ACT for Alexandria

ACT Initiative Works to Build Racial Equity Capacity

by Beth Lawton

Diversity is one of Alexandria’s greatest assets but talking about racial equity and growing a local culture that supports all people — even in a community like Alexandria — can be challenging.

Talking about race, diversity, equity and inclusion can be difficult because there isn’t always a shared understanding of what these words mean and why they are important to consider. There is often a fear of saying the wrong thing or not knowing what to say, especially in today’s highly politicized climate, so many end up saying nothing at all.

ACT for Alexandria, Alexandria’s community foundation and trust-ed convener, embarked on a racial equity learning journey in 2018 that has begun to address these challenges, with the ultimate goal “to achieve a future when race no longer predicts one’s outcomes in life; when everyone has what they need to thrive, no matter what neighborhood they live in, the color of their skin, their gender, or where they were born.” 

Through a series of events, including a sold-out IMPACT Forum in February that brought together nearly 300 people, ACT is facilitating conversations and providing trainings across Alexandria designed to raise the awareness of racial inequities and help build a network of allies to begin to address it in their workplaces, communities and neighborhoods.

This year, with funding from Kaiser Permanente, The Bruhn-Morris Family Foundation and the Meyer Foundation, ACT launched their Racial Equity Capacity Building Initiative. This initiative includes a series of allyship workshops facilitated by Whitney Parnell of Service Never Sleeps, which has already trained more than 200 nonprofit, business, faith, government, and school leaders and community members to be allies in their organizations and communities. 

“There's something at play regarding race that can't be explained by simple poverty or socio-economic status. I appreciate ACT using its position as a trusted community resource to help all of us think through this issue,” said Shannon Steene, Executive Director of Carpenter’s Shelter. “At Carpenter's Shelter we see it in the disproportionate percentage of persons of color that become homeless, someone else sees it in school test scores or involvement with the juvenile justice system. ACT is an umbrella over all of this — leading, guiding and encouraging the exploration in order to make us a better, stronger, more equitable community.”

To provide a next step for individuals, ACT is piloting a Racial Equity Learning Lab from October 2019 to April 2020 for those interested in examining their own roles and what they can do to address racial inequities. 

“How can we address the systemic issues of racial equity, and not just the symptoms of the issue? You still need to always treat the issues as they come up, but if we can get at the root of the issue, that would change the conversation and our community as a whole,” said ACT for Alexandria Chief Program Officer Brandi Yee.

Additional allyship workshops will be available next year, along with another IMPACT Forum community conversation in fall 2020. To learn more, email Brandi Yee, ACT’s Chief Program Officer, at brandi.yee@actforalexandria.org.)

For this work to be successful, Yee said, it requires that partici-pants have “humility, an open mind, curiosity, the willingness to be uncomfortable and to sit and reflect on that discomfort, rather than be fearful of it. It’s a learning process and a journey that we are grateful to be doing with our community.” 

Originally printed in Alexandria Living Magazinehttps://alexandrialivingmagazine.com/news/act-initiative-works-to-build-racial-equity-capacity/