In the words of James Baldwin, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

In 2014, the Chetty Study ranked Charlotte 50 out of 50 for economic mobility. This study revealed that children who are born into poverty will more than likely remain in poverty. Many in our community were shocked and embarrassed. How could this thriving community be dead last in upward mobility? Yet, families who resided in certain zip codes from this study were not surprised and voiced concerns of the day-to-day struggles. In response, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force created a platform of strategies, recommendations, and resources to engage the community which eventually led to the development of Leading on Opportunity.

In 2016, Charlotte was forced again to address the long-standing impact of racial trauma and inequities after the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott. Then another act of blatant racism (along with many others) unfolded right before our eyes with the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, and the world could no longer be silent about racial injustices and the long-term health and economic disparities prior to and during Covid-19. Protests erupted worldwide for institutional, structural, and systemic change and justice. A day of reckoning fell upon our society where words no longer sufficed. Justice and actionable steps toward diversity, equity, and inclusion were warranted.

Since then, corporations and nonprofits on a global level have stepped up to condemn inequities of brown, black, and indigenous people with racial equity statements. This is the easy part. But what sustainable and measurable actions are organizations going to take following these statements? What changes need to transpire in relation to organizational infrastructure, educational systems, affordable housing, food insecurity, homelessness, and funding for emerging nonprofits?

In my career with nonprofits and as an entrepreneur, I’ve witnessed and experienced how interchangeable these systems are and how they rely on each other. I have also seen how quickly racial equity statements are published into mainstream media with no follow-up, which encumbers the process and maintains the systemic cycle.

Through extensive research and practice, I admire how the United Way of the Central Carolinas (UWCC) moved beyond the status quo to change up the way things have always been done. As a trusted expert, UWCC responded to the call and instituted racial equity as a part of its core model. The organization has served as a bridge, acknowledging racism and other forms of oppression. UWCC has vowed to communicate, educate, and dismantle systemic racism. It is powerful and tangible.

UWCC decided to not just talk the talk, but also to act. In doing so, the organization has intentionally committed to:

  •       Recruit and develop talent that is reflective of diversity
  •       Establish a more diverse and inclusive Board of Directors
  •       Remove negative stereotypes of how people are portrayed through storytelling
  •       Analyze data that identifies disparities that exist within organizations and communities
  •       Understand the root causes of problems from a structural lens to provide solutions

Additionally, UWCC created a thoughtful and well-planned 21-Day Racial Equity Challenge at the beginning of the year to encourage courageous conversations and deepen understanding. The challenge culminated in an action-oriented examination of how racism, inequality, white supremacy culture, privilege, power, asset framing, and allyship affect us individually and collectively. Nearly 17,000 individuals and 240 organizations and businesses participated.

Through UWCC, I got an opportunity to participate in two cohorts: Equity 101 Training and the Racial Equity Learning Community, a six-month program, with several community and nonprofit leaders. Both challenged us to assess, amplify, interrupt, innovate, and advocate while guiding us through a framework of change management.

The impact on me has been sizable. I’ve been more focused and vocal on disrupting systems. Likewise, I have championed the importance of making DEI an organizational goal for Next Stage clients, organized and led a racial equity change team inclusive of board, leadership, and staff members. I’ve also guided presentations (and uncomfortable conversations) on Levels of Racism and Why Race & Culture Matter to Storytelling.

As institutions work to integrate DEI practices and processes beyond the written word to more intentional steps, I am excited to leverage my learnings and experiences, positioning the clients of Next Stage to re-envision social awareness and equitable models to advance this important work.

Written by: Helen Hope Kimbrough