Calling Out and Calling In, we need to practice both

pandaHi, I’m going to ask for a little forgiveness with this week’s post. I need to get to bed at a reasonable hour, midnight, I had a migraine today and sleep is what is needed to recover. I didn’t proofread the post very well. So if you are an early reader try to ignore the odd sentences.

I’m listening to First Lady Michelle Obama’s campaign speech at Southern New Hampshire University. In many ways her speech broke out of the usual campaign stump speech and instead she called out bad behavior, and called in the audience to use their voice to say what they stand for. I’m not going to get into politics or breakdown this election. I will instead write about how we need to be bold and call out when things aren’t racially equitable or even equal.

Oh those Meetings
A good majority of meetings I go to a list of group norms, agreements, values, or practices will be generated. They often have words like “We agree to: Confidentiality, stepping back and leaning in, practice best intention, silence cell phones, etc.” Even within the meetings I run we put out table tents with the Color Brave Space meeting format Heidi created and we borrow and model our meeting on. The intention of these values is good – to create a standard and accountability practice for us to use.

However, I don’t think we’re particularly good about living these values in ways that create and promote racial equity. Too often we continue to default to the same practices and power dynamics we always do. The same people speak or speak first, set the agenda, control the clock, and we don’t stop to call it out. We all need to get better about slowing down meetings and recognizing when we fall into these familiar patterns.

Recently at a meeting I hosted we opened up the meeting inviting people to abide by the Color Brave Space principles. One of the points says: “Notice Power Dynamics in the Room.” Power shows up in who speaks, who disengages, who gets emotional, and in our word choices. At the meeting our presenter, an African American/Black, asked the group a question. An African American well-respected woman, answered and gave feedback. After she spoke, a white man followed up to add to her statement. The presenter stopped and asked the first person to answer how she felt about having her comment followed up on. She said “I felt like he was using his power to change what I said.” The interaction made many uncomfortable, but it was in the uncomfortable moment that learning happened. The presenter was bold to follow up and hold everyone accountable to the Color Brave Space principles and creating space in his presentation to dive headfirst into looking at how power dynamics play out. This is something we need to do more – slow down and check in with people.

Calling In
The term ‘calling in’ means we can’t always be mean and call out people – the scorched earth method of racial equity work leaves a lot of victims in its wake.

In the video clip of First Lady Michelle Obama she called in people to stand with her and to take a stand against bigotry and women-hating. She asked people to use their power as voters to women and girls need to be seen and valued. We all need to do this, to call in and invite allies to share and stand with us.

I need to get better about calling in people to support racial equity work. The more I do racial justice and community building work, I find myself getting more bitter, tired, stressed, and jaded. This isn’t a great formula for wanting to partner and build relationships with people who don’t have the same world views or are starting their journey on racial equity. Calling in and asking people to learn alongside me is a better long term strategy and it takes intentional slowing down and patience. I also recognize as people of color the burden often falls to us to be in the role of  educator which is taxing and tiring, but maybe if we invest time on the front end in the long term we will see better results.

I also need to call in partners to share the burden. It is easy to want to be seen as the champion for racial equity, we get invited to sit on too many task forces, to share our opinions, sometimes we get invited to cool events and we get to meet amazing people. All of this is fun but we need to share and invite people along otherwise we’ll burn out. We need to build a movement which means sharing. We need to share access to information and meetings, we need to be patient and kind in explaining why things need to change, and we need to be generous with forgiveness.  This doesn’t mean we stop calling out bad behavior, but it means once we call out, we also call in people to change and join in the movement to create more inclusive and welcoming communities for people of color.

Invest in Coalitions, They Work

Before we start I want to honor the passing of Bob Santos. Uncle Bob was one of the Four Amigos or Gang of Four (Asian, Native American, African American, and Hispanic/Latino), who modeled how to work cross racially and cross culturally. The Four Amigos united communities of color and shaped Seattle into the city it is today – a place many of people of color call home and feel connected to because our cultural bonds are intact and we’ve held on a sense of place. While I didn’t know Bob, I know I wouldn’t be where I am without his work. I will do my part to honor his legacy, although I will have to leave the karaoke singing for which he was known to others. Rest in peace and power.


