations, this post is for you — Do’s and Don’ts

I’ve been thinking about this post for most of the week, which is rare. I normally start to think about the blog on Tuesday in fleeting thoughts and panic sets in on Thursday night. This week I started thinking about it in earnest on Wednesday. This week’s blog post is for mainstream organizations that want to work with communities of color or other underserved communities.

As mainstream organizations, you have different responsibilities and burdens. Nonprofits are meant to serve. Some of you serve children, others save whales, or maybe you believe in preserving the arts. We don’t exist to make a buck and serve ourselves, we are here to provide a benefit to the community in some way.

I am defining mainstream as larger organizations, many of which are historically white led. Some ‘organizations’ may be departments of larger organizations such as universities or hospitals, or large nonprofits. There are many nonprofits that are poc led but still considered mainstream, just having a diverse staff and leadership doesn’t change the way the organization operates or culture and beliefs. All of this is nuanced and use your best judgment in figuring out where your own work and organizations fits.

Here is a list of things to do and not do when entering a community. It isn’t an exhaustive list, but some things to think about.

parachute panda

Do not Parachute in and Land on a Community. Occasionally, I’ll hear of the opening new program that intends to serve communities of color. The organization or program is well-intentioned and eager. Maybe they have a great track record elsewhere and want to expand so they look at where they think they can make a difference. In expanding they parachute in and proclaim, “We’re here to serve!” They bring in their program, their staff, and their ideas on how to solve a problem. They may have token listening sessions, meet with a few community leaders, make promises, but their program is already baked and the goals already outlined – essentially they could pick up their program and put it in any community and in theory it should work. No thanks to this approach, we believe in co-creating projects and programs and letting local communities have control.

You better stay for the long-haul, minimum 20 years. If you decide to open up a program in a community it should be for the long-haul. Mainstream orgs have an overall reputation for coming into communities and when budgets get tight or grant outcomes don’t meet the promises written by the mainstream org they make “a hard decision” to leave. Often the decisions are made in the isolation of an Executive Director’s office or a boardroom with little community input. The community is left burned and scrambling to figure out what to do next. If you are planning on entering a new community think long and hard about your sustainability plan and you better be willing to put a lot of staff time behind being willing fundraise to stay, there is no other option.

Invest in the local community by hiring local community members, including in leadership roles. If you do open, invest in the community by hiring from the community. Pay living wages and pathways for leadership growth. The hiring of local staff should be at all levels of the organization – including in leadership positions, not just the people at the bottom of the org-chart.

If the budget numbers become challenging, you better stay – see point number two. Set the expectation you’ll be there for at least 20-years or two generations. If you are entering a community of color your organization better put some serious staff time into fundraising and sustaining those fundraising dollars. When mainstream organizations enter communities and then decide to leave because they claim they are taking a financial loss I lose respect for them – especially if they aren’t from the community to begin with. I get it, money is never abundant, AND you better do everything it takes, put every card on the table, and knock on every door before leaving. Promises are too easily broken by mainstream organizations and there is little accountability to communities of color or recourse the community can take. Over time this is how communities are harmed. One organization closing isn’t a big deal but after a while, it becomes a pattern of mainstream organizations leaving is how systemic racism happens.

Partner first, no writing grants or asking for money without doing it with community backing. I get it, the funding-chicken-egg problem. Do you approach a community with no money but want to partner to get money, or do you get money then go partner? False choices. You build a relationship of mutual respect first then worry about the money. I’m betting you can find money in a budget for 20-cups of coffee and a few lunches. If you look at my work calendar it is filled with coffee and lunch meetings. I don’t even like coffee, but I hang out in a lot of coffee shops because the relationship building is so important, and honestly it is interesting. Get to know people, listen, and build a relationship of trust, not a relationship of transactions. The money will come when the time is right.

