Several years ago, as part of the Artists In Storefronts project in Whittier, artists Sheila Regan and Anton Pearson created a striking image on the side of Rainbow Chinese Restaurant on Nicollet Avenue. Emblazoned across the side of the building, in moss-growing gel, were the words "EVERYONE TOGETHER DIFFERENT". The collaborative process of creating the piece, the ephemeral and delicate nature of its materials, the work to maintain it, and the power of the phrase have stuck with me as fundamental characteristics of a civil society. It is inclusive (EVERYONE); equitable (TOGETHER); and diverse (DIFFERENT).
Recently, the air has been full of conversations and actions on equity, diversity, and inclusion. You can’t have missed it, and it’s difficult to pinpoint where the current surge started, either locally or nationally. It is impossible to deny that diversity, inclusion, and equity, especially racial equity, are central to the conversations that we are having right now.
A quick glance at MN Compass shows just how much Minnesota’s diversity is changing. Minnesota may not be as racially diverse as other states, but people of color now make up 18% of our population, up from 1% in 1960. This percentage includes many new immigrants, who are moving here and starting new lives, businesses, and nonprofits. The MN Compass numbers also show how much work remains to be done. Although Minnesota’s overall poverty level was 11.4% in 2012, the rate among people of color was 27% overall, 38% for African-Americans, 32% for Native Americans, and 26% for Hispanics.
So building and engaging ‘Everyone Together Different’ is critical. It is also hard – especially with so many entry points to, levels of comfort in, and abilities around having this conversation. This is work that YNPN Twin Cities continues to develop. March’s Emerging Leaders Networking Lunch focused on Diversity in Philanthropy, and our April 1st event looks at Closing the Gender Wage Gap. But there is still much more to do.
In that spirit, I wanted to share some thoughts which, for me (as a nonprofit professional, artist, new dad, possessor-of-privilege, and human being), create a framework for having this conversation and action.
Organizations are people
All organizations, regardless of how much they may seem huge, monolithic, and/or entrenched, are made up of individuals. As a young nonprofit professional, you are one of those individuals in an organization, whether you are in an office of two or 2,000. Minnesota Philanthropy Partners recently re-committed to racial equity by releasing a new framework in Facing Race. The framework includes a page of useful definitions and a simple two-page Hiring Guide that recommends some basic questions to help employers make sure that the people joining their organization come from a diverse background.
Another set of questions focuses on who is in the room or at the table, and it asks what power they have. When we talk about specific communities, are their members represented in our conversations? If we are a service nonprofit, are the populations we serve represented by our employees? Are those employees in positions of power? Addressing the internal dynamics and cultures of our organizations is a key step in making change. For more, see the Minnesota Council on Foundations Diversity Framework.
If you see something, say something
One of the wonders of the age that we live in now is the power of the internet. That connective power creates a forum for sharing stories, building support, and finding resources. For example, when the Ordway decided to remount Miss Saigon last year, over the protests and objections of the Asian-American and allied communities, organizers put together the Don’t Buy Miss Saigon campaign to protest the decision. They also put together a Tumblr for people to share their stories of identity that weren’t represented in the play, and they partnered with activism site 18MillionRising to create a national campaign to protest Miss Saigon.
By creating a web of entry points and resources, they produced an archive of their actions that others can engage with and use as a model. Similarly, the YWCA of Minneapolis’ Racial Justice Department hosts an ongoing workshop series around confronting and dismantling racism (from overt racism to manifestations of privilege and microaggressions), which gives us more resources to help speak out.
Embrace the discomfort
We’re going to talk about disparities. We’re going to talk about injustice. We’re going to talk about history and systemic disenfranchisement and privilege and power. These topics are not comfortable or easy, and as the unfolding story of professor Shannon Gibney at MCTC shows, there is resistance to having this conversation.
“We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor,” wrote Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” but that “it must be demanded by the oppressed.” If we are to make and support that demand, then we’re going to have to be willing to feel uncomfortable. And I believe we’ll be better off for it. Just look at the effectiveness of the conversation campaign that Minnesotans United waged in 2012.
This is my go-to phrase in life. If you want to build something, share something, or get something done, show up. Malcolm Gladwell opined that the revolution will not be on Twitter, just like it wasn't going to be televised, and despite the connective and archival power of the web, he's probably right. We don't get things done unless people get in a room together.
This can be difficult. We all lead busy lives, and signing an online petition takes far less time and personal energy than going to a community meeting, discussion, or rally. The good news? Being together can be totally joyful! Co-creating a better future, working through the discomfort, and sharing who we are with each other – our hopes, fears, cultures, values, food, dances, human experiences – is where we celebrate ‘Everyone Together Different’ and build that future together in solidarity.
I write this knowing that I am often failing to live up to much of it. But I believe that culture (and life) is not a zero-sum game and that I have to start somewhere to be a part of change.
There are a great many resources, organizations, and events not mentioned in this post. Please share them in the comments!