Original Thinking
I recently took a trip to my home state. While packing I grabbed the book Original by Adam Grant and threw it into my carry on – beach reading right? Nah, I finally cracked it open on the flight back when the kid hogged the tablet with all of the downloaded shows. In reading the book, which wasn’t about race or equity, I started thinking about how to apply the ideas to racial equity work. Several chapters in I had the thought “we need original thinking around race in order to change” (albeit this wasn’t a wholly original thought, many others have thought it before). The old and current systems aren’t working for communities of color. We need to nurture and undo traditional power structures that stifle ‘new’ thinking and doing.

In the book the author talks about groupthink and how it kills original/new ideas. I agree, I see it all of the time when working with government agencies and larger organizations. Where I don’t see groupthink happening as much is within coalitions centered in communities of color (it does happen but I see it less). I might be biased here since I work for a coalition centered in communities of color, but I can say with certainty the conversations that take place in our coalition meetings happen because we center our work in communities of color and we talk about race.

Well attuned coalitions bring diverse people together, building towards a common purpose and goal. Divergent thoughts are allowed and explored so we can emerge with better results and a more united front. In other words, the policy work or end product has more equity built into it because more people of color have a chance to weigh in, play with the idea, and the outcome is a more original idea, not a boilerplate product coming out of a monolithic group. While it sounds easy, in reality it is harder to do. It takes a lot of time and energy. Timelines are blown, we have to slow down and redo work to get it more right, coalition work gets messy, people’s feelings sometimes get hurt, we have to report to superiors that work is delayed, but in the end the work is right.

How to Get a Coalition Right – Stopping the Echo Chamber
Coalitions centered in communities of color serve as places where communities of color can emphasize our collective values over the procedural rules that continue to hold us in boxes and uphold institutional racism. As the author of Original (the book) shares, “Rules [procedures] set limits that teach children [and adults] to adopt fixed views of the world. Values encourage children [and adults] to internalize principles for themselves.” When we talk about our values around community, culture, and race we’re getting to the heart of who we are and the type of community we want to create for ourselves. This is so much more interesting than talking about the things talked about at so many mainstream task force meetings.

Focusing on values versus procedures is hard for people who are used to movement and action. Constantly doing versus asking why we are doing something different or trying something new is a way we uphold institutional and systemic racism – the doing without attributing it to values keeps the same broken actions from repeating itself. As an example, why do we constantly send out online surveys to ask for opinions? We can say the value is to hear back from the community, but is this how the community wants to be heard – on paper asking pre-scripted questions, probably not. This type of opposition may be more keenly heard within a coalition than in an insular meeting.

Investing in Coalitions
Investing in coalitions can happen in so many different ways. One of the best ways is to join a coalition – invest time. If you have to give something up to make time for coalition work, look at your calendar and decide which meetings are white/mainstream echo chamber meetings – in other words which ones are a chorus of the like-minded and you’re not hearing anything new. The people at the ‘echo meetings’ may be great but you can still see them at lunch or at happy hour. Instead invest in coalitions that are making a difference for communities of color — open doors to a great supporter, bring new people into the coalition,  for our white partners and allies attend to your white coalition partners so their needs are met (outside of the coalition meeting) and they don’t overshadow the coalitions values and focus. Coalitions take work to sustain and thrive. The end result will be better returns on your investment of time and energy than going the old easy route.

Posted by Erin Okuno

Why we Need to Stop Using the Word Minority


Pride Asia Event in Seattle, photo by Erin O.

Before we share this week’s post, I want to say Happy Pride Week in Seattle. This year’s theme is The Future of Pride, a fitting theme.

I’m writing on a plane heading home from a week in Boston. It was a great week, even with the East Coast dress code (no slippas and Aloha shirts) and bias against West Coast time difference (7.00 a.m. start times– brutal). I spent the week with about a hundred talented and brilliant people from various sectors, working to make their cities great. One of the most interesting parts of the trip was hearing how people talked about their communities and the different problems different communities face. There is a whole blog post about how our problems are all the same and different, but that one will come at a later time. Being in Boston with peers from across the nation highlighted the differences in language we use and subtleties of perspectives.

In my writing and speaking I use the term ‘people of color,’ or abbreviated to PoC or if I’m lazy poc. Language changes and evolves over time. Just a few years ago we used the term minority to refer to what are now known as people of color, or one or two generations before my grandparents were called Jap as a commonly accepted to reference to Japanese, now it is a derogatory term. We need to pay attention to language and how it is used and preferred by communities of color.

