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Opinion

Translating Freedom Dreaming Into Actionable Commitments Your Organization Can Implement Now

Tara Spann

Imagine a world where people were not judged or treated differently simply because of who they BE.  Visualize a world free of injustices, free of hate, free of ignorance.  Dream a world of joy, a world of love.  These are my freedom dreams. 

I started my journey with America’s Promise and the Anti-Racist Alliance a year ago as a member of the Organizational Norms and Culture Work Group.  Working with a diverse group of bold and passionate leaders has provided a platform and think tank for everyone in the group to be authentically human and speak openly about the issues, our feelings, and the solutions.  We have all accepted the charge to be both individually and organizationally accountable to self-assess, act, and develop tools to help others turn their freedom dreams into integrated practices.  

The focus of our work group has been to elevate practices that increase the sense of belonging and authenticity among staff and leaders at youth-serving non-profit organizations. At MENTOR, we have prioritized implementing practices that uncover racism in our daily work. 

Every organization should begin with providing a psychologically-safe environment to have difficult dialogue about racism; respecting and understanding that each individual has their own experiences to contribute to the change the organization seeks and that those experiences are their truths.   

If your organization isn’t ready for these conversations, I recommend you get ready.  Make equity a priority, then commit to action by providing financial and human resources to this work.  This commitment begins with leadership, but I also recognize that leadership needs a community and support.  CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion is but one such community. 

If your organization is not having difficult conversations that uncover racism, know that harmful issues lie beneath in the groundwater of your organization.  Understand that racism doesn’t always show up in vivid color, but rather it is integrated in the structure of your policies and practices. Since racism is embedded in the ways in which many of our organizations operate; as organizations and individuals, we must take steps to identify and address these issues.

Step 1 is READINESS - be courageous and start the journey to freedom through reflection, acceptance, and sometimes the tough realization that leaders must lead differently.   

Step 2 is EDUCATION & AWARENESS. Learn and understand the history of racism, the people that are harmed by it, and how they are harmed.  Racism shows up in various ways and is a taught behavior that can be unlearned.  Fear resides at the core of racism.  To overcome the fear, equip oneself with knowledge and education.  

Step 3 is to bring together a group that will lead the charge of developing a RACIAL EQUITY ACTION PLAN.  Begin with assessing self - the individual self and the organizational self (including relational behaviors with co-workers, power dynamics, habits, practices and policies).  You might consider using a logic model and theory of change to ensure alignment, shared beliefs, and ensure racial equity is integrated in all organizational activities. Include goals, intended outcomes, and indicators for success.  When the Anti-Racist Alliance organizations publish our commitments later this year, we will include examples of racial equity action plans and other ways to bridge the individual and organizational selves.  

Step 4 is to EXECUTE the plan & MONITOR progress.   

Step 5 is REPEAT – back to step 1.   

I am aware that the steps therein are oversimplified and will take much intentionality.  But, without intention to eradicate racism, there is no progress.  Every day at MENTOR, we are translating our freedom dreams into action and are in the process of completing our own Racial Equity Action Plan. My call to action is that you join us on this journey to freedom. 

The Anti-Racist Alliance is a group of 14 youth-supporting organizations working together to address institutional and systemic racism within our organizations and the broader field. This blog series shares lessons learned and reflections from Alliance members on the first year of the Anti-Racist Alliance.