We the People....?

3 minute read

Jeanne Tedrow, President & CEO, North Carolina Center for Nonprofits

Nonprofits are mission driven organizations seeking to improve the quality of life in our communities. As such, we often face challenges related to how we approach programs and services that promote equity, diversity, and inclusion. I am hopeful that our sector and those who serve in it are seeking opportunities for systemic change that will result in organizations and communities that center racial equity. This is a continuous learning journey. In its commitment to this journey, the North Carolina Center for Nonprofits recently refreshed our 2022 vision statement:

We envision a North Carolina where nonprofits are intentional in their commitment to holistically build healthy, equitable organizations and center racial equity to strengthen communities.
(approved by Board of Directors, June 23, 2022)

In my own commitment to this journey, I recently participated with a cohort of other White nonprofit leaders in a workshop series that focused on being White. In this workshop, we shared amongst ourselves what being “White” meant for each of us. For many, it was a first experience discussing our white identity and the privileges we hold because of birth, over which none of us had influence or choice. We acknowledged that growing up with this white identity allowed us to receive unearned privileges, and acknowledged the accompanying unconscious and conscious biases we held.

It helped me recognize my own blind spots in the way I view racial equity. I need to have these candid and honest conversations in support of my own personal and professional journey. Saying this does not give me a pass on being ignorant or sometimes hurtful as I recognize that I am on this journey as an active learner, with the possibility of making and learning from my mistakes. I want to create the space for me and others to be on this journey together.

As we explored what being White meant and how these privileges have shaped our lives and our world views, I wanted to better understand how I interacted in a system that supported my white privilege while taking responsibility to learn how to disrupt a system that directly benefitted me in my whiteness. Others in the group shared these feelings. We were seeking greater understanding on how we might influence the space we are in, to support systemic change to increase racial equity.

We shared how we have had varying experiences within our organizations and our work to support the concept of greater racial equity, diversity, and inclusion. This workshop gave us an opportunity to go beyond mere words to explore our personal, individual, and social roles that support or disrupt the very systems that benefit us. It was a space that encouraged us to question all that we had been taught about a white dominant culture that prospered some and disadvantaged many others.

Over the past few years, there has been heightened awareness and discussions about racial (in)equity. Crescendos and outcries of "Black Lives Matter” and “Say Her Name” and George Floyd’s daughter who courageously said, “my daddy changed the world,” challenge us all to keep our attention on systemic racism.

Many of us have been participating in a variety of equity, diversity, and inclusion “programs”, often alongside people of color and often leaning on our Black and Brown colleagues to help us fix what is broken. In doing so, we have heard them say “white folks need to do the work for themselves.” Rightly so. Often, our white lens limits our ability to see more clearly the harm we are doing in our attempt to “do good works.”

This workshop experience allowed me to do my own personal work, to be vulnerable and not defensive. I recognized that we are all in this system and it affects and hurts us all. Facing racism and the system it supports rather than denying it offers us the opportunity to change. While we may have a long way to go, we can begin right now, where we are, and find others with whom we can work to affect change and create systems that center equity.

In her book, The Sum of Us, Heather McGhee offers five significant discoveries about how we can prosper together. Among these is her fifth and final discovery: “We’ve got to get on the same page before we can turn it. We’ve tried a do-it-yourself approach to writing the racial narrative about America, but the forces selling denial, ignorance and projection have succeeded in robbing us of our own shared history—both the pain and the resilience. It’s time to tell the truth, with a nationwide process that enrolls all of us in setting the facts straight so that we can move forward with a new story together.”

In her final statement, Ms. McGhee offers hope. “In short, we must emerge from this crisis in our republic with a new birth of freedom, rooted in the knowledge that we are so much more when the “We” in “We the People” is not some of us, but all of us. We are greater than, and greater for, the sum of us.”

Equity, Diversity, Inclusion