To read about the history of the term people of color, here is Wikipedia’s page. No term is perfect and the term people of color has a history some may agree with and others will disagree with. That said it is still time to stop using the term minority and currently the popular term of choice is people of color. Until our language evolves again I want to see us phase out minority in favor of a people centered approach.

Stop Saying Minority
Throughout the week I heard people use the word minority to refer to people of color. I also saw people give me puzzled looks or a raised eyebrow when I said people of color versus minority. Language changes across regions and sectors, and we need to stop using the term minority no matter where we live, work, or play.

The word minority is problematic. At one time there might have been a minority group, as in fewer people of color, but those trends are rapidly changing. Across the nation few communities are untouched by demographic shifts – let’s face it our cities and communities are becoming more diverse and our language has to shift as well.

Quickly people of color are becoming the majority, hence the term minority no longer fits. Some call it a Majority Minority, which is ironic like the former Starbucks campaign #RaceTogether (get it, if we’re racing we’re not together). In the 2014-15 school year Seattle Public Schools students of color made up fifty-four percent of the student count. Schools are often a harbinger of change in our cities. The term minority does not adequately capture the changing student count, nor the collective need to shift educational experiences for children of color. It also doesn’t acknowledge the growing family base and collective base we have in communities.

The word minority denotes a minority or smaller status. As a person of color I’m not smaller nor  lesser than another; I may be shorter but my voice has equal status. I have the same rights as others in my community, not more or less but equal. The term minority is pejorative; we do not need to justify our status or make ourselves smaller to fill a label.

People of color are the majority or will quickly become the majority locally and nationally. As such we need to recognize the collective power and diversity in our joined experiences. The term people of color or communities of colors puts the emphasis back on people and communities. The term minority allows us to fall into an amorphous blob of otherness; we cease to be people and communities. In many ways we fall into the background.

We are In this Together – We need to Be a Majority
Changing language from minority to people of color also needs to include the notion of we are in this together. As people of color we are the majority and we need to support each other. We need to work together and build coalitions that push for change as coordinated ‘people.’ We need to do the cross-cultural and cross-sector and cross-cause work to be united.

Moving from a minority status into a majority count gives us a greater presence and a greater need to be seen as a unified voice and support for each other. As an example Heidi shared the words of Sonja Basha, a speaker at the Seattle Orlando Shooting Vigil: “The Muslim community and the LGBTQ community are not separate; we mourn together. I am Muslim, I am queer and I exist. The fact that I exist does not erase the fact that you exist.” Our existence together will bring greater prosperity to all, it also slows down or stops divide and conquer strategies to separate us by racial and ethnic groups, sexual identity status, or to be ‘othered’ in other labels.

Heidi also points out “Even in ‘majority minority’ school districts or cities, people of color may be the numeric ‘majority’ in the community, student and family population, but it is highly unlikely that they are the ‘majority’ of the power holders; teachers, administrators, school board members, funders, etc. This plays into the false dominant society narrative that we are all ‘equal’ in power, or will have the exact same experience if people of color held majority of leadership positions on a board or in an organization.”

Language Makes a Difference
Language makes a difference in how we see ourselves and how we see each other. One of the lessons I re-learned this week is how language helps to frame problems and helps us understand problems and see solutions. How we identify and frame a problem the labels we attach to it can positively or negatively frame a problem.

The collective term people of color doesn’t take away from our individual races and ethnicities. In my interpretation it doesn’t dismiss our histories or individual cultures as African American or Black or Latinx or Asian Pacific Islander or Native American or Mixed Race or however you choose to identify. It is a way to say collectively we matter and we collectively want to see an end to institutional and systemic racism. The term people of color is meant to say as poc we have shared experiences not common to whites, which sometimes involves racism, power grabs, or the reverse beautiful and joyful experiences because of our cultures and communities. Put another way, my experiences as a Asian-Japanese American adds to the collective experiences of being seen as a Person of Color, there are many times when I want to be part of the collective and to share in the joys and the heartaches.

When we speak with honor and acknowledgment for people of color and use language that sees us as people we are seen and heard. As Heidi wrote about last week in talking about love and emotions in our work, language can either evoke love or be used to tear us apart. Let’s choose to use language that sees us as people, communities, and in positive ways.