Be present, work to build trust and long-term relationships. Don’t expect the community to trust you, work to earn their trust. Many community members have experienced broken promises, unreliable services, extra burdens to participating, etc. We have no reason to believe your organization will be any different. Earning trust takes time, there are long histories and memories of systemic racism so you can spare a few months to build the relationship. It also means doing what you say you’re going to do and listening to the community, especially when they ask for something different. One of my favorite colleagues is a poc who runs a large multi-million-dollar mainstream nonprofit. Marko makes it a point to show up at many community events. Many of the participants know him and they tell him exactly what they like and don’t like about the programs. He takes it seriously and the organization makes course corrections to meet the client’s requests, and when they can’t he is honest about why. The clients don’t always like the answer, but they respect being told the truth. He also makes sure other leadership staff and board members are present and show-up. When I was on the board I attended a child care picnic, parent meetings, and it made me a better representative of the organization. Sadly, I think many mainstream board members have lost these personal connections and don’t always know who their organizations are serving

Be gracious, kind, and willing to adjust to meet community needs. As a mainstream organization, the burden is on you to be gracious and kind. Communities are under no obligation to welcome you. You may think you have something to offer, but if that offering comes with arrogance, a know it all attitude, or a desire to just come in and take – no thanks. Instead come in graciously and culturally appropriate and be willing to meet the community’s needs, not what you think they need.

By Erin Okuno

If you subscribe to the blog, thank you. Please check fakequity.com for the most up to date version of the post. We often make grammatical and stylistic corrections after the first publishing which shows up in your inbox. If you would like to subscribe there is a sign-up box on the right sidebar.

If I don’t reply to your email, I’m binge-watching TV

I’m going to admit something I’m neither proud of nor think it is worth hiding. I enjoy binge-watching TV shows, especially those with strong female leads. I didn’t realize this bias until Netflix labeled a suggestion list for me with this title – the creepiness of AI (artificial intelligence) in naming my unconscious biases. Here are some things I learned from binge-watching TV shows.

Law & Order SVU

svuThis was my main winter break binge-watching show. Netflix is slated to remove it in January 2018, so I had to cram in four seasons in two weeks. I did it! If I didn’t reply to an email during this time it was because I was too busy following the cases of Olivia Benson and crew. What I learned as it relates to race and equity: When people say they have gone through something hard we should show compassion towards them. I also enjoyed watching how the SVU team trusted each other and had to constantly rebuild and test their trust within each other. Some episodes deal explicitly with race, sexism, gender-identity, and police-power dynamics, sometimes they get it right sometimes they flub and go with stereotypes.


If you don’t like Greenleaf don’t say anything – don’t you dare ruin the show for me. My good friend Amy told me about the show, and once it hit Netflix and I watched it I was hooked. I downloaded four episodes for a coast to coast plane ride and when I finished those four I was so mad at myself for not downloading the full season. The show is about an African American family and their mega-church. From watching Greenleaf, I appreciated the storytelling and wrestling of family, trauma, and power. It is a great show for watching and thinking about how power is yielded, wielded, and what happens when different characters try to rebalance power. It is all, or nearly all, African American cast.

Queen Sugar

queen sugarThis is another great show recommended by Amy. The show follows African American siblings who inherit the family’s sugar plantation. Again, the show is majority African American actors and in watching the bonus features on DVD I learned the show was directed by women, many of them were women of color – hooray. From Queen Sugar we can think about how history and histories of racism shape where we are today, including the resiliency we have as communities and families of color.

West Wing

Watching the West Wing brings back memories of political days that inspired people to enter public service. It was originally on air before you could watch TV on-demand and flip-phones were cool. President Bartlett didn’t delve deeply into racialized politics; had the show been on today I wonder how they would have dealt with topics like police shootings, immigration, and would they maybe have recast some of the parts to have a more diverse cast. The show also gives us a window back before we had a real-life president who spews racist and sexist content.

Madam Secretary

This is my new version of the West Wing. A show about politics without the craziness of Trump-land politics. This show is very white, oh so white. They have a diverse cast but still white.

