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Diversity – A Path on the Road to Racial Equity.

July 16, 2010

By: Bomani Johnson
Director, DC Office
The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region

Diversity, in and of itself, does not mean racial equity. 

This is the thought that kept coming to my mind as I listened to the stories of our moderator and my fellow panelists at a convening this week on the topic of Rising through the Ranks: Race and Gender in Nonprofit Leadership.  Organized by the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network and the Nonprofit Roundtable of Greater Washington, the panel was comprised of a very diverse (based on race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation) group of four nonprofit professionals and was moderated by an African American woman.  We spoke to a group of approximately 75 nonprofit professionals from the DC area.  To open the panel, we were each asked to share stories about our background and how the concept of diversity has influenced our lives.  I had the privilege of speaking last.

When it was my turn to speak, I gave a cursory glance of my background – born and raised in the Englewood neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago; I mentioned how the seemingly endless list of after school, weekend and summer activities that my parents often forced me to participate in as a kid, hammered home the understanding that the world was a myriad of peoples, places and cultures.  I talked about how learning to “code switch” at a very early age helped me to navigate through college and a number of other experiences as a young man.  And I talked about the challenges I experience as an African American man working in philanthropy in the DC area.

I shared that I am honored to work at one of the most diverse foundations in the area.  An organization that has an African American woman as its president; two of its past three board chairs are women of color; has looked at and begun addressing the lack of women and people of color on its board of trustees; has intentionally supported the work of area nonprofits that address social justice issues; and raises awareness of the existence and impact of discrimination based on race, gender and/or class in our region.  I also shared that despite all of the growth we have made internally, and the impacts we have contributed to externally, The Community Foundation has not been able to significantly “move the needle” towards equality of opportunity and access to resources and power for marginalized populations in the greater DC area.  Racial equity means just that – when society’s systems and markets perform equally well for all racial and ethnic groups.

I shared that the last statement was not meant to slight the growth and development of The Community Foundation as a safe and open workplace for people from all backgrounds; nor to negate the positive outcomes we have contributed to in the lives of thousands of individuals and families throughout the greater DC area in the more than 35 years of our existence.  Our experience as one of the most diverse foundations in the area provides another example of the thought that kept coming to my mind – diversity does not mean racial equity.  Diversity is a critical element, a necessary tool, in building racial equity.

With that in mind, I am proud to say that The Community Foundation will continue to build on its history of raising awareness of the impacts of race, class and gender in our region.  The next iteration of work on the subject will focus on sharing and learning from the very folks who make it possible for The Community Foundation to do its work, our donors.

Beginning in the fall of 2010, we will organize a series of neighborhood tours throughout Greater Washington offering donors an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the impact of race across a broad spectrum of issue areas (i.e., health, education, workforce, environment, etc.).  Groups of The Community Foundation’s donors will be guided through specific neighborhoods by its residents, nonprofit leaders and other stakeholders to learn about the successful strategies nonprofits and community partners are utilizing to create racial equity and access to opportunity.  Donor participants will not only learn about the issues, but will take with them an invaluable experience that will inform their giving.  In doing so, The Community Foundation will stay true to our mission – “to strengthen the Washington metropolitan region by encouraging and supporting effective giving and by providing leadership on critical issues,” and use our diversity to help move our society along the path toward racial equity.

See the following links for additional information:

Diversity is the Wrong Word
Race and Gender in Non-Profit Leadership

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