Lessons Along Our Equity and Inclusion Journey

Photo by Amy Manuel Mohsin – Santa Teresa Park

In 2019, I was invited to join the American Leadership Forum’s second diversity, inclusion, equity, and liberation affinity group. Our now tight-knit group of 10 nonprofit leaders has explored what racial equity means for us personally, for local nonprofits, and for the larger community. Each of us has been challenged to answer the question, “What are we and our organizations doing that perpetuates the belief that White cultural norms are superior to other cultural norms?”

This invitation into the anti-racist movement made a big difference to me. I didn’t realize how much I had to learn (and still have to learn).

Toward the end of 2019, the Green Foothills board of directors and staff initiated an equity and inclusion journey. We have read books and engaged in uncomfortable self-examination. We recently retained a consultant with Edutainment for Equity to help guide this work.

Environmental activist Leah Thomas tells us in Why Every Environmentalist Should Be Anti-Racist, “the longer racism is not addressed, the harder it will be to save the planet.” While we are still early in our journey, it is clear that we will be more effective in reaching our mission and vision of protecting local nature as we become a more inclusive organization and promote a more equitable society.

Guidelines for Our Conversations

Our team has had many moments of insight along this journey. Here are the guidelines for conversations we are following. If you are having similar conversations, these guidelines might prove helpful.

  1. Center BIPOC voices: Rather than “empowering,” we should focus on listening to and following the leadership of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.
  2. Put relationships first: Be soft on people and hard on systems. Be conscious of feelings of guilt, shame, or blame (which are generally unhelpful in this work).
  3. Notice power dynamics: Be aware of taking up too much space or disengaging from dialogue.
  4. Create a space for multiple truths and norms: Speak your truth and seek understanding of the truths of others that differ from yours.
  5. Be kind and brave and lean into discomfort: Work to be explicit with your language about race, class, gender, etc. This work is often messy. If you are uncomfortable, you’re probably doing something right.
  6. Show what you’re learning, not what you already know. Avoid playing devil’s advocate; the devil has enough advocates.
  7. Allow for space: Practice self-care and understand and respect your boundaries.
  8. Be okay not having the answers: Leaders of Color are calling on us to pause and reflect before diving into action.
  9. Focus on our common goal: Remember that our purpose is to achieve a resilient region where wildlife thrive, everyone has natural beauty to enjoy, and communities live in balance with nature.

We can’t do this alone, and we need your support on this journey. Let us know (you can email [email protected]) if you have any input on this work, to share what books you are reading, or let us know if you’d like to get more involved through our Equity and Inclusion Committee. You can also support our Community Advocates Leadership Academy, which is working to grow and connect leaders who are advancing local initiatives that advance environmental conservation and equity.

On Our Reading List

Below are some of the books our board, staff, and advisory board have read that we have found helpful in our discussions.

So You Want to Talk About Race, by Ijeoma Oluo

Born a Crime, by Trevor Noah

How to Be an Antiracist, by Ibram X. Kendi

White Fragility: Why it’s so Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, by Robin DiAngelo

The Making of Asian America, by Erika Lee

Community: The Structure of Belonging, by Peter Block

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants, by Robin Wall Kimmerer

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