Lessons on Anti-Racist Organizing Across Government and Community

Lessons on Anti-Racist Organizing Across Government and Community

Living Cities works to create systemic change grounded in the understanding that systems and institutions are made up of people. Whether operating on the inside of institutions, or demanding change from the outside, the work of advancing racial equity is all about mobilizing people.

Throughout our work we have seen the impact of people organizing to shift power from a variety of platforms. We recently had the opportunity to talk to two women of color, Maya Wallace and Giovania Tiarachristie, about what it looks like to serve as organizers working both inside and outside of government institutions with the shared focus on advancing racial equity. Maya Wallace currently serves as a Performance Manager for the California Department of Justice and Giovania Tiarachristie, currently a Senior Consultant at Daniel Lim Consulting, previously served as Deputy Director of Neighborhood Planning at New York City Housing Preservation and Development. Below are key lessons that emerged from our conversations.

Lesson 1: Ground your work in history.

Both Maya and Giovania emphasized the importance of grounding in their personal histories to inform how they show up in rebuilding the future. After growing up across many cities and countries around the world, Giovania spent many of their early years of life in Pennsylvania. It was there that they became an organizer. Because they had experienced so many ways of living, they showed up to organizing with a recognition that it was important—and possible—to work “differently than a lot of white-led organizations working in communities of color who did not meaningfully engage residents.”

Whether operating on the inside of institutions, or demanding change from the outside, the work of advancing racial equity is all about mobilizing people.

Maya also came to organizing work from a place of deep reflection on her personal history. Growing up as a biracial kid in a conservative-leaning California county that was experiencing demographic shifts, she can recount many personal experiences of racism. Rather than responding with spite, she “learned to focus on trying to build alliances, friendships and relationships with people across the board, and trying to see beyond [the racism].” This tactic has enabled her to be a very effective organizer today.

Lesson 2: Covid-19 is an opportunity for action.

As Maya and Giovania reflected on the impacts of the Covid-19 crisis in their communities, both emphasized the ways that the voices of low income communities of color are ever critical in public sector decision making. In the case of Sacramento, Maya is seeing the city engage communities in ways she hoped they would for some time, but the pandemic elevated it as a priority. Giovania’s experience in New York City suggests that this is an opportune moment for communities of color and allies in government to push elected officials to be more accountable and develop transformative, anti-racist policies and practices.

Lesson 3: Relationships are the currency of change.

Across all aspects of their work, Maya and Giovania recognize the essential nature of building relationships at all levels of the systems they are trying to change. “It’s about understanding the entire network system that you’re working in and maintaining good relationships with as many elements of that network as you can,” Maya said. And that requires organizers spanning government and community “to work on both the systemic and interpersonal levels,” Giovania reflected. While this relationship building work can be complex, Maya and Giovania reminded me that it is also what makes it all worth it.

As they have moved this work forward, both leaders have evolved their understanding of success. “I’m happy if at the end of a process I look around and there are different people at the table than there were when I started,” said Maya. By partnering with folks both inside and outside of the public sector they are working towards a shared vision of government working on behalf of all people. Giovania reflected in conclusion that they have intentionally decided to work in the public sector in order to “transform the way government works with communities of color, in a way that allows them to identify their vision, support them in achieving collective goals, and co-develop policies and practices that work towards equity and justice.” Our hope is that our network of public servants can emulate these approaches to advance policy and practice that shifts power and creates more racially equitable communities.

Banner Art: Stay in Place! Stay Alive! Organize! Don’t Believe the Lies! for the Poor People’s Campaign by Nando Álvarez & Jessica Morrison


Latest Articles

Where It’s Going: Local Government Has A Role In Breaking Barriers to Business

We told you where it starts. Now, we’ll tell you where it’s going. By Norris Williams, Assistant Director at Living Cities As we pass the one-year mark of implementing Truist Foundation’s multi-year, signature small business initiative, Where It Starts: Breaking Barriers to Business, I find myself reflecting on our remarkable journey, momentum, and pride in new wealth-building pathways becoming realities. …

How 2020’s “Year of Reckoning” Shaped What Comes Next for Closing the Gaps

In 2020, Living Cities launched the  “Closing the Gaps” Network, paired with a cohort of cities participating in a “Year of Reckoning” initiative. This foundational year brought together leadership in six cities–Austin, Albuquerque, Memphis, Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Rochester–to interrogate how racism has shaped their cities, to organize together to implement policies and practices that would build wealth for BIPOC …

Wealth Beyond Survival

People of color are reported to be on track to become the country’s new majority by 2045. Knowing this, government leaders, private investors and philanthropic funders need to have a more comprehensive understanding of the challenge ahead: For people of color, starting a business, though a risky endeavor–especially compared to the experience of white entrepreneurs–is only the beginning of the …

Supporting and Growing Overlooked Entrepreneurs with Urban Innovation Fund

In 2012, Julie Lein and Clara Brenner started Tumml, an urban ventures accelerator with a mission to empower entrepreneurs to solve urban problems. Through their experience with Tumml, Julie and Clara saw how investors can overlook certain types of entrepreneurs, mostly women and people of color. Building on their experience, Lein and Brenner founded Urban Innovation Fund (UIF) as first-time …

Get Updates

We want to stay in touch with you! Sign up for our email list to receive updates on the progress we’re making with our network of partners, as well as helpful resources and blog posts.