Homeland and Spy-Shows

I haven’t watched Homeland or House of Cards in a while. I also have a thing for spy shows, including past shows of Chuck and Covert Affairs, both very unlikely to be real life but that is what TV is for. These are shows deal with spy stuff and secrecy. What you should learn is spy stuff is fine for TV, but horrible to practice in real life racial equity work. That is obvious, but sometimes we should state the obvious. TV shows are entertainment, in real life race and racialized interactions are complex. TV shows can influence and shape our biases towards handling real-life situations, so remember real life isn’t scripted and TV is for entertainment – spying and political maneuvering for personal gain is bad, transparency and community interest is good.

Honorable Mentions of Bingy TV Shows

Heidi and I watched episodes of Dear White People while flying to a conference and while working out in the hotel gym. Dear White People (Netflix) is entertaining and worthy of a mention.

House of Cards binge-worthy but very little redeeming qualities for racial equity work. If I watch too many episodes in a row I begin to think everyone is evil. Same for Black Mirror, I’ve only watched two episodes and freaked out. After those shows, I feel like I need to go eat pho with friends and have them tell me stories about pandas, World Dance Party and other community events, and school board meetings to bring me back to happier times. Did I just say school boards and happier times?

Reality TV – the ultimate reality TV

If you want some good reality TV watch your local government channels. Turn on your school board meetings, city council, and state government channels. They are fascinating and worthy of your binge-watching time. You can watch for how race is talked about, how formal and informal power dynamics are displayed, how information and data is used/wielded/weaponized, who is believed and trusted as messengers, why is public testimony structured the way that it is – is this how we get to racial equity, and if you’re really lucky you may tune in when someone sings their public testimony (this happened at a city council meeting I attended). So much to unpack and realize how systemic racism plays out. Becoming and staying civically engaged is important in creating systems change. Ahh, now I want to go watch a school board meeting before bed.

What are you watching and how does it relate to race, diversity, and equity?

By Erin Okuno

If you subscribe to the blog, thank you. Please check fakequity.com for the most up to date version of the post. We often make grammatical and stylistic corrections after the first publishing which shows up in your inbox. If you would like to subscribe there is a sign-up box on the right sidebar.

Gentrification and Paralyzes of the Heart

“Imborghesimento del cuore ci paralizza.” The gentrification of the heart paralyzes us. Pope Francis


Artwork from Aplifier.org, artist Ashley Lukashevsky

Since I read this a few days ago the English translation has been rolling around in my brain. At random moments the thought of gentrification as a feeling and paralysis bounced through my thoughts and I paused to think about what it really means. I couldn’t pin it down until today. While sitting in a downtown law firm I saw several Black men wearing traditional Muslim taqiyahs. I wanted to give them a fist-bump for momentarily un-gentrifying the law firm. Their simple presence in a gentrified space was unexpected, yet so affirming. It was a feeling of belonging even though I had never met them before.

I haven’t read the full papal letter to understand the Pope’s words and intentions. After ten years of Catholic school, I can’t tell you the names of more than maybe two popes, three if you let me count Pope John Paul I and Pope John Paul II. All of this to say I’m not a Catholic or religious scholar. What I appreciate about the line from Pope Francis is he ties gentrification to a way of being and not just an act of moving into a neighborhood. I’m not going to delve into gentrification as it relates to urban planning or place because I’m a novice on the topic. What I do want to think about how gentrification is more than moving into a neighborhood, it is as Pope Francis says a consequence of comfortable living.