For some interesting videos on race and what people are saying check out these videos by The Seattle Times: Under Our Skin.

Posted by Erin Okuno, with liberal quoting from Heidi Schillinger

Staying and Be Kind to Yourself

A Late Night Conversation– How do you Stay?
It was a late night sidewalk conversation I still remember. Nora, a wickedly amazing younger colleague, asked us “How do you do the work? How do you stay?” Her question caught me off-guard, she’s young and eager, how could she think of leaving the field? I sobered up quickly from my half-glass jalapeno margarita, and told Nora that she has to stay in the field of community building—we need her, she is the current and next generation of leaders.

At the PolicyLink Equity Summit Nick Tilsen, a Native American economic justice leader, talked about seven generations: “Honor three generations of the past, you are the present generation, and work for three generations ahead.” He also said to learn from your elders, you may not agree with them all of the time but they can be your greatest allies and wisest supporters.

This is for you Nora and other social justice leaders, you are the present and the future. I may be older, but I’m not old enough to be wise or profound enough to be your elder; just old enough to buy the drinks without getting carded. This is also a thank you to our elders and a invitation to the three generations ahead of me.

“Social justice work moves at a snail’s pace, on a turtle’s back, at a rodeo.” Dr. Donald Felder
Social justice work moves at a snail’s pace, on a turtle’s back, at a rodeo. Imagine that and you’ll get a sense of how long you need to work to see change. Dr. Felder’s quote also reminds me how crazy the work is and how crazy I also have to be to get anything done. Equity work is personal, there is no way to make it anything but personal. These are some steps that have helped me stay somewhat sane.

Seven Survival Steps
1. Find Your Tribe: Find some friends and colleagues whom you like and gather. About every six-eight weeks I get really antsy and that is my clue that I need to gather my Fakequity Fighters for breakfast or happy hour so we can vent, laugh, and problem solve. Good things come out of these sessions (like this blog). When we gather we allow ourselves to talk honestly about our successes and struggles. I also find they push me to think more creatively and to think about equity more deeply. I don’t know if I give the same to my friends, but maybe my gift is I send out the doodle poll to schedule.

2. Learn: Recognize your experiences aren’t the same as anyone else. In order to get the work right we need to continually learn and adapt our thinking. Read a lot of different articles and books, listen to your elders, and learn to spot fakequity. Spotting fakequity is a skill you will build, as you learn you’ll begin to sniff it out and then be able to call it out.

3. Call out the fakequity and ask good questions: Dr. Donald Felder is one of my amazing mentors and board members. He is trying to teach me the skill of asking a good question. Dr. Felder has honed the craft of asking questions that push people to understand the change and thought process he wants them to pursue and see. It is a Yoda-like skill I have yet to master as I’m only a Jedi-in training.

4. Don’t Read Noisy Blogs or Comments: It is tempting to read noisy ranty blog and newspaper comments, but as another friend once said “I feel less than human [after reading them].” If I don’t have a relationship with the person writing them, then I probably won’t fully understand their thinking. I don’t like getting mad and yelling at my computer and I don’t find it a productive use of my time, so I’ve decided to stop reading newspaper comments and I limit my reading of ranty blogs.

5. Drink and Know Your Non-Negotiables: Go drink water (you thought I’d mention alcohol), go for a walk, breathe, and figure out your non-negotiables. The only way I can stay in the work for the long-haul is taking time to also do things I love. Find something you love that isn’t connected to your daily work and do it. Put it on your calendar and hold the time. Heidi, a fakequity fighter, thinks best while bicycling and loves the activity. Jondou is great at BBQ and takes great care in feeding others grilled meat (if you’re vegan you get one grilled cremini mushroom). CiKeithia dances her heart out at Zumba. These gifts are equally as important as their professional work, save some time for you. Community work requires time to think and doing something for yourself will lead to interesting connections.

6. Say Yes (and No): Say yes a lot. Say yes to the things that are scary and push you in just_say_yes_mousepadnew ways. Say yes to meeting people you may not want to meet with. Say yes to embracing the weird space of not having answers or knowing what the heck is happening. It will lead you to new experiences and you’ll meet people who can help you along the way.

Saying yes, also means becoming very clear about when you will say yes and help you define when to say no. This year my organization has built new partnerships because we said yes to embracing new work. Saying yes also meant we were saying no to doing other things that weren’t right at the moment. Saying yes to partnering with organizations that align and who bring great support and partnerships to our coalition partners is a win. Who we said no to are activities that aren’t mission aligned nor racial equity focused, or perhaps just not the right time.

