News & Update

Pulse Checking Progress Toward Operationalizing REI: Shifting Systems Of Power

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 two blogs in this series:

Pulse Checking Progress Toward Operationalizing REI: Systems & Place

Pulse Checking Progress Toward Operationalizing REI: Transforming Organizations

8. Addressing Systemic Racism Requires Talking About White Supremacy And White Institutional Culture.

Our Recommendations:

  • Engage in an honest, facilitated, conversation about how white supremacy culture currently manifests at Living Cities and potential antidotes.
  • Develop/refine/continuously revisit and lift up our working norms with a racial equity and inclusion lens.
  • Ensure that senior leadership receive coaching such that they can consider how to counter white supremacy culture in their work.

Our Action/Progress:

Through our competency building in our CORE workshops, we’ve built shared understanding around white institutional culture and practice identifying its manifestations in our overall work. We’ve used PISAB anti-racist principles as anecdotes and as a tool for identifying what it looks and means to address. It requires a lot of intention and sometimes, even risk, to name this and practice its anecdotes and it continues to be something filled with tensions that we are consistently grappling with and it is something that we are collectively practicing daily. 

Many teams have made it a ritual to create accountability statements as teams to name the ways they want to be accountable for working with one another and engaging in conflict. The teams who practice this revisit their accountability agreements to one another on an annual or bi-annual basis. 

Building REI competency is part of everyone’s role but we are growing to understand more deeply how important it is, based on role and responsibility, for it to be a must for certain positions, named senior leadership and performance managers, to hold a certain level of competency around REI. We are partnering with organizations like Lead for Liberation to deepen senior leadership’s ability to identify and counter white supremacy culture in our work.

Tools And Resources:

Ending White Supremacy Culture: Honoring The Labor That Got Us Here

Ending White Supremacy Culture: A Resource For Reckoning With History

All In This Together: Ending White Supremacy Culture Starts With Us

Ending White Supremacy Culture: Honoring The Labor That Got Us Here

Finding Myself Beyond White Institutional Culture

Ending White Supremacy Culture: A Resource For Cultivating Abundance Mindset

White Women: Its Time To Be Anti-Racist


9. To Talk About Race, We Have To Talk About Inherent Power Dynamics.

Our Recommendations:

  • Take truthful stock of power dynamics within our own institution: Start paying attention to who speaks at meetings, in conversations, etc. What are the racial and in some cases gender dynamics? How is the idea of “appropriateness” used; and when and by whom? How do people disengage from conversations about race? Who is disengaging? How does that disengagement relate to power?
  • Consider power dynamics in our work: Do community members and people of color have decision-making control in efforts we support? What are the narratives we use to explain why or why not? How are these narratives related to power? Use a power analysis in our communications about racial equity and in our programmatic work.

Our Actions/Progress:

Talking about power dynamics has been a continued and vital part of our journey at our organization that we’re still grappling with. Interrogating power dynamics and understanding how to better address the conflict and accountability that comes with that is ongoing. We began to attempt to intentionally interrogate power dynamics with the help of facilitators like Erika Bernibei of Equity and Results. We’re also planning toward a series of conversations and workshops that will help us practice moving through conflict in ways that don’t perpetuate white supremacy culture and that allow for health conflict that can be transformative vs. harmful. 

Tools And Resources:

Philanthropy: We Need to Talk About Power by Nadia Owusu


10. We Cannot Advance Racial Equity Until We Focus On Anti-Black Racism And Intersectionality.

Our Recommendations:

  • Include in its racial equity and inclusion learning curriculum, readings, speakers, and media about why considering anti-Black racism is fundamental to achieving racial equity and inclusion, and about intersectionality. Engage in conversation with our sites, such as New Orleans, San Francisco and Baltimore, that are centering anti-Black racism in their work to understand what that looks like in local efforts. Invest in Black-led social change efforts and partner with Black-led organizations.

Our Action/Progress:

Our journey toward understanding how important the focus on anti-Black racism and intersectionality is ongoing. We have normalized conversations around Anti-Black racism through conversations at all-staff retreats, CORE workshops and our REI Competency Survey. Our goal has been to help staff understand why it’s important to begin there as the root of the racial inequities persistent across systems. We have built consensus around the need to begin with a focus on addressing Anti-Black racism and deepening our intersectional approach to our work. It’s our belief that when you solve for those communities of people who are most impacted by the intersections of system racism, everyone else is subsequently more well-off as a result. 

Tools And Resources:

500 Years Of The Racial Wealth Gap: A Timeline

Organizing For Racial Justice: A Timeline

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