More Polite or Authentic

Gentrification at its most basic definition means “to make something or someone more polite and refined.” On most days because of the privileges I have, I am a gentrifier. I have professional access to meetings and in those meetings, I practice gentrification so I don’t get kicked out and lose my access and my livelihood (I like my job and the wages that come with it). In practicing gentrification, I temper my words, saying “we would appreciate if you can share the timeline for transparency,” versus the ungentrified line of “you need to share the timeline because we don’t trust you, we think you’re just going to blow us off.” Or as another friend said, “I’m going to get myself kicked out, I just said ‘this is bullshit!’ in the middle of the meeting.” I am professionally rewarded and live a comfortable life because I gentrify meetings and am able to act politely and refined – all of which Pope Francis warns against. Comfortable living for some is often at the sacrifice of others.

When we practice gentrification of the heart it comes from an inauthentic place. I’m giving you the sanitized version because that is safer. Sanitized and gentrified versions of ourselves allow us to keep our distance and to be polite. Do we want refined or do we want real? When I speak in coded language asking for things politely do I sellout and keep it safe for me, but sacrifice those I’m supposed to be advocating on behalf of? I can argue it both ways in my head — gentrify some and I can stay in it for the long game, un-gentrify maybe we get to a resolution faster — hard to know which is the more effective strategy.

Are you ready to un-gentrify?

For white people are you ready to give up some of your white comfort as your act of de-gentrification? Earlier this week I was in a meeting and a white colleague kept pivoting the conversation away from race. The combative nature and not-so-subtle signs of white fragility showed his paralysis and his fear. On an elevator ride down with another colleague we both looked at each other and asked, “what just happened?” I sighed and said “white fragility.” I explained the person has to do their own work on understanding race and as a result, their heart is paralyzed and in protectionist mode versus being willing to tear apart the manicured whiteness and privilege built up and receptive to new learning.

For pocs, our acts of de-gentrification should be looking at how we change who we are to be more polite or refined for the sake of systems, institutions, and power structures. When we show up and have to cater to whiteness we gentrify and paralyze part of ourselves. For our acts of de-gentrification we need to work to show up more authentically and true to ourselves. We also need to have each other’s backs when we do this. My speaking truthfully and openly means I’m placing trust in others around me to accept and suspend judgment about what I am sharing. We may not agree with each other in the moment but work to build a relationship of understanding and trust with each other. A friend who does research on trust and pocs shared her research which found trust is built over time and when we are willing to show up more authentically, including sharing what could be vulnerabilities.

If we want to work on de-gentrifying physical spaces we also have to work at un-gentrifying our hearts a well.

By Erin Okuno

If you subscribe to the blog, thank you. Please check fakequity.com for the most up to date version of the post. We often make grammatical and stylistic corrections after the first publishing which shows up in your inbox. If you would like to subscribe there is a sign-up box on the right sidebar.

30 Things to Do and Don’t do in 2018

panda raising hand.jpgWelcome to 2018! I hope the year is starting out great. This time of year is ripe for exploring new ways of thinking and pushing boundaries on our practices. Here is a list of thirty things we should commit to not doing and doing. Why thirty? I just received a survey asking me to rank and choose leadership attributes from a list of thirty suggestions – fakequity. The attributes listed were mostly color blind too, double fakequity, so this is a list partially in jest.

In 2018 We Will Stop:

