Conversations about equity, diversity and inclusion are popular in the organizations and systems where StriveTogether interacts, and I’ve been thinking a lot about this question: What will it take to make racial and economic equity the work itself instead of part of the work?
On April 13, I’ll have the honor of speaking at PolicyLink’s national Equity Summit 2018: Our Power. Our Future. Our Nation. It’s not surprising that the summit, taking place in Chicago, sold out due to unprecedented demand months ago. In this unique moment in our nation’s history, leaders and practitioners, particularly in the social sector, are feeling the urgency of a call to action to advance equity and justice at a greater scale.
StriveTogether has embraced the importance of place from our inception. Leaders in our communities focus on achieving population-level results for the success of every child along the trajectory of birth to adulthood. These outcomes require intentional effort to support asset-based community development, authentic community ownership, and local data and experience.
Working to advance equity and justice — particularly racial equity — can seem daunting, overwhelming or downright impossible. Last month, we honored the memory of Linda Brown, who was the lead plaintiff in the landmark desegregation case Brown v. Board of Education, and this week we remembered the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We have a long journey ahead to dismantle structural racism and design stronger systems of inclusion — and transformative change has no clear roadmap and endpoint.
Instead of being paralyzed by the breadth of change required, we coach local partnerships at every stage of development in the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network to integrate various aspects of equity into the core elements of their work.
- In early partnership work, our framework requires leaders to define a broad cradle-to-career vision grounded in the context of the community and publicly release disaggregated data to drive action.
- As partnerships become more mature, they align actions to reduce disparities, co-develop solutions with community members and implement targeted strategies that intentionally accelerate outcomes for populations facing the worst disparities.
- With our new strategic plan, communities are taking a bolder approach to engage people across sectors to drive shifts in public and private resources to advance better, more equitable outcomes toward economic mobility as an overarching indicator of success.
We have seen powerful examples across the Network in reducing racial disparities, authentically involving community and advancing policy change for lasting change. As I prepare to share some lessons from a decade of place-based work from the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network, I am encouraged by our communities’ passion and commitment to equity and results. And I continue to search for ways to shrink the change to make large-scale change feel more manageable. Here are three ways you can start (or keep) acting differently to advance racial and economic equity in your place-based work.
- Set real targets. When defining the scope of your work, adopt that you genuinely believe you will work to accomplish over time — and hold yourselves accountable to them. For example, when we worked with a team from Raise DC on its postsecondary enrollment strategy, the partnership pinpointed a short-term target to increase postsecondary enrollment of first-generation, low-income students of color with a GPA between 1.5 and 3.0 as that group needed the most support and attention.
- Respect community voice. When we coach communities to identify the root causes of disparities during factor analysis, it’s not enough to look at quantitative data. Using empathic interviews or stakeholder experience can help uncover less obvious factors. In Waterbury, Conn., school counselors followed up with every high school student who was absent during a two-week timeframe and asked why they didn’t attend school. Instead of jumping to conclusions, this approach led to a wider range of root causes and more powerful strategies for Bridge to Success.
- Pursue concurrent strategies. We coach communities to advance strategies — targeted and universal; practice level and system level; and short-term and long-term — that address different depths of the systems iceberg. As an example, Seeding Success leaders and practitioners in Memphis, Tenn., are simultaneously building the capability of nonprofit partners to improve kindergarten reading while advocating for increased public funding for quality preschool.
These are just a few ways communities across the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network are advancing equity and justice. I look forward to making race equity even more explicit in our work as a necessary step toward our vision.