Many of us in this field have used the phrase “holding equity at the center” but what does it mean? What does it look like in practice? Some of you might be imagining a solar system with planets in orbit around the sun. In this case, the sun itself has a gravitational pull that keeps everything on track. Others might be thinking of what it’s like to be at the center of things – maybe the main street of a town, or to be the life of the party. In that case, it has more to do with proximity and to be closely involved with what’s happening.
Over the next two episodes, we’re going to be looking at different sides of what it means to place equity in the center of our framework for change. This week, we’re speaking with Denise Forte of Education Trust and Jeff Moore of Independent Sector to hear more about what is happening directly on the ground, on the main street of change so to speak. In the next episode, we’ll be hearing from Christian Rhodes, Chief of Staff for the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education at the Department of Education.
Hello, I’m Josh Davis from StriveTogether, your host for today’s episode of Together for Change. Here we share expert perspective on what’s possible in communities and how we can work together to build to last. Many of us in this field have used the phrase “holding equity at the center,” but what does that mean? What does it look like in practice? If we back up a minute and reflect what it means to be at the center of something, it might give us more insight. Some of you might be imagining a solar system with planets in orbit around the sun. In this case, the sun itself has a gravitational pull that keeps everything on track. Others might be thinking of what it’s like to be at the center of things, maybe the main street of a town, or to be the life of the party. In that case, it has more to do with proximity, and to be closely involved with what’s happening. Over the next two episodes, we’re going to be looking at different sides of what it means to place equity in the center of our framework for change. This week, I’m delighted that we’ll be speaking with Denise Forte of Education Trust and Jeff Moore, of Independent Sector, to hear more about what’s happening directly on the ground, on the main street of change, so to speak. And in the next episode, we’ll be hearing from Christian Rhodes, Chief of Staff at the Department of Education on how the government can fulfill its role with nonprofits in intermediaries doing this work. Together, we’ll unpack these lessons that can be learned from changemakers across the country. And I’m really excited to get started. Denise and Jeff, welcome to together for change.
Great to be here. Thanks, Josh.
It’s great to be here.
So yeah, this is such a delight, actually, to be able to spend time with you all. And a conversation that, I have the opportunity to ask questions that maybe center yourselves in the lead up to how this work is implemented. But I really want to start at a high level. We’ve been in conversations over the last year through our work together with the equitable recovery pledge. And I want to ask you all what does it mean that the current administration has placed race equity as one of its four priorities? And I’m really curious about how you all see that from your individual seats and from your organization’s? What’s the opportunity? And just what does this mean to you all?
Yeah, I mean, very big question and I think actually some fairly tangible ways to think about what this means and what we’re seeing from this administration. As soon as, you know, because you guys are, you know, founding members, right, of the Nonprofit Infrastructure Investment Advocacy Group, right, which has been trying to make sure that as the conversation that came out of COVID relief, immediate response, and we returned, or we pivoted to the question of how do we make sure as we rebuild, we’re actually rebuilding in an equitable way so that all folks are thriving? We created the, this new coalition and we talked frequently about the fact that the policy positions that we hold take a starting place of, you know, equity, so holding equity at the center. And at the end of the day, what is that mean? What is the conversation now as the rubber hits the proverbial road and the dollar start to flow? It’s turning now to a question of holding government accountable to making sure that those dollars are flowing to the places where they are most needed. And we’re beginning to see some real attention to this question in the administration. And so that’s a very tangible example that we find pretty exciting.
Denise, what about yourself? What does this moment hold for us?
