By: Jennifer Arice White, Guest Blogger

Changing Demographics in the U.S.

According to the U.S. Census, the U.S. population is diversifying rapidly in irreversible ways. By 2060, one in five individuals will be foreign-born. Additionally, the Pew Research Center reports that the millennial generation will peak at 76 million by 2036. Overlaying these estimates illustrates that the U.S. population will largely be youth and adults of color. We see progress, but it continues to be deferred for an overwhelming majority. Inequities are maintained by policies and a culture that is haunted by the injustices of the past. These shifts are requiring organizations to stretch their missions and join causes that are rooted in social justice.

While many organizations are recognizing the need to venture into new territory, institutional and internal cultural change is needed.  I am delighted to see non-profits committed to addressing the social determinants of health through equity. However, translating these concepts into our standard business practices, processes, accountability mechanisms, etc. is a critical next step.

Protect The Field, Protect Our People

Previously, I worked at the NAACP, the nation’s oldest civil rights organization. When I first started, I recently completed my graduate studies and was excited to put my recently acquired skills to work. One of my first experiences being in the field was in Shreveport, Louisiana for the Region VI Civil Rights Advocacy Training Institute (CRATI). These regional convenings brought together NAACP state conference and branch leaders, youth and college members, and national staff to receive training on the six game-changers. My colleague and I represented the NAACP health department and was slated to attend. A severe storm resulted in our flights being canceled. However, we were reminded that we made a commitment to be present and to feed the field. Giving the redirection of flights, we flew to Texas, rented a car, and drove to Shreveport. As two eager young professionals, we realized that authenticity is what matters most. It wasn’t about tapping into our years of education, it was about connecting and engaging with the field to build trusted relationships. Our team understood how serious this work is. Yes, we have grant deliverables and funders to be accountable to, but we also carried the voices and images of the people that grounded us in our work. Each day we carried the people in our hearts and minds to protect the field; protect our people. This mindset and attitude was a part of our business practice.

Trauma And Triumph

Likewise, as non-profits embrace an equity agenda, creating a new business and organizational culture is needed. To accomplish this, we must realize that it’s about people. We fill non-profit organizations and carry the histories of our personal, familial, and community experiences. These experiences and learnings shape who we are and how we see and walk through the world. These histories are filled with trauma and triumph, biases and beliefs, but we bring these histories to the table. We must realize that these histories intersect and interact with one another. Sharing our histories and seeing the interconnectedness allows us to better understand each other. This also unveils pain that has yet to heal and opportunities for us to write an inclusive and equitable future. As the U.S. diversifies, the intersections and interactions of these histories are relevant in our discourse, which should aid us empathizing with one another.

Change Isn’t Easy

Non-profit organizations are seeing shifts in the composition of c-suite level leadership, board of directors, and senior leadership. Women are in positions of power that were historically held by men. However, I see that people of color are overwhelmingly represented in mid-level management and administrative roles. In addition, programmatic and advocacy efforts that require community engagement is (un)intentionally slated for people of color. Message and messengers matter, but our organizations must create shared accountability in practicing equity. Organizations have an opportunity to acknowledge implicit bias in human resource protocols, cultivate current leaders, attract new board members reflecting new hues, mindsets, and experiences that truly reflect the communities they serve. Turning organizational processes and practices like procurement, language and framing, development, and engagement inside out can identify intended and unintended consequences. Practicing equity and changing the internal workings of non-profit organizations is not easy.

The Future

We are at a critical moment. As millennials cling to social justice issues and less to organizations, non-profits have an opportunity to think and act differently. The status quo is not sufficient or necessary in addressing the outstanding needs of the disenfranchised. We must have a 2060 mindset. A mindset and attitude that is equity-centered, taps into the talents and gifts of diverse leaders, and cultivate individuals who can challenge the dominant narrative that divides and excludes. Change is here. We must embrace it and create the framework that will yield an equitable future.

Jennifer Arice White is on staff at the American Heart Association as the Health Equity Partnership Manager on the Voices for Healthy Kids policy team. Always putting equity first, Jennifer has worked at a number of organizations in the social justice arena. She is graduate of the 2018 Emerge Maryland class.

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