For two years, NKCDC has been learning about race, equity, diversity and inclusion through a series of national workshops sponsored by NeighborWorks America. As part of our training, NKCDC formed an Equity Team which meets twice a month to answer the question, “How has race shown up at NKCDC in the past two weeks?”
For members of the team—which includes frontline staff, department heads, and executive director Felix Torres-Colon—looking intentionally at race and equity is a way to make sure NKCDC is providing services fairly to everyone who needs them. A focus on equity also builds a healthy work environment where all employees’ voices are valued.
This month, NKCDC hosted a three-day equity workshop for all staff at its new offices at 2771 Ruth Street in Kensington. The training was led by Stephanie Ghoston Pauls and Lisa Meersman from the Center for Equity and Inclusion in Portland, Oregon, the organization NKCDC has been working with through NeighborWorks America.
Day one of our training focused on building a sense of community among NKCDC staff. Employees come from diverse backgrounds and do very different jobs, from housing counseling to cleaning commercial corridors. Some teams work only in the office, and others work only outside.
Day two examined how U.S. laws and practices have often discriminated against people of color. We talked about how racism may be promoted by hateful or ignorant individuals, but how it is often promoted by policies in institutions like banks, real estate agencies, schools, health care systems, police departments, courtrooms—and even nonprofits like NKCDC. The challenge in making NKCDC more equitable is not just to “be nice” to each other, but to make sure our programs serve everyone in the community.
On day three, NKCDC took a hard look at itself. Staff members broke into groups and identified ways NKCDC is advancing equity, and ways it is perpetuating racism. We brainstormed subtle and bold actions we could take to become a more equitable organization, like removing unnecessary education requirements from job descriptions, or translating our website into Spanish.
“This was an important training for me because it highlighted the racism in systems and institutions I usually take for granted,” said Community Engagement Director, Andrew Goodman. “It showed me some examples of how I can better support the people I work with and the people I serve.”
“Race inequities is an especially challenging topic for many Americans to discuss or even acknowledge. However, without the acknowledgment and exploration of the issues we will never know a more equitable future,” said Jessi Koch, NKCDC’s new Commercial Corridor Manager.
“The experience of engaging in the training with my new coworkers reassured me that NKCDC as an organization is not afraid to have these difficult conversations, and that every individual in the organization is willing to challenge themselves and grow through discomfort in order to best support our clients, each other, and the Philadelphia community,” she said.