I, you know, really couldn’t agree more with Jeff. It’s a big opportunity. This is our work at Education Trust. We do everything with racial equity in mind, at the forefront, and try to help communities also do the same thing. At the Education Trust, we use research and data to lift up the cover and really unpack what some of the deep inequities are, how they’ve existed, what, when you unpack them, it really looks like in the education and I can talk more to that later. And then we work with advocates across the country to build skill and identify policy solutions where race equity is at the center. So it’s a huge opportunity. I totally agree about keeping the government accountable on all fronts at the local level, state level, federal level. And that too, is our work at the Education Trust. But look, we’re seeing folks who are clearly uncomfortable with, you know, when we talk about the unquestionable truths behind racial equity, and we know at Education Trust, we’re not afraid to put those unquestionable truths out there for people to see and feel. We are trying to build a movement of advocates that understand what race equity is. And we are constantly, you know, working with other stakeholders to ensure that they have a place at the table, which is another level of ensuring that the community’s most impacted, and particularly with COVID, that they are at the center of the conversation. And I think in some places, that’s happening. And in other places, we’re still building up to real stakeholder engagement. It was good to see in the last in the American Relief Plan, that the Department of Education did ask for stakeholder engagement. But we all know that looks different. And so what we’re advocating for is real stakeholder engagement. That means civil rights organizations, parents, teachers, business, disability advocates, immigration advocates, all at the center and ability but, you know, use that to help shape how the relief dollars will get down to them and how they will be used. And at this particular time in education, having those stakeholders at the center of the conversation for race equity is really important, because for so long now, that has not been the case. And so that’s why, you know, for us, it’s been exciting to see. You know, these these inequities have been around long standing prior to the pandemic and obviously, risen to the forefront. But it’s been exciting to be able to join more stakeholders into the conversation. Over the past year, we’ve been, you know, our traditional space was education. But it just became so clear how often other sectors were involved in that food insecurity. Kids can’t go to school if they’re hungry, and schools will, you know, shut down, lost some, for some kids, two out of three meals that they were eating a day. We started, you know, really doubling down on how we continue to get meals to kids in schools. We’re very innovative in doing that. Housing insecurity, the number of children and students who are homeless. Boy, double whammy. Pandemic, being homeless, and then not having a school come on. So it was, you know, the opportunity to do some more intersectional work, which is why we were excited to both join, you know, the Equitable Recovery Pledge and get involved with NIIAG, you know, to really make sure that the sectors were aware of how related, how, you know, what the relationship was, and how much they’re dependent on one another. And that’s particularly true for students across the country.
I’m sorry, Josh, can I just come back and foot stomp a couple of things that Denise just said? First, you know, this question of making sure that folks have place at the table right, that, that is true for coalitions as well. It has got to be true for coalitions as well. And, you know, we saw, in some ways as we were stepping into the early months of COVID, right, that we saw the traditional sort of power structures coalitions come together. Big organizations that are highly effective in moving legislative priorities. And we are part of that. And that has been incredibly important. But there has been something equally important. When we started, as I said, to pivot the focus to talk about what is it mean to build back better in a way that is equitable, that has meant by definition, that this coalition, the NIIAG specifically, has had to look very different. You know, a lot of people talk about old power, new power, etc. I’d like to say I may be right, I may be wrong, that we’re still exercising old power in the NIIAG construct because we’re using collective voice, that’s called coalition, that’s called advocacy. What is new, is making sure that we indeed, a Denise has said, have the right folks at the table, number one. And number two to her second point, and this is some of the discomfort that we can show our work. Right? That when we talk about, here’s the issue that we want to be on as a coalition. We can say, and we may not be perfect, our analysis may not be perfect. But we can say with growing assurance, as a sector, as a diverse sector, no, we are focused on this issue, because this issue is an equity issue and here’s why. And the perfect example of that with the NIIAG was the very early response back the beginning of 2020, that the NIIAG took around healthy voting healthy elections in 2020. Right? That was new, that you had this broad coalition of very diverse organizations, most of them having nothing to do with voting or voting rights as part of their core mission. But coming together and saying, This is an equity issue. This is a strength and health of civil society issue. And we’re going to scan together behind this funding request for healthy elections, 2020. And we were successful. We didn’t do it on our own, of course. But that was new so I think it’s a great example of, you know, some of the points that Denise makes kind of coming to life.
