Upswell Chicago: Equity in the Center

Equity in the Center’s Pre-Convening to Upswell Chicago was held on November 12, 2019 and provided a day-long, deep dive into how to build a Race Equity Culture. EiC described the convening as follows:

Plenary sessions and workshops will focus on how to operationalize race equity, highlighting best practices from EiC’s Awake to Woke to Work: Building a Race Equity Culture publication.

Speakers include racial equity thought leaders and practitioners, as well as nonprofit and philanthropy executives leading race equity transformation initiatives. Workshops will explore issues ranging from racial healing and allyship strategies that support people of color to building successful partnerships with equity consultants and cross-functional operationalization of race equity.

We’ve been working with several organizations on racial equity and other diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) issues and have also contributed to the literature on these topics from a nonprofit law and governance perspective. These are difficult issues to manage. And if transformation is the goal, the initiatives will require very substantial investments of honesty, patience, vulnerability, time, and resources. With that in mind, here are some of the highlights and my learnings from the EiC convening.

12 Highlights

  • The convening appropriately started with a land acknowledgment by Dr. Dorene Wiese.
  • Dr. Gail Christopher (formerly with the Kellogg Foundation) briefly summarized the framework for Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation (TRHT) and the need to jettison the belief in a hierarchy of human value with her powerful and eloquent words.
  • Dr. Christopher emphasized the importance of language and said she preferred the word “expansive” to “inclusive” because the latter suggested a hierarchical system. Dr. Christopher continually blew the audience away with her wisdom. I have to read more of her writings.
  • Marcus Walton (GEO) passionately instructed us to be Neo and break free from “The Matrix” (with its false narratives and inequities) to pursue racial healing and equity with aspiration. I loved the contrast Marcus provided with his energy and emphasis on testing and practicing. We’ll all be hearing much more from Marcus as a leader in this space.
  • Kerrien Suarez (EiC) astutely pointed out that we are trying to create a reality that we don’t know how to sustain. Truth. During the Q&A, an attendee advocated for naming the reality we’re striving to create.
  • Steve Lew (CompassPoint) announced an upcoming series of blog posts on developing a compensation policy with an equity framework to be published on the CompassPoint Blog (which also has some amazing posts on the organization’s journey to center racial justice, equity, and liberation) later this week.
  • John Bouman (Shriver Center on Poverty Law) sparked a discussion (and lasting buzz) about white fragility with his opinion that you may have to lower the temperature in strategically discussing certain topics with white leaders, but he also showed tremendous self-awareness in questioning what he missed in his past actions by not understanding the racial equity elements.
  • Caronina Grimble (Woods Fund Chicago), after acknowledging her nervousness, emphasized that you’re always ready to do racial equity work and you can lead from any position.
  • Local panelists at the lunch plenary discussed closing the racial leadership gap and building a race equity culture in Chicago organizations. Moderator Angelique Power (The Field Foundation of Illinois) set the tone, stating in her introductory remarks: Devoid of action, racial equity is just window dressing on the master’s home.
  • Jessica Vazquez Torres informed and entertained us with her insights about consulting in this space, including her observation that some nonprofits acquire use of the “right” language so they don’t really have to change.
  • Eric Polite noted that true enduring transformation will take 7-9 years and that training alone is no panacea for race equity (it’s rocking but not really moving anywhere).
  • Frances Kunreuther (Building Movement Project) identified her organization’s tools for building capacity for a race equity culture.