Towards Racial Healing: Equity in the Center’s reflection on #NDORH

By: Kerrien Rollins Suarez, Director of Equity in the Center

“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history…If we do not act [,] we shall surely be dragged down…”

  -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., April 4, 1967

Equity in the Center recognizes the second annual National Day of Racial Healing (#NDORH) on January 16, 2018. Organized by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation as part of its Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation effort, #NDORH calls on people, organizations, and communities throughout the U.S. to engage  in racial healing, celebrate common humanity, and take action to create a more just and equitable world.

The urgency and timeliness of #NDORH is amplified by an American president whose hateful, vulgar rhetoric embodies the historic and contemporary effects of structural racism. Today, and every day, Equity in the Center encourages social sector leaders to generate action that will bring our communities and our country together to generate focused, positive action in defiance of today’s political climate, and in fulfillment of Dr. King’s dream:

  • Find ways to reinforce and honor our common humanity and create space to celebrate the distinct differences that make our communities vibrant.
  • Acknowledge that there are still deep racial divisions in America that must be overcome and healed.
  • Commit to engaging people from all racial, ethnic, religious and identity groups in genuine efforts to increase understanding, communication, caring, and respect for one another.

By taking one of these recommended actions in recognition of #NDORH, or as an Equity in the Center stakeholder supporting leaders and organizations in creating a race equity culture, our individual and collective work will not only create the space to name and begin to heal the deep racial divisions that still characterize American life, but will also generate the “type of constructive, nonviolent tension” Dr. King believed was necessary to the growth of American society and culture. In his ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail’, King wrote of both literal and figurative tension; literal in the form of nonviolent collective action, and figurative in terms of a tension within the mindset, values, and culture of individuals and communities:

“…the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.”

To generate this constructive tension, and inspire the healing opportunities that #NDORH promotes, Equity in the Center issued a Call to Action, challenging social sector colleagues to dismantle white supremacy and institutional racism, and to adopt specific tactics on the four levels at which racism operates: personal, interpersonal, institutional, and structural. Our aim is to compel nonprofit and philanthropic organizations to build a Race Equity Culture that values the humanity and lived experience of all persons equally, and proactively counteracts social inequities internally and externally.

Our Race Equity Cycle provides a framework for building a Race Equity Culture within organizations. In the next few months, we will release additional research that outlines specific management and operational levers that leaders and organizations can employ in this effort. Click here to become part of Equity in the Center’s network and to be notified about our new research, resources, and future convenings.

Fumbling Towards Equity: Increasing Diversity at all Levels of the Talent Pipeline

Written in collaboration with members of Equity in the Center’s Partner Organizations:
MacArthur Antigua, Senior Director, Alumni Engagement and Cross-Sector Partnerships, Public Allies
Ben Duda, Co-Executive Director, AmeriCorps Alums
Ericka Hines, Director of Diversity , Equity and Inclusion, ProInspire
Monisha Kapila, Founder and CEO, ProInspire
Kerrien Suarez, Director, Equity in the Center

We believe that the nonprofit sector needs diverse leaders at all levels in order to better achieve organizational missions, as well as reflect the communities in which they work and serve. Currently there is a lack of racial and ethnic diversity in the nonprofit sector:

  • 82% of the U.S. nonprofit workforce is white, compared to 65% of the overall U.S. workforce. In addition, people of color are expected to be 50% of the U.S. workforce by 2039.
  • Nonprofit organizations that serve children and families lack diverse leadership: 89% of nonprofit CEOs are white; 80% of board members are white.

  • Social outcomes differ based on race and ethnicity across multiple indicators. For example, the overall poverty rate in 2015 was 13.5% of the U.S. population, yet for Blacks it was 24.1% and for Hispanics it was 21.4%.

So what often holds people back from addressing this issue? Our work has identified three key barriers:

1. Creating a more diverse and equitable social sector is an adaptive challenge.  Oftentimes, nonprofits approach diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) work as a technical issue that can be solved with a precise formula and tested strategies. Yet the work is as much an adaptive challenge as it is a technical one. It requires a strategy on both fronts to build inclusive and equitable organizations and work cultures that help move our missions forward. Adaptive challenges require trial and error and a willingness to iterate to find the right solutions. Meeting this type of challenge also requires a shift in mindsets and behaviors to confront the influence of implicit and unconscious bias on the behavior and practices of individuals and organizations.  