That’s wonderful. That’s wonderful. So sit with me for a minute, as I listened to both of you all, I can imagine that if I were in the audience, and I wasn’t where you all are, on your continuum and your spectrum within your organizations and, and who you are as people, it might feel really intimidating to try to match the vigor and maturity that you all are demonstrating with respect to having a vision and a direction for how to move forward. And there is the saying racism doesn’t need racist to exist. Our systems and our institutions don’t need individuals to continue to be racist, to continue producing the outcomes and the impacts that are felt by people who are marginalized, and people of color, because they’ve been stood up in this fashion over hundreds of years. And so, I believe in order to make progress towards reversing this trend that exists within systems, whether this within communities and within our formal institutions, you we have to have individuals who are willing, at some point to be open to changing their mindsets, their behaviors, their attitudes, and values. And it sounds like you all, both of you are in these positions of leaders within your individual organizations. And then broader collectives where you have this asset and value of moving towards this reversal of the type of outcomes that exist. And so I really want to dive into questions and picking apart the person role system frame isn’t applied, thinking about, you all have to, in your own person have some experience that allows you to operate within your role in an effective fashion that moves in this direction that impacts your larger system. So I want to go all the way back to Jeff and Denise as individuals. And I want to ask you to talk a little bit about your own coming into understanding of what equity means. I was a practitioner of collective impact in directing two federally funded Promise Neighborhoods. And over that eight year period of time, I never really used the term equity. So this is 2010 to 2018. And I really didn’t fully understand. Equality I understood. But I’ve been on my own path over the last decade to being able to understand the concept and the tactical ways of moving towards equity and I’m still growing. And so in meeting people where they are, for those that are going to be in the audience that don’t have this same maturity and grasp of the concept as you do, I’d love to ask you to talk about, from your person, and then I’ll ask you about in your role, what it looks like, and then in your system. How did you two come to understand what you hold now as the meaning and the implications of equity in your person? So, open that up. Tell us about your, your path.
Yeah, that’s such a really beautiful question. And you know, so I’ll tell you a little bit more of my story. I’m a military brat, which I’m proud of. My father served in the army, one of the youngest black generals, back in the day. And that experience being in, part of a military family, and the role of service to all was just ingrained at the start. And both of my parents, my mother, didn’t go to college. She was for the most part, a housewife, but an amazing volunteer also in the name of service. So that’s the first place that I start from, you know, what is my role to community? What is my role to in service, and alongside that, growing up in military was supposed to be one of the places first integrated, but yeah, experiencing that as a black child, not so much, and being able to see around me, which, you know, does roost a lot with me, this idea that my family is supposed to have some amount of privilege in the structure, but being African American, is there really any privilege, right, to be had in that? And so, you know, I grew up in a social setting with so many different hierarchical structures of, mostly around race, I have to say, but also in the military structure, hierarchy, that made it really clear to me that all was, you know, not only was all not equal, but there was a real differential in what equal meant for different communities. And I think that is at the heart of equity, you know, when you sort of see yourself inhabiting multiple communities at the same time, and on one side, you know, the legit privilege, and on the other side, not at all. How do you, how does that work within your system? And how do you then, you know, make that a part of your direction? And ultimately, it just sort of, I really do, yeah, I think it’s that upbringing that sort of drives me a lot in the work I do now. And, you know, I spent a significant number of years on Capitol Hill, where, you know, you could also feel that most of the time as a staffer, but working hard to advance policies where not only, you know, were we trying to make sure that communities were heard in the education space and family policy in juvenile justice, or not just families, those that were impacted in a part of the experience, enabling their voice to come to the table, and also to be able to drive policies that hopefully, would push down some of the barriers that were preventing them from having similar experiences as their counterparts in all those systems. And so when you think about children experiencing homelessness, one of my favorite stories, not favorite stories, but it just still is very compelling to me as I, when I was at the Department of Education, I met with a bunch of young college students who were homeless. And one of the students said to me, that her first night at college, that was actually the first time she’d ever slept by herself in her own bed in her entire life. I mean, that, right, how, how, then, are now a policy goal, you know, in my drive to thinking about that experience? How do we ensure that she is able to have an academic experience on campus, like her peers, where you have to meet this fact that homelessness was a very critical part of her life, and now she’s housed but all the other factors that have to come into place that makes sure she can have the same academic experience being, you know, she’s gonna have to have a job, how does she get to that job? You know, if she’s a student parent who’s homeless, what does she do about her kid and childcare? So to me like that is part of, you know, my upbringing. How do I make sure that the opportunity I experienced, other people have that same opportunity? And the same thing applies honestly to my the work we do with Education Trust, like, what are the different ways, what are the different layers in recognizing people’s whole humanity, and where equity exists? How do we make sure that, you know, the systems aren’t the thing that is preventing those inequities? Hopefully that answered your question.
Yeah, that’s wonderful, thank you. We’re gonna, I’m gonna ask about how that plays out in your specific role in your system. But that’s, that’s really illustrated to me, that was what I would, what jumped out to me was opportunity. And the more and more I tried to come to my own sense and ability of simplifying what this means not only for myself, but you know, to my daughters, and folks that I have with conversations in an airport, the opportunity really jumped out to me, so thank you for that. Jeff, tell us about your your path and how does this live in your person?
