I believe innovation in the social sector can only happen with impacting hearts and minds to unlock unlimited potential. Combining strategy with a focus on illuminating what’s beneath the surface of the work, we can cultivate awareness and insight around racial equity and create a culture that sustains authentic action.
America’s deeply flawed racial construct made itself known to me while growing up in a middle class white suburb in the eighties as I noticed the troubling patterns of injustice for people of color. Beneath the obvious and overt racism I witnessed everyday occurrences of racialized mindset—such as comments like “roll up your windows in the black neighborhood”—that were so common they seemed to go largely unnoticed by my white community. This ‘un-noticing’ spoke as loudly as the incidents themselves. It sparked a stirring inside me early to focus my life’s work on racial justice.
I am a co-founder and former COO of the Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ), a collaborative initiative that is uncovering solutions in North Minneapolis. I helped develop strategies which are yielding results today. But just beneath the surface of the work was a stirring that something more of me was needed—a calling to focus more on the internal landscape, influencing the hearts and minds of people running our service systems to acknowledge and heal the racial fractures our white ancestors created that are reinforced today.
With pressure for outcomes in our rapidly growing effort and mandates of a large federal grant, I sometimes lost sight of my own wellness. At times, I became the problems I was trying to solve instead of standing in wholeness, joining with the opportunity for change. I began to cultivate my leadership to listen more deeply before jumping to solutions, becoming aware when I need balance, and working to ensure my own vision does not eclipse the contribution of others. I began to develop a lifelong reflection and learning commitment. I believe white leaders in systems where race and poverty intersect must engage with awareness to ensure patterns of white dominance are broken and opportunities for people of color to influence are created.
I am enrolled at the Humphrey School and am on a multi-year journey to cultivate what I need in my own mindset and skillset to become a white leader who can help dismantle the obvious and the subtle structures of racism, focusing on cultivating racial equity in our social systems where race and poverty intersect.
The Twin Cities is home to some of the worst racial disparities in the nation. America’s fractured racial history plays out today through deep disparities in employment, education, health and so many more. Our social sector systems that function in the communities where racial disparities are their worst are often run largely by white leaders and staff, despite significant attempts to diversify. The structures that govern them, and the day to day normalized practices, often unintentionally carry manifestations of structural racism. And there’s growing evidence that we even carry our white supremecist past through epigenetics, patterns of impact and interaction housed in our bodies.
To change our systems, we must change ourselves; reflection, deep recognition and active awareness about how our attitudes, behaviors, and nervous systems inadvertently reinforce the structural power we hold in our society. Individuals working and leading in the social sector can seek out the everyday ways the patterns of racism are replicated, and work together with intention and creativity to change them, even in small ways, to begin to reset the pattern one interaction, one behavior, one program, one policy, or one neighborhood at a time.