2. Organizations lack understanding of how to change talent management practices — and the patience and commitment to do so. Successfully managing talent through recruitment, selection, advancement, and retention is an important part of any successful DEI effort, but it is only one area that requires organizational focus. Organizations that want to become more inclusive must also focus their energies on building trusting relationships with their employees, broadening external networks, and cultivating work environments that ensure employees feel safe, heard, valued and included. What’s more, organizations cannot expect a ‘quick fix’ on their diversity and inclusion challenges. A successful effort requires time, patience and commitment.

3. Individuals who are motivated  to make a difference need support systems and peers to help them create change in their organizations. The work around diversity, equity, and inclusion involves highly sensitive topics that  speak to the core of individual identity. Leaders need to bring highly attuned emotional intelligence to the work of adaptive change in order to respond to and guide their staff as they engage in DEI work. Additionally, it is imperative that both vision and long-term commitment guide these efforts at the leadership level so that staff and stakeholder momentum is supported and sustained throughout the work.  

Moving the Field Forward
Is your organization ready to place a racial equity focus on its work ? Does your organization have some basic talent management practices in place around diversity, but doesn’t know how to advance to the next level of change? Our research and experience suggests that many social sector organizations lack an understanding of how to make the management and cultural changes necessary to become equitable and inclusive. We also find organizations that are engaged in this work enter these efforts in different places. Our current hypothesis is that leaders move through this adaptive change work along a continuum that moves from Beginning (“Awake”), to Disrupting (“Woke”), to Sustaining (“Work”) stages. Equity in the Center is developing an Equity Continuum to better define the progression that organizations experience in moving towards a racial equity focus. As a leader prioritizing this work, we encourage you to think about the stage in which your organization currently operates, and reflect on the challenges you face as you engage in the difficult but critical work of creating a racially equitable organization.

The Equity Continuum, to be published later this year, is one part of a more comprehensive approach. Equity in the Center, a field-wide initiative to influence the social sector leaders to shift  its mindsets, practices, and systems to increase racial and ethnic diversity for the benefit of their organizations, our communities, and society.  The initiative has three primary goals:

  • Educate and increase awareness for leaders of organizations at the Beginning or ‘101 Level’ — those whose strategies encompass the practices and tools that measurably advance progress to improve racial disparities in their organization, but don’t focus on changing the culture of the organization to support individuals from different races.

  • Accelerate the pace and effectiveness of leaders and organizations as they move from ‘201 Level’ strategy to ‘301 Level’ strategy, by collaborating with aligned programs and lifting up models for the field.

  • Sustain leaders, capture learnings, and identify opportunities for collaboration to expand impact in the field.

We look forward to sharing more about our efforts, hearing from you about your organization’s successes and challenges, and partnering with you as we move ahead towards a shared vision of an equitable social sector where difference is valued and encouraged.

About Equity in the Center
Equity in the Center is a collaborative initiative that influences social sector leaders to shift mindsets, practices, and systems to increase racial and ethnic diversity at all levels in the social sector. The initiative was created by ProInspire, Public Allies, and AmeriCorps Alums in 2016, following a year of work together as part of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Social Sector Talent Pipelines Learning Lab. Lack of equity and inclusion in the nonprofit leadership pipeline is a problem that requires long-term, sector-wide structural solutions that move beyond diversity. The long-term goal of Equity in the Center is that all U.S. non-profit organizations are racially diverse and are actively participating in, defining, and advancing equitable opportunities. Equity in the Center’s work is made possible with support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the American Express Foundation, The Kresge Foundation, and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, with ProInspire serving as fiscal sponsor and backbone for the initiative. Additionally, an Advisory Committee comprised of expert practitioners, thought leaders, and capacity builders will support Equity in the Center in defining strategies to achieve sector-level impact.



Equity is everywhere.  

It’s actually not.  It’s sorely lacking in this country.  But we are starting to talk about it in ways, and with nuance and data, that we haven't seen before.  It’s a topic of conversation for the entertainment industry and Silicon Valley, for entrepreneurs and educators.  While no one would say that the nonprofit sector is ignoring equity, we’re not talking about it nearly enough.  And talk will ultimately lead to action, which is what we really need.