Denise, thanks for sharing that story. So yeah, person, role, system. We’re all, you know, part of the results count frame here and we think a lot about that. And so, you know, to be really honest, I think it’s only relatively recently that I started thinking more about the person in some respects. I was always ready to jump into the role in the system. Right? And we, and we’re going to talk about that a little bit later. But you know, so I’m a 60 year old white guy, right? I grew up on Long Island, in suburban Long Island, solidly, you know, upper middle class community. I went to a high school where I think that, this is correct, out of a graduating class of about 200, I believe there were three students of color. So I grew up in a very white environment, with very liberal, progressive, churchgoing parents. And we talked in ways and this is no critique of my parents at all, but in ways that felt kind of not exactly academic, but it wasn’t on my lived experience to be in a diverse community, right? So, so the, so the conversations that we had, and they were frequent, whether it was at home, or it was in church, we talked about race and racism, but it felt very removed, honestly. And so I think like a lot of folks with my lived experience, I grew up, kind of of that mindset that this is bad. And I don’t know that I’m directly responsible for these inequities that, that I do recognize that the journey that I have been on, and that has really accelerated and quite frankly, you know, I give a lot of, I owe a lot to Independent Sector, quite frankly, for helping move me in this journey. Because while I might still be able to say, and I’m not sure it’s exactly accurate, that I may not be directly responsible for the inequities that exist in systems, I have benefited from them. And I do have a responsibility to both call them out and then to dedicate myself in my role and in my system to try and change them. And that has been kind of my path. And that evolution, you know, on the, on the latter end of that arc has been relatively recent. The last thing I want to say, and I know we’re on a, we’re on a podcast, so can’t show a picture, but Josh and Denise, you probably both know, the picture that I’m alluding to, and it and it sticks with me all the time. Josh, you raised the question of, you know, what is the difference between equal versus equitable, and it’s those pictures of the three kids trying to watch the ballgame, right, over a fence. And the difference between equals so they all get what, sorry, one is tall, one is sort of medium height, and one is very young and quite short. They all get equal sized boxes. That doesn’t really mean a whole heck of a lot for that little kid, right? So, but that’s equal, right? You all got the same size box, versus you take the fence down, right, and that it sounds trite maybe even in, in relation to the to the issue that we’re talking about, but that is something that is a visual image that has just stuck with me and I have shared more frequently than you can know. That really does, I just, we all, we’re nonprofit leaders, right? We sit on lots of boards, right? I just had a conversation with a board that, nonprofit organization, I serve on their board just last week, that is stepping into this conversation now. And I used that image. And it was it was amazing to me. The sort of collective. right, got it, you know? So anyway, I hope that answers your question.
It did. I’ll never forget for myself in 2017, participating in the Presidio Institute Fellowship and seeing that image, and I was 41, I think and had been, you know, a practitioner for several years. And when I saw that image, I had the same like, that image helped to meet me where I was in this fogginess of, there’s something beyond equality, and there’s something beyond equal, that’s equity. And I’m a black man. So I should be able to own this in a way that I can give it back to people and make it make sense so that it’s not personalized as what Josh needs, but this is what equity means. So I appreciate you lifting that back up, Jeff, because I think one of the things we want to be able to, to offer through this podcast is encouraging and not denouncing and inviting people in and not closing people off and shunning people and meeting folks where they are to invite them to push against this, this wall that has felt immovable. And we may never completely move it out of the way but we’re always going to be called to hold a stance and try to make some progress. I was gonna ask in your role, so we really haven’t properly introduced you all. Could you give just a minute or so to talk about what is your role at Independent Sector? And then how do you carry what you describe is within your person, how you have absorbed your own understanding of equity within your role and your authority? How does that live within your, within your role?
