How human services leaders are dealing with racism and social justice.

“Any leader who tells you that they’ve got it figured out, any organization that tells you that they do it perfectly is not telling you the truth,” former NAACP director Ben Jealous said recently in an interview with the Chronicle of Philanthropy. He was talking about the potential to advance social change in the wake of nationwide protests against police brutality.”

Alliance for Human Services member leaders recently discussed how they are figuring out diversity, inclusion, and engagement issues to address systemic racism and social injustice within their organizations.

Here is a summary of how they are conducting workplace discussions about race and racism:

  • A member discussed the importance of understanding how current events are impacting staff and clients. Learning to respond to staff and client needs is key to effective leadership.
  • Some organizations are developing language that is direct and clearly defines their commitment to inclusion and diversity. One example of direct language was using “racism” rather than “diversity.”
  • Being able to address racial justice in a mission-centered way has helped to guide the racial justice efforts of some agencies.
  • The fear of saying the wrong thing is an issue for some boards and staffs. Many organizations have begun conversations between leadership and staff with the question, “How can we do better?”

“Talking is not enough,” is a recurring theme.

  • One organization re-wrote their value statement to clarify who they are and what they do using an equity lens. Another reflected on the need for leaders to know themselves better and recommended the book White Fragility by Robin DeAngelo.
  • One leader said responsibility requires going beyond recognizing white/male privilege to vouching for and making an introduction for those who have not benefited from such privileges.
  • A discussion followed regarding the need for organizational leaders to become more mindful about “how we got where we are.” Several members reported that their boards are committed to filling open board member positions with individuals who reflect the diversity of our community. The Alliance is working on ways to help identify prospects.

Members shared links to resources they found helpful.

  • “Facing Fear in Uncertain Situations” presented by Chris Voss at the recent Global Leadership Summit was recommended as a helpful resource for organization leaders and their staffs.
  • In How to Tackle Race at Your Organization, Rahsaan Harris, head of the Citizens Committee for New York City, shares six steps to creating a more racially equitable nonprofit. To start, he recommends that white people talk to other white people about race before speaking to people of color. “Don’t put the burden on the people that are in the ‘other group’ to educate you,” he says.
  • For suggestions on creating an organization that is welcoming to all, one member recommended 5 Steps to Building a Culture of Racial Equity.

While there is urgency in the moment to better understand and confront issues of racial injustice, AHS member leaders are under no illusion about the daunting work ahead. Much of the effort will involve the continuing discovery of what it is we don’t know we don’t know, because we have been living in a racist culture our whole lives.