Racial Equity: 2018 Year in Review
Written by: Brittney Washington, Miriam’s Kitchen Racial Equity & Inclusion Manager
In February 2018, Miriam’s Kitchen published our first external message that spoke explicitly about the link between race and homelessness. One year later, racial equity has become a core part of our work, and we remain committed to integrating equitable practices throughout the organization. Our method, based on the Wheel of Change theory, centers around transforming our behaviors, organizational structures, and giving attention to hearts and minds.
What have we worked on this year?
Staff Development and Training (Behavior)
Each month brought new challenges and triumphs. The Racial Equity Working Group (REWG) partnered with SPACES to launch the Bias & Belonging Curriculum in late 2017 and continued this work in the New Year. The process was grounded in deep relationship building, acknowledging bias, and committing to a personal plan for overcoming it. Along with attending all-staff trainings, many staff joined racial affinity groups and the MK anti-oppression reading group to practice acknowledging and overcoming biases throughout the year.
A highlight of the year was watching the film Black Panther with our guests experiencing homelessness—complete with oversized tubs of popcorn and a post-show discussion of the importance of countering stereotypic imagery.
Staff also participated in several equity trainings held across DC, often using personal time to do so. Trainings were hosted by a variety of local organizations, including the Consumer Health Foundation, Georgetown University, the Meyer Foundation, and consultant groups such as Incite-Cite. We shared what we learned with our peers, seeking to deepen our understanding of the ways institutional racism has impacted the housing crisis. This goal led us to explore, among other subjects, white supremacy culture in organizations and how bias affects service provision. We came away with tools for creating a racial equity culture and aligning our practices with our values. Staff members were also asked to share their expertise with other organizations, most notably as racial equity panelists at the national Built for Zero conference for outreach professionals.
Policy and Practice (Structures)
We spent time investigating and improving our internal policies around hiring and offering guest services. In January, REWG members formed a hiring task force to conduct research around racially-equitable hiring practices. They partnered with the Performance Management team to launch new protocols for reducing bias in recruiting and hiring. In late spring, the Development team used the new method to hire its new associates. REWG also began offering on-boarding sessions to inform new hires of MK’s racial equity initiatives.
Research and data collection were also prominent themes in our advocacy and direct service departments. The Advocacy team urged for city-wide data on homelessness to be disaggregated by race. Social Services and Kitchen directors collaborated to host monthly round-tables to hear and respond to guest experiences. Later in the year, the Outreach team piloted research that sought to determine whether guest demographics (including race) affected housing outcomes. They also reviewed their program’s structure for evidence of implicit bias.
Groups such as Agents of Change and Studio for Change (S4C) sought to create pathways for deeper guest engagement and power-building. The Speaker’s Bureau was revitalized, and MK hosted a brilliant advocacy fellow. S4C members conducted participatory action research to better understand the history of housing in DC, and began writing a play aimed at activating policy-makers and votes to action.
Wellness and Togetherness (Hearts & Minds)
REWG members practiced getting to know one another and deepening our self-care practices. We incorporated individuation (or one-on-one relationship-building) techniques into our monthly meetings, and encouraged staff to spend time with each other. When public acts of violence erupted over the year, members collaborated with leadership to offer spaces for witnessing, grieving, and processing. We spoke in earnest about the challenges of our work and sought ways to support one another. We sought community among other organizations committed to racial equity work, and stood united with People for Fairness and The Way Home Campaign during public demonstrations.
REWG also extended its reach beyond staff. In May, our co-chair invited board members to consider their interests, spheres of influences, and resources to carve out their own niche in the work—a message received with enthusiasm.
What have we learned?
Of the year’s lessons, three things stand out:
1. The past year was emotionally, mentally, and even physically, exhausting. We have learned that developing a culture of care, curiosity, and compassion is necessary to counter movement fatigue, particularly in the current sociopolitical context. Our work is possible, even through difficult times, because we ground ourselves in transformative relationship-building.
2. Infrastructure is crucial. One of our biggest challenges has been making the time to complete anti-biasing practices, research, and thought leadership on top of full-time, demanding jobs. It was important to maintain consistent meeting times, use technology to track and organize projects, and ask for help when needed. We also sought content experts to help direct specific parts of the work. Last year, we realized that our work had grown beyond the capacity of REWG members and advocated for the creation of a part-time Racial Equity and Inclusion Manager. Think capacity-building.
3. Commitment to [harm-reductive] action is key. A quote from an REWG member sums up this lesson: “Push yourself to be uncomfortable, it doesn’t have to be perfect, we have to do this work.” Building in mechanisms for strategizing, collective learning, and accountability that help guide us during moments of uncertainty are necessary. Harm reduction becomes particularly important in settings/organizations that are primarily white.
What are we left wondering?
REWG often returns to the subject of accountability. We have pondered, to whom is our group accountable? How does our work reflect that accountability? How are we accountable to staff and guests of color? How do we keep ourselves accountable for advancing initiatives? How does pace, other responsibilities, and mutual support intersect with accountability? How do we continue to make this work sustainable and affirming for those involved? We will spend time this year exploring answers to those questions and working to curate a space that feels relevant, welcoming, safer, and interesting to all staff.
Please check back on our upcoming post when we’ll share what’s coming up for the year!