Like so many nonprofits, CNC’s mission statement contains the words equity, justice, inclusion and diversity. Yet the reality is our country has long been experiencing increasing income inequality, with attendant gaps in affordable housing, access to healthcare, and more. The Boston Area has particularly stark racial wealth disparities, White households have average wealth of just under $250k, while, for non-immigrant Black households, that number is a shocking $8. In recent months, Covid-19 has only increased the visibility of that stark racial disparity.
Racial inequities are a product of American history and the failure to acknowledge and fully address them. White Americans disproportionately benefit from institutions, public policies, and other systems over any other race or ethnic group. Poet and thought leader Clint Smith said it best:
The way certain institutions are built and the way we talk about them as broken being kind of a misnomer, because they’re not actually broken. They’re operating in ways that are fundamentally tied to their origins and they are operating in ways they were largely designed to.
Now, in the wake of the brutal murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, our focus at CNC is making sure that, as we join the large chorus of nonprofit and for-profit organizations condemning these heinous acts of police brutality, we don’t fall into the trap performative activism.
What does this mean in practice for nonprofits? It means that, while the services organizations provide are critical, our work cannot stop there. It is imperative that we understand and acknowledge that racism is embedded in our public and private systems, that it has contributed to the need for the services and programs we deliver, and impacted how we deliver them. In particular, as a sector where nationally 80% of our workforce believes that the lack of diversity in nonprofit leadership is a “big problem,” we are obliged to take this as a true moment of reckoning. We must look inward, assess our organizational policies and practices to identify where we have fallen short, and then work actively on the individual and organizational levels to make the necessary changes. Only then can we endeavor to address racism in other places in an authentic and credible way.
At CNC, we are working to center racial equity on the individual and organizational level. In response to the recent murders of Black Americans at the hands of police, we have had frequent conversations as a staff team about racism, privilege and policing. These conversations have helped us learn from one another and more deeply appreciate the value that our different lived experiences bring to our collective table. They have also pushed us to seek out additional resources to better educate ourselves on the impact of racism on BIPOC in Cambridge, as well as our history of racism as a nation more broadly, and the roles we each can play to address it.
On an organizational level, we are committed to deepening the engagement of BIPOC nonprofit leaders in our work. We have made some progress in this regard to date, for example ending our policy of limiting participation on subcommittees to Executive Directors, which, due to the largely White makeup of nonprofit leadership in Cambridge (and nationally), prevented broader engagement. We have also made an active choice to regularly dedicate portions of our communications via email, our newsletter, Facebook and Twitter to speak out on issues of racial equity, and to share related resources with our nonprofit members and beyond. However we also recognize that we have much more to learn and further to go before we can evolve into a CNC whose leadership reflects the community and can authentically advocate for sector wide changes, and plan to invest the necessary time and resources to move this aspiration forward.
We all like to think that we would have walked alongside Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights movement. This is our moment to prove it. If we’re going to talk the talk, we must walk the walk, by putting our time, energy and money where our mouth is. Let’s take actionable steps to be a part of the solution and truly fulfill our purpose as nonprofits, and enact change that advances equity in Cambridge and beyond.