Yep, absolutely. So I am the Chief Strategy Officer at Independent Sector and I’ve been in that role for about seven years. I also, while holding that role, I also lead our public policy team and our sector impact team. And I asked for the Independent Sector, I asked for those who may not be as familiar with us, you know, we are an association, we, we don’t really like to call ourselves an association. But the reality is, we are a community in association of the nonprofit sector. And we’re the only one that at a national level represents all sides of the charitable nonprofit sector. So within our membership, we have practicing nonprofit charities, we have foundations, all types of foundations, and we have corporate philanthropy. And our job as Independent Sector is really to do three things to basically and this goes back to our founding and our founder, John Gardner, more than 40 years ago, to build that community of the sector, both because community builds agency and voice, and that we always want to make sure that what we made been trying to move forward on a federal level, right. And so in our policy work, we’re primarily focused on the federal is grounded in lived experience and community. So therefore, you build the community, you bring the community together. The second thing we do is we’re constantly trying to assess what does a healthy charitable sector look like and what does it need? Right. So again, lived experience in community helps inform that understanding of our health, right? We also like to hold a sense, and this is emerging work, evolving work for IS, you know, holding a sense of here’s what, in fact, health looks like. We have a framework. Our sector health report that comes out annually. It’s our framework. It’s not perfect, but does sort of targets some key indicators for the sector, health indicators that we want to watch and begins to posit, anyway, here’s what health looks like whether we’re talking about financial health or health of the workforce, human capital or governance and trust, or policy, public policy and advocacy. And then there’s a gap, right? We will have a sense, an idealized sense of what health looks like. We kind of bumped that up then against what, what do we see in community, right? Where is the gap between what is real on the ground and our sense of what should be? And then how do you close that gap through our third function, our public policy work. So that’s kind of the cycle for Independent Sector.
Wonderful. That was a great, sort of, bridge between role and straight into system. And, Denise, I’m going to pose the same question to you within the, the authority that you hold in your role. Tell us what your role is, and how your own absorption of an equity mindset lives out of your role and then transfers to your system?
Well, I am simply delighted that I was asked to step in as interim CEO of the Education Trust, which is a nearly 25 year old organization. We’re headquartered in Washington, DC. And, you know, our mission is about closing the opportunity gaps. I talked about opportunity earlier, but the opportunity gaps that exist for students of color, and students from low income families, in our systems of education. And we do that through working with advocates across the country, at the local level, and also at the federal level, to unpack, as I said, through research and data, what the inequities are, where the missed opportunity points may add in our education system, from PK, from pre-K to higher education. So for example, one of my, our amazing team of, you know, just amazing, all advocates in their heart, of PhDs and, and former teachers, you know, work every day, on issues of making sure students of color, Black and Brown, Native American students have access to high quality pre-K, or what it looks like to ensure that the same students when they get to middle school, have access to the most rigorous coursework that will ensure them that they can graduate from high school on time and enter into college. On the other side of the house, in our higher education team, we’ve been exploring what the experience of Black borrowers look like. We know that black student debt is just really disrupting, undermining family’s ability to have a future. A lot of that is due to the generational racial wealth gap. So it is an, it’s an amazing time to be with this organization, mostly, I think, because as I said earlier, the inequities in history still very much remain. But as we look at the future, sometimes we’re gonna have to tackle these same inequities in different ways, which is why the stakeholder piece of it is so critical to our work, you know, making sure civil rights, business disability rights, strange bedfellows sometimes, you know, are in a room, bringing through the lived experience, and able to take within their own power to make change at a statewide level or a federal level. I just feel so proud of this moment to be able to lead this organization, and be a part of an amazing team of movement builders, and fierce advocates, as we like to call ourselves. The work is, it’s humbling, honestly. And I feel that, you know, the time before is, the time is really now as we look back to this, and work to build back better. The time is now. Communities want it, their opportunity is there. But we feel a deep obligation, as well as the Education Trust, to make sure that when the opportunity present, well to make the opportunity, and when the opportunity does present itself, to make sure that we have rich research to back us up to understand what the policy solutions are. Because in the end, we want them to be effective and sustainable. And I think we’re making impact in the states that were active and I feel really proud of the team for that work. And I think we are one of the main equity oriented education entities at the national level, who is focused on what, how do we drive home that these inequities can be tackled? A lot of the obligation to tackle them is on the systems, right? The systems that exist that have, hold these barriers and prevent our children from having the full opportunity they can, they can be tackled through critical policy application, and making sure that we hold folks accountable, like Jeff said earlier on.
