As a partnership, we have expeditiously ventured into the racial and cultural equity space. We’ve been working hard to solidify our commitment, goal, and course of action, and we are bringing that work to bear. As we push our commitment to Advancing Racial Equity into the light, our CEO shares his experiences surrounding equity, diversity and inclusion with you.
I’m writing to share our Partnership’s Commitment to Advancing Racial and Ethnic Equity. We have discussed this at recent Town Hall meetings, committees and in private discussions and I want to share it now even more broadly with a bit of context before it goes public on our website in June.
My own awakening about racism over the last few years seems a bit like the confusion, anticipation, and beckoning in the morning when you cautiously crack your eyes to a flood of summer light after a hard sleep. The light is blinding but inviting so I remind myself that it’s a new day and there’s meaningful work to be done. Learning about the inequality of opportunity in our community, about racial bias and profiling, about the mere fact that race itself is a human creation, not a biological/natural one* – has been a bright light of truth after a fairly dreamy sleep. As a gay man growing up in the religious, rural South, I had my fair share of challenges. But I also had white-skin privileges such as being presumed safe, competent and noncriminal by schools, employers, and institutions.
Through SVP, I have been learning about how children and families in our community have fewer opportunities to prosper solely due to their race or ethnicity. As we dig deeper into the data and peel back the layers on our Ready for Kindergarten goal, as we build relationships with the people at “ground zero” on the issue, we understand better the nature and scale of racial inequality as a root cause of our failing schools, struggling families, and lost potential of so many kids. The light of truth about this has brought about the dawn of a new day for me. And for SVP to become even more focused on these issues.
I have been touched and encouraged by the number of you who not only support the commitment but personally hunger to grow your understanding and personal commitment to action. I have been equally heartened by those who make yourselves vulnerable to challenge your areas of ignorance, bias, and inaction. We have the good fortune and privilege to experience this awakening in the safe confines of SVP. And with privilege comes responsibility.
The Board of Directors and I are clear that we must take action to work at the roots of racism, just as we do at other roots of change. This is our next step, not our first step. Three years ago, we changed our investment process to more deliberately partner with organizations led by people closest to the needs and solutions we seek to impact and not just mainstream organizations. We wanted to engage important and missing perspectives in our decision making so we have been diversifying the composition of our Board and committees over the past couple of years. We realized our Partners needed and wanted to learn and grow and last year alone 42% of you participated in racial equity learning activities.
The vision, aspirations, and commitments you will find in our Commitment to Advancing Racial and Ethnic Equity are about following the light of truth that beckons us into the mystery of a new day. Partners, staff and I have created and discussed over the last six months so that it’s a partnership commitment, not Mark’s commitment or the Board’s alone. Making it public is an important step toward transparency and accountability—core values of SVP—so that we hold steadfast in the face of discomfort and setbacks. We also hope it adds untapped voices to the growing chorus chanting for greater equality of opportunity and success for every child.
I take as a personal challenge the call to learn and act that Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. shared from his Birmingham jail cell:
“Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”
We have long worked individually and collectively for the success of children and families in our community. We deepened our commitment to real impact by focusing on a community goal. Now we’re called as people of goodwill—as changemakers—to deepen our understanding and our action. I am proud to stand beside you in our commitment and our efforts to advance racial and ethnic equity so that all children in our community have the opportunity to thrive.