  1. Sending meaningless surveys that are mostly used to say “I engaged the community,” but really the outcome is pre-determined or you already know what you want to do.
  2. Developing survey questions without community input.
  3. Saying “But I translated it…” and believe translation is racial equity. Short answer translation and interpretation provides access to an already established process. Equity is deeper and harder and involves sharing power.
  4. Having book groups, staff meetings, community gatherings talking about equity with only people who look and sound like us. This includes poc groups who aren’t diverse in class status, perspectives/thought, etc.
  5. Believing diversity is racial equity, it isn’t. Diversity helps us reach racial equity, but having a diverse group isn’t synonymous with equity.
  6. Fighting petty fights that lead us no-where, including on social media. Dear trolls, Please leave the comforts of hiding behind the internet and go meet some real people. It is much harder to say mean things to someone who could (in theory and practice) punch you.
  7. Weaponizing data.
  8. We will stop believing solutions have to be an either/or, zero-sum, or mutually exclusive. Community-driven solutions are often more complex, rich, and will last longer than believing there is only one way of solving a problem.
  9. Stop believing Asians are Whites and have the same privileges as white people. Also, stop grouping and treating Asian data the same as Whites, while many Asians are performing well they haven’t transcendent racism to achieve those results.
  10. Stop ‘Gotcha’ politics. Playing ‘gotcha’ or tearing apart people isn’t nice. Instead, work to build relationships and use those relationships to push boundaries and thinking.
  11. Stop centering whiteness.
  12. Don’t ask a poc ‘to pick your brain.’
  13. Stop having woke-offs. No need to prove how woke or social justicey you are. We’re all smart on some things and idiots at other things. Let’s practice humility and be cool with learning from each others. While we’re at this, no need to play oppression wars. We’re all oppressed in some way. I really don’t need to hear how you felt you were denied something, you weren’t entitled to it, you’ll survive the disappointment and aggrievement.

In 2018 We Will:

  1. Focus on racial equity and racial justice. Focusing on the future and what it takes to get there requires a harder push than just focusing on petty fights. We need to shift narratives to what is working.
  2. Prioritize data, stories, and voices from marginalized communities of color.
  3. Disaggregate data and shift practices to acknowledge race groups are not monolithic (the same) in experiences. Within race groups migration stories, languages, and cultures are very different.
  4. Seek diversity of all sorts within communities of color: LGQBTIA, disabled, immigrants/refugee, non-English speakers, seniors and youth, poor, unhoused, etc. Practice intersectionality, focusing on those farthest from justice.
  5. Acknowledge the histories and the harm of colonialism and work to undo colonist tendencies. We will acknowledge we are on Native American land and listen to our Native American/Indigenous partners on what they need to achieve justice.
  6. We will acknowledge our individual privileges, and work to use our privileges to undo racism. If you are thinking, “Yo, I’m not rich I’m not privileged,” check-yo-self, you are reading a blog post in English. The privilege of literacy and access to the internet are two of many privileges you have.
  7. Focus on balancing power and actively working to redistribute power from those who have it to those who deserve more. If you need a crash course on power, start by just watching who is speaking and who makes decisions – probably not those most impacted by the decision.
  8. Build relationships with people who are different than us and invest in these relationships. But don’t get creepy with it, not every poc wants to be your friend.
  9. Invest in the relationships that bring us joy, different perspectives, and allow us to be our authentic selves.
  10. Build movements versus isolated actions. Individual actions are important, but remember the larger context and long-game of undoing racism.
  11. Be an ally and accomplice. Be willing to call bullshit and stand behind what you say. Don’t wait for others to do what you know needs to be done.
  12. Vote, and work to bring voting to pocs. Stop voter suppression and push for non-citizen voting.
  13. Focus on systemic change. Systems dictate results, decisions made by people that impact others is how a system functions – focusing here has the potential to impact many people.
  14. Use your spheres of influence. Start a conversation with someone who needs to be pushed to think about race and justice. Need some ideas start with the Fakequity chart. or play Fakequity BINGO.
  15. Read books that make you think differently about race. News articles have their place, but deeper longer forms of reading take us to different places. If you are like me and haven’t read an adult book in six months, children’s books are a great way to open up to something new. Go to your public library and browse the shelves to find a new book by a poc author. Need some suggestions go here.
  16. Be engaged and examine without defense.

By the way, if you screw up in the next few days, don’t worry Lunar New Year’s is around the corner and you can start fresh, but only after you go to the temple to ask for a blessing and forgiveness, humility a value to practice in 2018.

By Erin Okuno

Fakequity Fridays: If you subscribe to the blog, thank you. Please check fakequity.com for the most up to date version of the post. We often make grammatical and stylistic corrections after the first publishing which shows up in your inbox. If you would like to subscribe there is a sign-up box on the right sidebar – start your Friday with a little fakequity.