Equity & Inclusion
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NKCDC’s journey toward equity
Like almost every organization in the country, historically NKCDC has not operated under principles of racial equity, diversity and inclusion. Yet our service area spans Kensington, one of the most racially and ethnically diverse neighborhoods in Philadelphia, and includes Port Richmond and Fishtown, which are more affluent and predominantly white.
As NKCDC was outgrowing our offices in East Kensington and looking to move into Orinoka Civic House, a new affordable apartment building we were developing near the Somerset El stop, we realized we needed to take a serious look at how race and ethnicity impact how we serve the community.
Accepting a challenge
Shortly after Felix Torres-Colon joined NKCDC as executive director in 2017, our national partner, NeighborWorks America, put out an invitation to participate in a “learning community” that would address Race, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (REDI). NKCDC became part of the first cohort of 16 NeighborWorks organizations to join this national study group. Executives from each organization met in 2017, and in early 2018 NKCDC began a two-year training and consultation process facilitated by the Center for Equity and Inclusion.
As part of the learning process, NKCDC formed an Equity Team consisting of five staff members from across the organization who met regularly, attended national workshops, and began to bring their work back to NKCDC staff.
In 2019, NKCDC hired the Center for Equity and Inclusion for a three-day equity workshop with all staff. Day one of the training focused on building a sense of community among staff. Day two examined how U.S. laws and practices have discriminated against people of color. On day three, staff members broke into groups and identified ways NKCDC was advancing equity, and ways it was perpetuating racism. We brainstormed actions we could take to become a more equitable organization, like removing unnecessary education requirements from job descriptions, or translating our website into Spanish.
The Equity Lens is a decision-making tool that prompts NKCDC to ask deeper questions and consider multiple perspectives.
January 7, 2020
We at NKCDC recognize the historical role that race has played in our society and the ways it shapes the systems that impact our work and everyday lives. We believe striving for racial equity is essential to fulfilling our mission—working with neighbors to strengthen communities so everyone can thrive.
Community Development Corporations (CDCs) have long been tasked with revitalizing vulnerable communities that have been denied investment and opportunity. With our constituents, we work to make community development a force that benefits and is directed by the diverse communities we serve. We challenge the systems that prevent people from reaching their potential and pave the way for long-term equitable access to opportunity. We do so by:
- Educating ourselves about current inequities and their historical roots;
- Thoughtfully designing and implementing a racial equity lens to examine our work;
- Changing NKCDC policy and culture to create a safe, inclusive, and equitable workplace, including:
- Pathways of leadership and education for diverse persons in our organization and the community;
- Advocating with vulnerable populations in policy making;
- Organizational strategies that address the ways CDCs have displaced communities and furthered inequity;
- Supporting the efforts of other individuals and organizations addressing equity in Philadelphia and nationwide;
- Encouraging and supporting productive dialogue around equity.
We are humbled by the long-term commitment that racial equity work requires. We fully commit to transforming organizational policies to allow diversity to flourish, continually reflecting on individual bias, and furthering systemic change.
Protests against racism and police violence took place in many cities in June 2020. The vast majority were peaceful, but in Kensington looting and arson damaged several blocks and shut down businesses.
Implementation and adaptation
The racial and social reckoning of 2020 made using REDI language a requirement for many organizations, but we wanted to make sure REDI wasn’t simply an act; we want equity principles to be embedded in everything we do. A few ways NKCDC has implemented REDI ideas include:
- An expanded Equity Team: Under Dr. Bill McKinney’s leadership as executive director, we changed the structure of the equity team to include all staff members. Temporary focus groups or “pods” are created to address specific organizational systems and issues, which allow leadership and participation to rotate, and staff to engage more or less depending on their interest and workload.
- New hiring and onboarding process: We defined a new process for hiring that requires all jobs to be publicly posted, and to include salary expectations. Hiring includes multiple rounds of interviews with leadership and staff, as well as questions about REDI experience and interest, since equity is a core value for the organization.
- Board Recruitment: Each spring the board of directors publishes an open call for interested candidates, with a sharp focus on attracting people of color and residents of Kensington. We strive to build a diverse board that includes a variety of views and lived experiences from our community.
- Procurement process: After about nine months of discussion and development, NKCDC’s internal Equity Team implemented a vendor selection rubric designed to align NKCDC’s commitment to racial equity, diversity and inclusion with the companies we hire. Using weighted criteria, the rubric prioritizes working with smaller, locally-owned and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) owned businesses
- Construction Management: As part of our real estate development plan, we outlined priorities for contracting with more small, minority or women-owned construction firms and growing their capacity to take on larger contracts and compete in the Philadelphia market
NKCDC is constantly striving to be more diverse and inclusive. We know that it takes constant reflection and adjustment to achieve results.