7. Don’t be a Jerk: Racial equity work is about relationships, put people first. It is really that simple, put people first and don’t be a jerk. Be a good partner, open doors literally and figuratively, share, and be nice. Fakequity = Jerk. Equity = harder work of sharing and being open.

There are a lot of other tips, but we’ll save those for another time. Feel free to share what works for you, I’d love to pick up a few new self-care tips. It is easy to talk about self-care and harder to do, so maybe your tip is the magical one.

Posted by Erin

The Danger of the Single Loud Noisy Story from a Community Perspective

If you haven’t watched the TED talk The Danger of the Single Story by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, watch it. Ms. Adichie is eloquent about why diverse stories matter. No single story encompasses a whole community’s narrative. Too often we listen to the loudest or nosiest stories. Sadly too often the loudest voices aren’t from communities the most impacted by hardship or furthest from opportunities.

When I started my current job Stephan, a mentor, asked me “Where are you getting your information?” I couldn’t answer him. I really didn’t know where I would get my information– from friends, people I like, colleagues, Facebook, the news. Benita Horn, a well-respected equity leader, calls this access F.B.I.– Friends, Brothers, and In-Laws. Quickly I realized the Yoda-like wisdom they gave me. They were telling me to be careful of listening to the loudest and nosiest voices or people whom I like and think like me.

Communities are diverse and sadly systems (government, institutions, organizations, etc.) are designed to hear the nosiest, loudest, and most organized voices. Change often comes via the majority or those who have connections. However the majority or those with access to power is not always the most impacted by a decision.

Here is an example…
tofu tacoA popular restaurant, Tacos for the People, decided to democratize their menu and are open to input from the community. I really love marinated tofu tacos with cilantro and want them kept on a menu, I’m flirting with vegan/vegetarianism so I will claim minority status (for the sake of this example). For Tuesday’s lunch I decide to “vote with my wallet” and order a fistful of tofu tacos.

When I arrive at Tacos for the People I can’t get past the front door because twenty people wearing matching colored shirts and holding signs are lined up to testify in favor of fish tacos. They knew to show up because they organized via Facebook and Twitter. A member of the group alerted the media, and others in the group went to college with the founder of Tacos for the People.

If we believe that tofu tacos versus fish tacos on a menu is a zero-sum-game, in other words only one taco will remain on the menu, the odds are much more in favor of the fish tacos. Tofu tacos, even though they serve an important need for a minority (vegan-vegetarian) community, has little chance of saving their place on the menu. This is the danger in only listening to the loud matching t-shirt people, their agendas rise up and overcast voices of others who have important needs.

“If you’re not at the table, it means you’re on the menu.”
Now before we start poking holes in the example and say the tofu taco lovers should organize and get their own shirts let’s add another layer to this example. Let’s say the tofu taco community is actually a community of color, an immigrant or refugee community, or another community such as foster care, special needs, etc. that have additional hurdles to overcome in order to mobilize and make their voices heard. Showing up to testify at a State Capitol or school board meeting often means having to rearrange work and parenting schedules quickly, figure out and budget for transportation, and navigate the weird politics of testifying (i.e. how to sign in, when to step forward, what to say in two-minutes, speaking in English if English isn’t their preferred language, etc.)—those are a lot of barriers. An equitable approach would be to have the system open up their table and ensure more voices are heard. A mentor told me “If you’re not at the table, it means you are on the menu,” which means you need to be at decision making tables to influence decision making.

How to Listen and Who to Listen to
Thinking back to the advice I received from my mentor, I’ve tried to act upon it. It is easy to get swept up in the voices of the majority and to think everyone thinks their way. It is also easy to default to those we know and their voices, this is fakequity. We have to remember communities are diverse and those farthest from opportunity have important stories we need to seek out. kungfu-panda

As leaders and community builders we need to seek out the voices and messages, not just the noisy voices. It takes time and effort to get out and find different voices, but the return on the investment of time and energy is worth it. Start with people you know then ask them to introduce you to others, and keep doing that. Ask someone to take you to a meeting you wouldn’t normally attend because their community is different and sit and listen, and go back again and again. Don’t talk at the meeting, just listen. Over time trust builds and people will share their thoughts with you and relationships start. Going fast and listening to noise is easy—fakequity. Going slow and building relationships is EQUITY.

