Navigating the Path to Equity: A Personal Reflection of Lessons Learned from our DEIB Journey  

By: Carline Charmelus, Collective Impact & Equity Director

Engaging in the work of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) is a challenging, complex and an important endeavor. You can ask any DEI practitioner actively involved in this work how they feel, and their responses may vary depending on the current narrative on injustice and antiracism in the media or their community, and their personal experiences. Their emotions might span from enthusiasm and determination to frustration and fatigue as they grapple with the weight of addressing systemic racism and the resulting marginalization of Black, Indigenous, and people of color within their sectors, institutions, and communities. 

At the Partnership, we are committed to supporting a culture of equity and promoting equity-based solutions in all our work. Individually, we understand that we are not responsible for our state’s past actions and policies that have created housing injustice. However, we hold ourselves accountable for dismantling and identifying solutions and new practices to address and remedy past injustices. We do this through the housing policies we choose to advocate for, how we work and support our team, and how we interact and collaborate with other partners whose work is closely aligned with our vision.  

Over the past week, I have been reflecting on the Partnership’s journey toward race equity and its evolution throughout the years. The Partnership team has had a willingness to learn and have open and meaningful dialogue on systemic racism, how it manifests and impacts it, and to set a path forward to centering equity in every aspect of our organizational work. Moreover, In the past couple of years, I’ve had the privilege to lead our team in identifying and defining how we can operationalize DEIB within our organization. As we’ve worked to pivot and shift our practices and culture, I’ve learned some key components that have been crucial to the implementation of this work. They’ve consisted of:

  • Gaining leadership and team-by-in
    • Engaging the leaders and staff, from the board of directors to all-level staff, is critical for successfully implementing DEIB efforts. Leadership sets the tone and direction for aligning this work with the organization’s vision, mission, and strategic directive. They hold the power to allocate the resources needed to do this work effectively, be it staff time, funding to implement programs, or training.
    • Instead of utilizing a top-down or bottom-up approach, the Partnership engaged in a collaborative process with the whole team to establish its equity goals and action plans. Having team members engaged earlier in the process helped them to feel included. It gave them the power to develop the organizational norms, agreements, and conditions for implementing this work.
  • Allocating resources to effectively implement the work
    • In 2020, the Partnership partnered with C4 Innovations to gauge its capacity to implement key racial equity strategies. As part of this work, each team member completed an Equity Impact Assessment before and after participating in a two-day facilitated racial equity training. This assessment evaluated the organization internal cultural and operations practices and its external advocacy, convening, and educational efforts. This assessment and training provided valuable insights that helped guide the team racial equity work and helped kept the team accountable for moving the work forward.
    • By working with an external racial equity practitioner, team members felt more comfortable providing a critical assessment of our areas of excellence and areas that needed further improvement.
    • Additionally, leadership developed a budget line to enable the team to continue it racial equity learning, professional development, and implementation.
    • As I write this section, I realize the privilege we had of partnering with an external racial equity consultant to help kick-start this work. For many organizations, this may not be an option due to resource limitations. However, there are resources and opportunities to support organizations that may be starting their journey and need that support, and I have shared a few of those resources below.
  • Creating and maintaining shared equity goals and action plans for the organization
    • Developing an equity plan was one of our first activities after committing to centering equity in our work. At that time, we were also working on updating our organization’s 3-year strategic plan, so as a team, we agreed to embed the equity goals and actions within the organization’s strategic plan. There are action items for each area of the organization, from its operation and finance, policy and advocacy, convening, education, and research, and each team member has specific equity goals embedded within their workplans.
    • For example, one of our goals is to ensure that the voices, expertise, and leadership of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and people with lived expertise are represented at all levels of our organization. We have spent several years researching, learning, and participating in various racial equity initiatives to implement this goal. These initiatives include the HUD Equity Demo, HUD Community Workshop around Centering BIPOC and Grassroots Leadership, Consumer Leadership Involvement Project (CLIP), and CSH Racial Equity Collaborative. Through these initiatives, we have extracted the most relevant principles for leading with BIPOC and people with lived expertise. We have launched a Research Associates program to partner with freelance writers and researchers who are interested in producing policy and research materials on affordable housing, community development, and housing insecurity in Connecticut. The Research Associates work closely with a member of our research and policy team to write, publish, and present their independent research and are compensated for their work. We have developed a process for engaging the leadership of people with lived expertise in the HOMEConnecticut Collective Impact initiative. As a team, we are collectively working to ensure that educational forums continue to highlight the impact systemic racism play in the housing system and continuously work to refine our processes. For example, you may have seen our events registration form has been revamped to capture the demographics of participants who are attending our educational programs.
  • Creating opportunities for regular training and professional development opportunities for all team members on diversity, equity, and inclusion
    • It is hard to do this alone, and it is harder when you are not engaged in continuous education and learning, even if you’ve been a practitioner for years. Being in a community with like-minded individuals is always helpful. Having that safe space where you can learn, share challenges and frustrations, and discuss solutions is critical to supporting the health and wellbeing of team members who are leading racial equity initiatives.
    • In 2021, the Partnership organized an Iforum on Pathways to Achieving Race Equity and Homelessness; one key takeaway Amanda Andere noted is that “the learning can’t stop.” As an organization, we’ve been doing our due diligence to support our team members’ continuing education and professional development.
    • As a team, we facilitate ongoing monthly conversations on race equity and discuss how the learning applies to our work. We have a running list of books, articles, and videos we use in our continuous learning. We also use this time together to have brave conversations about our goals and challenge how our biases, white-dominant culture, and policies impact our outcome.
    • Each one of us is navigating our own racial equity journey. We are all working to unlearn policies and practices that have created inequities in the housing system and learn and re-learn new ways and solutions to mitigate the impact that racism and residential segregation have had in the lives of so many people that we advocate for. Each month, as we convene for our continuous racial equity education, I learn something new from the experiences, observations, questions, and ideas each team member shares. So, although we are often disappointed, unsurprised, and fatigued as we move forward with this work, we know that the current systemic injustice will remain if we are not actively working to advocate for a better future for residents of this state. We understand that this is long-term work, and as long as we are willing to keep moving forward, we will reach the finish line to a Connecticut where everyone has a safe, stable home, that is affordable to them, in an equitable community of their choice.  

 


    Resources 

    Below are a few resources that I have found helpful in my racial equity journey. They range from free webinars and educational forums to books, research, and practical guides that organizations can use to incorporate equitable practices in their work. For example: 

    • The Partnership has curated a list of resources we’ve used internally for our racial equity practices, which you can access here.   
    • The National Low Income Housing Coalition created an Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Anti-Racism, and Systems-thinking webpage to help support housing organizations in their journey. IDEAS | National Low Income Housing Coalition (nlihc.org) 
    • Othering and Belong Institute has created an OBI University, for free, that draws from the knowledge and experience of diverse groups of people and places. Dashboard | OBI University 
    Share the Post:

    Related Posts