Racial Equity Here: A Call to Collective Action [OP-ED]

By Glenn Harris Jun 19, 2018

As people of color who live in the United States, we are heirs to a long tradition of community organizing, from Harriet to Frederick to Dolores to Yuri to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

In a nation whose history is rooted in systemic racism, slavery, and the genocide of Indigenous people, this tradition has been a necessity. From the inception of our country, institutions and government at the local, regional, state, and federal level have perpetuated a racial hierarchy that excludes people of color from the opportunities necessary to build safe and healthy lives for themselves and their families.

Our history of strong, clear, coordinated public organizing has, over time, made it illegal to explicitly discriminate against people of color. And the work hasn’t stopped. Through movements like #BlackLivesMatter and Drop the I-Word, organizers of color have altered the narratives around race in this country.

These momentum-building flashpoints are crucial, but in order to effectively catalyze and scale the transformation we need, sectors must come together and align on strategies to advance racial equity; strategies that are deeply informed by the communities most directly impacted.

While the laws have been changed since the eras of slavery and Jim Crow, our businesses and institutions remain imbued with policies and practices that create tremendous gaps for people of color. Systemic racism touches almost every aspect of our lives, from the media and education system to the labor force and public services.

The tireless efforts of organizers across the country have led to a growing movement of institutions that have publicly pledged to advance long-term solutions for combating racism. Today, June 19th, or Juneteenth—a day that commemorates the ending of slavery in the U.S.—over 190 local governments, private companies, and philanthropic organizations are announcing a commitment to confront and dismantle structural racism that still exists in the United States.

Through the initiative Racial Equity Here, we have an unprecedented opportunity to shift organizations across different sectors to advance racial equity. While individual stories are often the fuel for our daily efforts, in order to truly dismantle structural racism we must abandon the business-as-usual mindset that envelops whole sectors and start holding our government and institutions accountable for the roles they have played in creating and maintaining racial inequity.

We’ve seen this approach work. In 2014, amidst mounting racial tension, local government, philanthropic and grassroots leaders in Salinas, California, formed an innovative partnership that resulted in an initiative aimed at addressing the root causes of inequity and division within the city. More broadly, Albuquerque, Austin, Grand Rapids, Louisville and Philadelphia have changed how they do business. They have established racial equity visions and action plans; are training staff on government’s responsibility to create racial equity; are using data and racial equity tools to guide policy, program and budget decisions; and are forming cross-sector teams as part of their broader commitment to improve outcomes for all residents.

Right now these types of partnerships are not only possible, but essential. Racial disparities in America are too widespread for any one city, sector, organization or program to tackle alone. To achieve a stronger and truly multiracial, inclusive democracy, organizations from every sector must now partner to proactively advance racial equity.

Through initiatives like Racial Equity Here, we’re distilling years of research and practice into clear, easily accessible tools that give organizations a clear path forward, while also building a movement of institutions and sectors united around one common mission: to dismantle structural racism.

In this political moment, resistance is critical. When resistance is paired with effective organizing, public accountability, and implementation—it’s transformational. Cross-sector partnerships allow us to scale, materialize, and implement solutions that will accelerate outcomes for people of color while simultaneously strengthening and improving opportunities for all communities.

Glenn Harris has more than 25 years of experience training organizations both large and small on advancing racial equity. He is president of the new Race Forward, a national nonprofit that transforms policy, institutions and culture to advance racial justice and publishes Colorlines. Follow Glenn on Twitter.