UPDATE 10.20.15: We’re excited to see more voices reinforcing the message of the need for multiple stories. Sheri Brady, from the Aspen Forum, published Building Many Stories into Collective Impact which looks at the need for diverse stories in collective impact efforts. Check it out and leave her a comment, for that matter leave a comment here too.

posted by Erin

Why and How We Mourn as a Community

Hi, Thanks for returning to the Fakequity blog. Our colleague Vu at Nonprofit With Balls said we have to blog consistently so we don’t become a fakequiblog (fake-equity-blog). We’re taking his advice and will blog on Fridays, unless it is a holiday, school vacation, we get hungry, or the moon rises. Tell us what you think and that will make the fakequity team want to blog more, -Erin


This blog post is a sad one. We have to acknowledge the sad to get to the funny, the truth, and to build a community. How we mourn also says a lot about how we live and the communities we live in.

flowerEarlier this week a high school football player died after a tragic accident. I heard about the accident through the news and figured I would hear of someone who was connected to the family. That is what it is like in communities of color and when our work is in the community—we are all connected. The connection to the football player was through Heidi, a member of the Fakequity team. Heidi spent most of last year riding her bicycle with students from the same high school as the student who died. Yesterday, she was back on her bike with the kids because that is how they wanted to process the death of their classmate, they were sad but they wanted a sense of normalcy and to release some pent up energy. The ride was meaningful because the organizers and students acknowledged the death. They made space to talk about the loss, it sucked, and we are sad. They did what they needed to do together, the students asked to ride so that is what they did.

Death is like taxes— it happens, but unlike taxes we don’t know when. Unlike taxes it isn’t anonymous, we often know someone who is connected to the person. In communities of color this is doubly true and it requires sensitivity. I share office space with the Vietnamese Friendship Association. Last year one of their students died while swimming in Lake Washington. Like the football player it was tragic, sad, and the community came together. Even though I hadn’t met the teen, I heard stories about him and watched a video of his dancing at prom just weeks before the drowning. The hard part was seeing how this was affecting my colleagues, then jumping onto a conference call with people who had no idea about the death even though they live and work near Lake Washington. I remember joining the conference call and saying “Hi, how are you… yeah, I’ve been working with my colleagues to share information about a memorial fund…” I had to do some serious code switching on that call.

Often times after a death there is still work that needs to get done, there are still clients to serve, people who need something in order to keep organizations moving. Yet when we don’t pause to honor and reflect we lose a part of our community. We sometimes need to change course and be bolder and say “the work can wait,” people and our relationships are more important.

We Share the Burden
kodenCustoms around death are an important part of how we mourn, celebrate, and honor our colleagues and friends. I’m a Hawaii raised Japanese American, in my culture when someone dies we send koden, condolence money, to the family. It is an acknowledgement of the death and a way to say we want to share the burden. As my mother tells me (she’s not an anthropologist or a scholar on Japanese in Hawaii, so take this as mother-lore) the Hawaii version of this Japanese tradition stems from the plantation days where the community would come together to help pay for a funeral and help the family through the immediate future. I love this custom, I love that we come together in good and in bad times. I love that there is a tangible way to honor and say we want to help without being intrusive and with no expectation of reciprocity.

I decided to write this blog post because if I’m doing my job right I’ll meet lots of people. It also means life and death happens. I want to celebrate with friends and colleagues when babies are born, congratulate people on achieving milestones, and when death happens I want to be there to share the burden and loss. In community building, which is a part of equity work, it is the relationships that matter and the relationships that sustain us and bring about change. We need to nurture relationships and be there for the fun and the sad. If you only show up for the fun that is fakequity, equity requires embracing the full experience.

Grace Lee Boggs, the legendary centurion social justice philosopher and activist, said “The only way to survive is to take care of one another.” That is the epitome of equity work, we take care of each other, we value each other, and we work together. Next blog post we’ll talk about something more fun, unless I decide to blog about equity in the Washington state tax structure.

Posted by Erin

Luck Doesn’t Create Equity—Good Design Yields Better Results

The other day, mymoney-on-the-ground-thumb6979289 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 meetlucky-charms-lucky-charms-mash-up-600-96371ings 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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