News & Update

Pulse Checking Progress Toward Operationalizing REI: Arts, Culture & Healing

In 2017, we released an internal learning report titled  “What Does it Take to Embed a Racial Equity & Inclusion Lens? that captures themes from internal interviews, a field scan, and learnings from our grantmaking and investments in cities across the country. There were twelve themes we uncovered in our scan of practices being used by organizations to operationalize racial equity. These twelve recommendations have guided our internal racial equity work in the last five years and we want to update you on what we have learned along the way and what we are continuing to test and practice.

For additional context, check out the first three blogs in this series:

Pulse Checking Progress Toward Operationalizing REI: Systems & Place

Pulse Checking Progress Toward Operationalizing REI: Transforming Organizations

Pulse Checking Progress Toward Operationalizing REI: Shifting Systems Of Power


11. Reconciliation And Healing Are Vital In Advancing Racial Equity.

Our Recommendations:

  • Include an intentional focus on healing and reconciliation as we recommit ourselves to operationalizing REI. This could take any number of forms, including facilitated conversations, role play, written reflections and responses, The important thing about this focus, in whatever form it takes, is that it helps us to heal societal racial divides as they manifest at Living cities and recognizes the need to acknowledge the wrongs of the past, while addressing the consequences of those wrongs.
  • Acknowledge that arguing and conflict are necessary. According to Citizen University CEO Eric Liu in a recent article in the Atlantic, “more arguing” as a step forward in healing our racial divide (though not the “stupid” type of arguing we’ve been doing in this election cycle, he says, which overlooks the root of our problems). Engage in conversation with leaders at Kellogg about their Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation work and consider implications for our own practice.

Our Action/Progress:

It has taken work for us to understand what it means to make healing justice central to this work and to understand what it takes and looks like to center people’s humanity. Our intentional practice understanding and implementing a healing justice lens started during our 2018 Winter Retreat. Erika Totten of Unchained Visioning and Shayna Hammond of Teach to Lead helped facilitate part of the retreat and helped us explore restoration and healing justice as a frame to sustain our work, and curated a Healing Village space where staff were able to practice self-care throughout our two days together. Since then, we’ve been exploring what it looks like to create this level of care in our offices and spaces together. One practice that we try to include in our healing justice practice is to create physical healing spaces for our staff. Our Timeout Tuesdays are reserved for internal meetings, all-staff meetings and a space for reflection. Before the pandemic, we would use one of the conference rooms to open up a healing space with poetry, art making, soothing music and engage in reflection questions. During the pandemic, we’ve been reserving time during our Virtual Timeout Tuesdays to create healing space for staff to process feelings related to current events or internal transitions and/or just to share space with one another in community– the use of the space has varied but we’ve intended it for it to be a safe and brave space for staff to use as they wish. 

Tools And Resources:

Practicing Radical Reimagination

Applying Healing Justice To Our Internal Journey In Racial Equity

Healing-Informed Collective Impact

Zine-Making As Storytelling And Healing


12. We Have To View Arts & Culture As Fundamental; Not Peripheral.

Our Recommendations:

  • Integrate art and culture as core elements of our brand through the experiences we create for our grantees, members, and broader community, both in person and in the digital space.
  • Consider how to harness the power of shared experiences of art and culture to foster learning and understanding as we develop our staff and community racial equity and inclusion learning curriculum.

Our Action/Progress:

In our convenings both external with our program participants and internally with our staff have an artistic or reflective component. We often begin many of our meetings with check-in questions that center humanity or rei in some way through reflections on pop culture, poetry, current events, mediations, etc. We’ve found that it gives us space to show up as a person before diving into an agenda and, “the work.” We’ve come to find that a lot of the work is actually in those moments. One practice we use for example is doing pulse checks at the top of each of our CORE meetings, and use that as an opportunity to assess whether or not we need to continue or if the conversation can be had when people in the room are in a better space to show up as their full selves.

At the individual level, it has looked like trying to be more intentional about our imagery and use of art in our content and in our digital presence. Art has generally been a tool for us to forge deeper connections and to understand each other and others’ in more inclusive ways.

Tools And Resources:


Using Art To Center Humanity In Our Theory Of Change

Zine-Making As Storytelling And Healing

Centering Healing And Humanity

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