Josh, can I just add one more thing that sort of ties together, at least in my mind, the person and the role, right? So, you know, going back to what I shared a little bit about my, my experience growing up, you know, as a white guy in a privileged place, and then looking at issues of race and racism and inequities of all types and thinking, it’s wrong. And I, god, that’s an awfully big issue. I’m not sure what I can do beyond, you know, how I hold myself in my person, right, and how I interact with folks, which is critically important, and the first of the building blocks. But the next piece, and again, you know, this comes back to, you know, as fellow hub organizations, right, if we had our NEKC folks here, I guess maybe they would cheer. But when we think about the theory of aligned contribution, right, so I am never going to solve this problem in my person, or in my role, or even in my system. That’s okay. What’s not okay is to say, we don’t have a role to play. And we ain’t got to play that role. Those things are not okay, we have a role in a broader system, we have an opportunity, and we’re privileged to have resource to step into that work. And so that, you know, there are all kinds of examples that Denise and I both can talk about the ways in which we do that. But that has been, I think, just really important, and thinking about bridging between my person, my personal story, and that’s that step into role and system.
I love that, Jeff, that’s really, that’s great. That’s a really good way to describe that.
I’ve got one sort of final question to throw out and, you know, I’m from Mississippi, and not that these, that context only matters to sort of illustrate within the spectrum, the ability to speak liberally, and to act in a way that with some people of color, there’s a spectrum. And so coming from that state, born in 1976, just barely beyond schools, for being integrated in 1969, I have had to take my own path towards learning how to have a conversation that does not feel like a zero sum conversation. And I cannot say that, in any respect that I’ve been successful in being able to really articulate this in the conversations that are necessary to be had. But both Independent Sector, the Education Trust, aim at our country’s largest systems and institutions with respect to enacting policy changes that have a cascading impact down on millions upon millions, tens, hundreds of millions of people. And so I’m curious as to what is you all’s experience with having that persuasive conversation or the explore toward conversation with people that you need to move closer into alignment with your values in the way that you want to move from a policy perspective, to move beyond a moral conversation, to move beyond a spiritual, religious or humanity conversation and to, and to mitigate the finality of a zero sum decision being made, as you are discussing centering equity, and I just, whatever your learnings are around these again, I’ll say that I have not arrived at a place to be able to articulate them in a persuasive way. It often depends on the person and their lived experience or just where they are in life. Or what’s their appetite for maybe being willing to take on what this means what their loss might be. But, you know, as a, as a teaching podcast and a learning podcast and just opening up for folks to, you know, figure out what they can take from this. What are your words of wisdom? What’s your experience with that conversation?
I don’t know that I have any words, oh my gosh, to be, you know, really honest, it changes. I don’t know that I have a successful model out there because of, as you said, contacts and lived experience is, you know, for everyone, it’s so different. But I do think this thing around zero sum game that you described is really important to get out of, you know, every once in a while I kick back on my computer science degree. And it’s not always a 01 thing, right? It’s not always Nil 10101. And that’s what makes it so difficult, these shades of gray so to speak that, which is where some of this inequity sits, it does sit in the shade of gray, meaning it is, you know, for so many of the policies that we’ve looked at, the solution is also very different. It’s not straight up, just have more pre-K seats. You know, it’s not always that there are some nuances to the cut to the solution. And there are further nuances to the conversation about how you really appreciate and understand that lived experience when you are also trying to describe what equity means to someone. It is a, I learn every day, I fail every day, I have some success, once a month. But it is, it’s very much still a learning experience, especially when it’s one on one. I feel like as an organizational leader, I can I’m a little bit more successful in describing our work and our impact. And so I do also like to talk about outcomes. Because I think if you can crystallize and describe for people, what you are trying to solve for or what, what will be different at the end of the day, and make them see themselves in that then sometimes you can make a good case. But I do you know, it’s not 01 All the time. Sometimes it’s 00001. And so you just have to be able to work within that. Jeff, I don’t know if you think of it differently, but I, you know, it’s a beautiful question to struggle with as I continue to lead in this organization.
Yeah, I know, that does track for me, Denise, and I love the frame of the question, right? Like, so how do you move from the moral conversation to the action with all that? The fear for, for a lot of folks for myself, right? But that, you know, that comes with that. And so, I’ve got two thoughts, maybe right, maybe not, but they’re kind of what’s in my head. One is that, I think, in our sector, in the charitable nonprofit sector, we actually have been really lucky to have some forcing mechanisms, right? And I’ll be really blunt. One of them has been funding, right? The funding community has played a critical, powerful role in getting folks over that sort of zero sum, right? And so, forcing mechanisms are not always the right answer, but sometimes they are part of the answer, that you have to step forward. Because we are now asking this of you, if you want to work with us, we are now asking this of you. So I think that that’s one, one thing. And the other is again that you know to come back to the, I can overuse the the NIIAG coalition example but the power of coalition, right, the power of people to come together, wrestle with, I mean, we see this all the time in the NIIAG, where individuals in their person and in their roles in systems are just in different places. But being in a conversation where both the aspiration and the expectations are increasingly clear, right, and that we know that we, we got each other, right, and we are going to do everything we can to move forward together, in this case as a coalition of organizations that are looking to place equity at the epicenter of how we build back right. Infrastructure, our civic infrastructure, specifically, I think, has been really powerful that it there’s some comfort in that, that it, you know, this is not just a zero sum, I’m in this with a group of others that are wrestling with a lot of the same questions, right, and, and that we can hold that but yet still figure out some way, however imperfect and complete, but to move. And so those are two things that come to mind.
