Treading Water in the Fakequity Pool

Hi, Last week we wrote about tacos and listening to diverse voices. We’re not alone in sharing that message. After you read this week’s post by CiKeithia, go check out Sheri Brady’s Building Many Stories into Collective Impact at the Stanford Social Innovation Review blog. She shares a similar message, but without a taco analogy. -erin


Pool-and-DrinksIt’s ironic that I would use the example of treading water because anyone one who knows me knows my feelings about swimming.  It’s not what you’re thinking, insert stereotype of black people and water here; I find pleasure sipping a drink in a cute glass poolside with an occasional dip of my toes in the water.

I’ve worked with children, and in support of children and families, for over ten years. I’ve learned many things from working with families, and it is my ongoing work in communities where I continue to learn. Lately, I’ve become overwhelmed by the idea that those of us doing this work think we know it all when it comes to community. I feel like I’m treading water in a fakequity pool.

Community Engagement the Fad
Community engagement is the new fad, like the return of the flare leg jeans. You’ve seen the announcements: “We want to hear from you,” take this online survey, flyers inviting you to see the new space, and my all-time favorite “Join us for a community conversation!”

Where do these ideas come from? I’ll award a few points for trying, but there’s more to understand. What good is the survey if it’s only available online? You’re only reaching people with access to computers and the internet. Are you planning on sharing the results?

What good is the flyer if it’s only shared in easily accessible communities and not accompanied by a personal invitation? Would you attend an event if you didn’t know anyone? Maybe if the food is really good or the speaker is outstanding, but a personal invitation makes you want to engage more.9063547_big

Finally, a community conversation is absolute nonsense. In order for it to be a conversation then both sides get to be heard, otherwise it is a presentation. And don’t collect feedback through collected index cards, the community doesn’t know what happens with that feedback.

Believing in Community Engagement, Here’s What to do

We need to create space for voices that are normally excluded to be heard. It’s tough to examine our current practices and turn the lens on ourselves. No one wants to have their positive intentions questioned, but it’s required if we want to get better. If you can’t receive the tough criticism you are most likely perpetuating fakequity.

I feel like I’m treading water because it’s the online surveys, flyers, and one-way community conversations that have me trying to keep my head above water. Truth is there is no single way to engage the community, but rather a variety of ways and if you are truly are invested in community you’ll do the hard work. Showing up and building relationships will get you better results than an online survey or a one-time conversation.

Working Towards Equity

Next time there’s a survey challenge the unintended results of only hearing from those who are loudest. Don’t just make a flyer, make personal connections beyond your usual networks, and finally stop with the community conversations if it only serves your agency’s purpose of checking the box that you offered it and now you can move on with the work.

My feeling of treading water will never completely go away. The frustration of trying to keep my head above water however will be eased when there are others around me who ask hard questions, listen, and challenge the status quo. After all I look much better sitting poolside sipping a cute drink rather than struggling to stay afloat.

posted by CiKeithia

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