Changes are happening everywhere, and they seem to be happening more frequently. Climate change is creating adverse conditions across our nation and globe: heatwaves, flooding, and fires across the West Coast. Organizations are negotiating their commitment to the nuanced and long-term work of racial equity. We are all being invited to consider what requires our attention and intention.
Since joining the REACH Fund, I have witnessed our racial equity practitioners grappling and experimenting with how to center BIPOC folks in racial equity processes—how to minimize the trauma these staff members and leaders experience in life and work that is so often the focus of assisting an organization in advancing towards its racial justice goals.
As we face another historically dry summer, the overall impact of climate change, and the shameful inaction of both government and corporate agencies, at this moment, we are invited to consider how it feels for a family to evacuate their home with no idea of whether it will be standing when they return. Can we pause and put ourselves in the shoes of BIPOC folks who endure their ancestral, social, and personal experiences broadcast (and often debated) within a racial equity workshop or training?
Whether inside or outside of these charged experiences, we can use empathetic questioning to increase our own active commitment to making choices that offer care and restoration to our co-workers, our neighbors, and our fellow humans. What are you putting your attention and intention towards?
REACH Program Officer
Rewind: Last year was an overwhelming year for racial equity practitioners, whose gifts were called upon in record numbers by many organizations across multiple sectors. What was that moment like for you?
Judy: It was an interesting moment for many of our racial equity practitioner colleagues in terms of sitting with the tension of, ‘Wow, this is an incredible moment of people and organizations and institutions recognizing this thing called racial equity and wanting to know what it is,’ and realizing that they needed to do work internally within their organizations to align with a vision for racial equity and justice and all of the promise that provides in terms of how we create the change that we want to see in the world. At the same time, and even to this day, I sit with this tension of recognizing that it took the murder of George Floyd and other Black folks for that awakening to happen. What does that tell us about society and organizational leadership and where they were last year, even at the beginning of last year, before the summer of killings and uprisings, that it takes a series of brutal in-your-face acts of violence in order to wake people up to the reality and the importance and the urgency of racial equity and justice work?
I’m still sitting with that and what that means for us in our work. As we were getting lots of calls and emails about wanting to work with us, one of the questions we were asking ourselves was: were we going to change our practice in any way? Were we going to do our work differently? Our process usually is nine months minimum to do racial equity organizational change work, but we started asking ourselves is there a racial equity organizational change process that we could develop to help be responsive to the needs and the demand at the moment? And we realized that no, we can’t shortchange the work that needs to happen. It takes a certain level of time and care and attention to do really deep racial equity work, and we would just have to be very discerning I think in who we were partnering with and trying to get a sense of what their needs are and where they are coming into the work and whether they were ready to really go into our process of deep reflection and training and assessment and action planning.
From the last year and a half, what are 1-2 achievements that you are most proud of as it relates to CURE’s racial equity organizational change work?
Judy: I certainly am proud of how we have adapted to the moment in terms of the pandemic really forcing us to figure out how we would do work that we normally would do in person that now is all virtual. Before COVID, all of our workshops and trainings, we would travel to be in person with our client partners, and so we had to take the time to really adapt our training materials and curriculum to be in a virtual setting. And I personally at the beginning, was a little wary about, are we going to be able to have the types of conversations and dialogue that we normally have in person in a virtual setting? I have been surprised and really proud that we have been able to make those adjustments and have been able to hold space for the conversations and the work that needed to happen with our client partners.
The CURE team has really shown a remarkable level of resiliency in the face of the pandemic, but also in the face of violence against Black and brown people that we’ve also had to internalize ourselves individually, but also as we’re facilitating in Black and brown staff meetings.
The second thing is, trying to take a step back and name the things that we have learned from doing racial equity or change for almost three years now. And so part of that work is this dashboard that we’re building that is allowing us to begin to benchmark our organizational assessment data that we’ve collected.
What are 1-2 lessons or unresolved questions for you/CURE?
Judy: Just one is: How are we approaching racial equity work in a way that centers the trauma or recognizes the trauma that Black and brown people are experiencing coming into the work, including trainings and workshops? Like pre-pandemic, if there was someone crying in our sessions, it was often a white person crying; now it’s Black and brown people crying in session. We’ve had to pivot in the moment and make space, and last week we went back into racial caucusing to ask Black and brown staff how they wanted to proceed. And a couple folks said they wanted to leave; they didn’t want to be in the space. Others said, ‘Let’s continue. I don’t trust the white people to do the work on their own.’ And also others recognize that even as a Black or brown person, you may not necessarily have developed an organizational change lens, that we don’t necessarily need to sit through training about racism. But that it’s to our benefit as a team that’s trying to change the organization that we’re going through this process collectively. But this one of those questions we’ve been sitting with: how do we strengthen the ways in which we center Black and brown people in the work, and are there some additional spaces that we can help support? And we’ve done that with a couple of other clients where we’ve had a couple sessions that were focused on self-care for Black and brown staff. But I do think that as the org change work is increasingly intersecting, it should be driven in part by what’s happening out in our communities and in the country. That we’re keeping in mind that staff of color are coming in, at times, where that can be very traumatizing, and how are we—to a certain degree—asking Black and brown staff to carry the emotional labor of the change work that’s happening within organizations, because oftentimes these conversations, as they should, center around the experiences that staff of color are having. At the same time we’re also hearing staff of color say that sometimes it can feel like we’re putting our emotions and our lived experiences on display for the benefit of learning that needs to happen among our white colleagues. So that’s one big one that I’ve been sitting with.
Anything else you’d like to share with us?
Judy: How we situate this work within the larger movements for racial justice is important. Racial equity has now become the Sexy Thing. Some orgs that are coming into this in a new way don’t really want to engage around the politics of racial equity and the ideology and the consciousness of racial equity, and folks may approach this differently, but at least for me and for the CURE team, this work of organizational and institutional change has to be tied and linked to this broader vision for liberation and justice that is inherently political. I think that’s where oftentimes people get challenged, as well as that, as they’re coming into the work at the beginning, there are going to be political and ideological clashes and that as a racial equity practitioner, you have to be clear on how your politics and ideology inform your racial equity work and what you’re trying to advance within organizations and how those to align.