Wonderful. Any parting thoughts, challenges, you know, you all have, you’ve been in this swirl with me this morning, I really appreciate, it’s been a rich conversation. Anything that you all would want to leave the audience with, on the way out?
What first, thank you so much. This has been really fun and really enjoyed being in conversation with you, Jeff, and having this opportunity. These inequities that have existed for a long time and continue to exist, and in some areas, the opportunity gaps are getting wider, are real. People are living them every day. And with the consequences of the pandemic, which have impacted health, education, housing, childcare, transportation, employment, we need to ensure that the systems that we are building back better to do not collapse. When something like this comes around again. We have learned so much this past year that we must be better prepared. And we need to push ourselves to think differently about what the system needs to be in order to protect against and to support community is in an equitable fashion. I think the Equitable Recovery Pledge is right on, and the fact that there are so many different facets of the community who are engaged in the work makes me hopeful. But I, you know, I just challenge all of us to think about the systems we want to have, that are free from, you know, these inequities, and look to the different sectors that have to be a part of the solution in building back better, you know. I think we all want, I hate to use that all over again, but, you know, it makes sense, but we can’t do it, if we have the same old systems, right? We just won’t, it just, it’s just not, we know it doesn’t work. We can’t have the same old systems. We can’t allow, you know, the racist barriers that exist to continue to do so in a fashion that really prevents students of color from, from obtaining the, the, you know, access, that they need the opportunity they need to be successful young adults. So thanks again for having me and I look forward to working with you all in the future as well.
Well, I’ll also start by thanking you, Josh and StriveTogether. Denise, wonderful to share this virtual platform with you. I have really come to deeply, deeply value, Josh, specifically the relationship that, that IS has been building with Strive and our ability and the invitation that was offered to us to step alongside you, the Equitable Recovery Pledge, and then you all know, stepping in alongside us with what we’re trying to do with the NIIAG. So thank you, thanks for all of that and for this time. So words of wisdom, you know, there’s a lot we could say here, or I could say here, I guess, you know, when I think about in my role and in my system, what we want, or you know, some of the key things we want to be true in and for the charitable nonprofit sector. We want folks to donate their time, right? We want folks volunteering. We want folks donating resources, right? But then we add a third, which is an probably more important than anything because the other two don’t happen without, we want people and organizations using their voice. So at the end of the day, none of the things that we’ve been talking about here for the last 45 minutes or so happen, without the use of that voice, the power of advocacy in the public policy space, whether we’re talking about at the local, the state or the federal level, cannot be underestimated. And the reality is that as a sector, broadly, we’re not as good at that as we should be. There are pockets of excellence, right? And I think, Denise, you represent one of them, you know, your organization uses its voice powerfully. Just think about what could be possible if that were a more universal sort of capacity, expertise, and willingness, courage, right to step forward. And we have got to create the conditions to make that possible.
Y’all, on that, my, my heart is so full this morning. We’ve been working with you all virtually for a year, and I’ve yet to meet you in person. But I got to say that I have so enjoyed the last half hour to an hour of really being able to move beyond our work conversations, and to be in a position to listen to you all as people and hold the space for learning and absorption and thinking about alignment as well. And I’ve enjoyed being in the echo chamber. I’ve enjoyed the group think, if only for 90 minutes this morning, has given me real energy and spark on the inside. Thank you for being vulnerable. Thank you for being transparent. And thank you for offering your experiences in a way that hopefully will allow folks to see themselves reflected in the opportunity to grow and to take up this work in their own person as well. So, to the audience, thank you for joining us today. We hope you’ll stay connected with us by visiting strivetogether.org, where you will find transcripts of our Together for Change podcast series.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai