A Personal Reflection on the Role I Must Play to Help Advance Racial Equity

For the past 13 years, I have had the pleasure of working for USICH as Director of Finance and Administration. And on the 28th of this month, I will celebrate 50 years of life. One half of a century. At this huge milestone, I’ve started asking myself some hard questions about how I “show up in the world.”  How do I wish to be remembered? Are my values evident in the ways and methods in which I spend my time? I began to take a hard look at where I was committing my energy and focus, and one area of concern that surfaced for me was racial equity.

Although I am only one person, I understand I have a sphere of influence, a circle of folks that I’m connected to and vice versa, in which I could make a difference in my own unique ways. And, as the world we live in continues to perpetuate injustice for people of color, it’s become evident that we need more folks paying attention and investing their time and their lives into the work of making sure that we help right these wrongs and create a better future for our children and loved ones. 

Personally, I started studying and educating myself on the history of race in our country, absorbing as much information as I could, including podcasts, YouTube videos, and connecting with others interested in this work. I also looked at my role here at USICH, including my responsibility for all facets of human capital management. I began to think about the work we’re doing externally in this space of racial inequity as it relates to access to housing and housing stability. I began to dialogue with colleagues about whether we were positioned effectively enough to authentically do this work externally, and what steps we’d need to take internally to strengthen our position. I researched and signed up for a two-day training with the Racial Equity Institute (REI). This organization is focused on bringing awareness and analysis to the root causes of racial disparities and disproportionality in order to help create racially equitable organizations and systems.

Have you ever heard the phrase “I wasn’t ready”?  Well, that is how I felt during the entire REI training. So much of the information I had never heard before–ever–in any of my classes from kindergarten all the way up through grad school. I feverishly took notes and wrote down suggested books and studies to absorb later. After classes ended well into each evening, I needed time alone to manage the emotion and gravity of it all, and the disconcerting fact that we still have a long, long way to go in our country in the area of racial equity. This is not to discount the strides we’ve made, but in a country where racial inequality has been intentional for purposes of concentrating power and wealth in one group at the expense of other groups, the strides we’ve made are, at best, a drop in the bucket. We only have to look at the daily news to see that we have much work still to do.

Once back at work, my first response was to work with colleagues to arrange for an REI training for our whole team that will be conducted in our offices this month. One statement by the trainers stuck out to me–that in order to do something about racial inequality, we have to get proximate to the issue. We must immerse ourselves into this work–mind, body, and soul.  And, we must realize, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere…Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Our training with REI later this month is just a starting point in the work we as a staff hope to do to better position ourselves to positively influence others in whatever spheres of influence we may have, and to bring attention and action to the work we collectively need to do to ensure that all people, regardless of race, gender identity, nationality, sexual orientation, socio-economic level, and other factors, have fair and equitable access to housing and all other facets of long-term housing stability.

As we work together to end homelessness in America, we must continue to apply the same reflective questions that often arise as we reach pivotal points in life, and we consider our place in the world and our legacy. Am I being intentional about how I’m spending my time, and therefore, my life?  How will I use my influence to better the lives of others and ensure that everyone has a fair chance to live out our founding fathers’ words that pertain to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all? No matter how small or how great our sphere of influence may be, and no matter where we are in life, we have power to help advance a more equitable society that will positively impact others, both now and for many years to come.