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.
"Growing up as an undocumented immigrant being invisible was a survival strategy. Now that my immigration status is more secure I believe it’s important to be seen, heard, and counted."- Cynthia Ordonez Salguero
During these unprecedented times, it’s difficult to focus on anything other than COVID-19. This leads even important efforts to slip through the cracks; the Census is one of them.
Around the end of April in 2010, Cambridge’s self-response rate was 73%. This year, it was only 54%. We’ve got to get those response rates up if we want to seize this opportunity to build a better future.
The Census is about getting the government we need
Begun in 1790, the Census is a once-every-decade effort to count every individual living in America. The data is used for three main reasons:
Where nonprofits come in: the challenges to a complete count
Unfortunately, many obstacles that prevent an accurate count are heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic we’re living through.
Recently, the most notorious of these has been the proposed (and fortunately, rejected) citizenship question, which would have asked household members to report their citizenship or immigrant status. A 2017 study showed that just the possibility of the question stoked the fears that already existed in immigrant communities, particularly that Census data would be used to enforce deportation policies.
In reality, Title 13 protects all respondents’ private information such as name, address, Social Security Number, and telephone number from being disclosed or published. Reassuring the immigrant community there’s no citizenship question and their private information is protected under the law, could help increase response rates.
Another challenge to a complete count is directly related to COVID-19. The Census traditionally relies on Census Takers, who go door to door, and attend public events and meetings. They are trained to answer questions or concerns that may arise. As we all know, this method is no longer safe. Recently the Census Bureau released plans to resume some Census field operations in select locations. Alas, no Area Census Office is currently open in Massachusetts.
While people can fill out the Census by phone, mail, or online, these methods disadvantage lower-income respondents. Exacerbating the digital divide are the closings of libraries, schools, and other public buildings. However, there is an opportunity for potential partnerships between the Census Bureau and non-profits who have stronger connections with the communities they serve. These partnerships could offer community members the resources they need to successfully complete the Census.
To ensure our region receives fair federal representation and allocation of federal resources, we must ramp up the effort to count everyone in Cambridge.
As previously mentioned in 2010, the Cambridge self-response rate (people who responded on their own without a census taker visiting their home) was 73% around this time. Right now it’s only 57%. Thankfully, the Self-Response Phase deadline has been pushed to October 31st, 2020.
I raise these challenges and possible solutions in hopes that they spark ideas for service providers, community members, and government officials on how to increase response rates.
The Cambridge Nonprofit Coalition (CNC) wishes to express its enthusiastic endorsement of the twelve Commitments put forward by the Building Equity Bridges (BEB) movement in December 2019, calling on Cambridge Public Schools to become an anti-racist district. Over the past two years, BEB — a joint effort of the Cambridge Public Schools (CPS) and the Cambridge Education Association — has engaged over 200 youth, families and teachers to name entrenched barriers to equity. This community-based process resulted in twelve commitments that include making anti-racism and racial equity training mandatory at every level, and elevating direct youth power.
Many of the CNC's member organizations work directly with students of color in Cambridge and understand the harm caused to them on a daily basis by racism in our schools and around our community. Other CNC member organizations work with adults of color in Cambridge who also experience the personal pain and economic consequences of racism in their daily lives. Cambridge is not unique in its struggle to honestly address racism. But we have an opportunity to respond in a uniquely courageous way and break new ground together as a community.
The twelve BEB Commitments are the product of an enormous effort which centered the experiences of youth and adults of color. They provide a bold, valuable framework for dismantling racism and pursuing equity in our school system and wider community. We are lucky to have such a dedicated and diverse group of community members leading and organizing this effort. The CNC is grateful that Cambridge Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Kenneth Salim, endorsed these commitments in a December Op-ed and that the Cambridge School Committee passed a resolution on Tuesday, January 21 endorsing them, as well.
CNC members are similarly committed to anti-racism work within our own organizations and recognize how important it is that we mirror and complement the efforts that will be undertaken by the District. We recognize that in order to do this, and ensure our decisions and programs are also guided by an anti-racist lens, we must engage in the same difficult reflective work and build institutional capacity to do so on an ongoing basis. In an effort to advance such work across the nonprofit sector, the CNC will continue leading conversations among nonprofit leaders regarding the implementation of a similar set of Commitments for CNC members.
The CNC wishes to thank the young people, families, educators and providers involved directly in the Building Equity Bridges movement. We encourage all individuals invested in the Cambridge community to courageously combat racism in their personal and professional life, and to find a place in our community wide efforts in pursuit of equity.
The Cambridge Nonprofit Coalition advances equity and justice in the community by strengthening the Cambridge nonprofit sector, building collective voice, and promoting collaboration.
Managing Director, Cambridge Nonprofit Coalition (CNC)
Note: This piece was published as an op-ed by the Cambridge Chronicle and Cambridge Day.
CNC Member Organizations
CNC is excited to partner with the Cambridge Volunteer Clearinghouse on Cambridge Volunteer Week. Beginning with a kick-off volunteer workshop on April 16, the week will include neighborhood-based workshops for prospective volunteers, featuring local nonprofits (see schedule here). It will end with a board member recruitment fair on April 23 (more details to follow). If your organization is interested in presenting on your volunteer needs at a workshop, please contact Laurie Rothstein. Space is limited.
Right now, one primary area of CNC's focus is the 2020 Census. The stakes couldn't be higher. For the decade ahead, not only does it determine how many seats in the House of Representatives — and Electoral College votes — each state gets, it also impacts how billions per year of federal funding is invested in critical services like neighborhood improvements, public health, education, social services, and transportation.
Nonprofits are key to Cambridge's mission of counting every resident to secure a fair allocation of government resources. Please check out the City's Census website, with resources like city and federal census job applications, posters to print in many languages, and FAQs covering issues such as immigrant status and confidentiality.
On December 2, the Cambridge City Council held a roundtable/working meeting that included discussion of findings from the Universal Pre-Kindergarten Program Study Report, conducted by Early Childhood Associates (ECA) in partnership with UMASS Donahue Institute (UMDI). Implementing a Universal Pre-Kindergarten program will significantly impact community based early education providers and the young families they serve. CNC wants to be sure our community is aware of these discussions, and is interested in hearing feedback and collecting comments from the Cambridge nonprofit community. Read more on the topic here and send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We are thrilled to report that CNC was awarded a grant from the Cambridge Community Foundation (CCF) in the amount of $40,000 per year for three years. This investment will allow CNC to build its own capacity and expand both our network and the resources we can provide for members and other Cambridge nonprofits. We are grateful for this deep level of support that is a continuation of our longstanding relationship with CCF, our fiscal sponsor, founding partner and the local giving platform, supporting shared prosperity, social equity and cultural richness in Cambridge.
CNC has moved to the Link at Kendall Square, located at 255 Main Street, 8th Floor. While we will miss our colleagues from our former home in the Cambridge Community Foundation at 99 Bishop Allen Drive, we are excited about this new space, which has connected us to new organizations, and a new partnership with TSNE MissionWorks. Learn more about the Link here.
CNC created a survey for City Council candidates in an effort to better understand their positions on issues of importance to nonprofit leaders in our city. The survey questions were drafted with feedback from CNC member organizations and guidance from the CNC steering committee. Read the responses here.