Reflection: Our Commitments to Black Lives
Entering this new year, our country is still in the throes of a devastating global pandemic that has magnified the inequity in our societal systems. Such tragedy has no doubt forced all of us to reflect on what it means to build community and work for justice. If we carry those lessons into 2021, we hope we will be able to tell future generations how widespread social reckoning with racial injustice bore the fruit of concrete, enduring change.
Our core value of disrupt racial inequity calls us to challenge historical and current gaps in opportunity with a persistent focus on dismantling systemic racism. So, in early June, Leading Educators released a statement in support of Black lives to outline specific organizational commitments to anti-racism. We also pledged to report on our progress. Today, we are sharing a number of updates on how our work has progressed and what we are learning along the way. We know this work has no end date. And we also know there is power in honest reflection and leading by example.
Looking back at the past 8 months
Over the summer, millions of protestors across the world were assembling in the streets day after day to call for an end to racist violence following the killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Dreasjon “Sean” Reed, David McAtee, Nina Pop, and Tony McDade. While these demonstrations have changed in form, they have not stopped. Neither can we.
As of this point in early 2021, more Black individuals have been killed by police and white supremacy. According to Mapping Police Violence, police killed 1,127 people in 2020. Black individuals were 28% of those killed despite being only 13 percent of the population. Our communities are still weathering multiple, protracted crises that are causing disproportionate harm to Black, Latino/a/x, and Indigenous individuals. Our collective moral imperative to disrupt and remake the system grows stronger each day. We, like those who call out for action in the streets, must not waver in our convictions.
In June, we stated our intent to take the following actions in support of Black lives:
- We will continue to use our platform to disrupt systemic racism in education wherever it exists and by all means necessary.
- We will continue to engage in regular and deep analysis of our internal data about policies, practices, and staff experiences to ensure that we increase and significantly improve the retention of Black team members.
- We commit to diversifying our Board of Directors to reflect the majority population of Black students and other students of color that we serve.
Below, we provide detailed descriptions of where we are eight months later.
To clarify our vision and foster ownership at all levels of our organization, this year we have set three levels of equity goals.
- Definition, Collective and Individual Action: 100% of LE Staff agree:
I understand how our value of disrupting racial inequity looks in action.
The organization is taking the necessary steps to model our value of disrupting racial inequity; I see it in practice.
I have personally taken action to disrupt racial inequity in my role.
- Equity on Teams: 100% of Teams Set and Achieve an Equity Goal for their work
- Individual Equity: 100% of Individual Set and Achieve an Equity Goal
Outcome Highlights: Team Equity Goals
We have prioritized establishing org-wide equity goals that connect to our core value of Disrupting Racial Inequity during the first quarter of FY 20121.
We have deliberately crafted them in a way that feels shared – shared understanding and belief in this value, shared recognition of the organization’s work, and shared accountability to seeing that value in action. Below are a few examples:
- Program Impact – Detroit: All team members will commit to ongoing anti-racist development (learning, application and reflection) in an effort to “eradicate racist behaviors and policies and promote inclusive environments”. We will interrupt and address inequities on our team, within Leading Educators and within our partnerships, so that we are all learning, building and modeling what we want for our students, and will include equity content in all deliverables, in order to address equity and inclusion for historically marginalized groups in professional learning.
- People Team: We will Inclusively conceptualize, develop and facilitate an immersive learning cycle that results in the operationalization of our Disrupt Racial Inequity core value.
- Program Impact – Baltimore, Oakland: We commit to work strategically and collaboratively on the following actions (excerpt from 7 stated actions): Build a racial equity lens into our network’s strategic planning, policy and priority setting process, curriculum development, and teaching practices; actively identify, challenge, and replace policies, practices, procedures, programs, and budgets that perpetuate systems of oppression and inequities in the school system, with special attention paid to disrupting the “school to prison pipeline”; actively recruit, hire, and retain staff that reflect student demographics at all organizational levels and support employees to engage in culturally responsive practices and in delivery of quality instruction and service.
- Equitable Systems Analysis: We will lead an equitable practices analysis for staffing that identifies the impact on key stakeholders, specifically people of color, and design appropriate solutions based on findings.
- Equitable Banking: We will identify, evaluate, and select a Black or Latino/a/x owned banking institution(s) to deposit a total of $1M to partner with to diversify the organization’s financial management by June 30, 2021
- Equity Based Partnership Conditions: We will develop and apply a new equity-based partnership condition and ensure at least 75% of new partners meet that condition by having anti-racism built into their vision of excellent instruction, strategic plan, district mission/vision or scope of work with LE, etc.
Analysis of Internal Policies and Practices
In service of our mission and the students we seek to serve, Leading Educators is on a journey to become an anti-racist, multicultural organization. We have begun this journey, but we still have a long way to travel. We aspire to:
- Dismantle racism and eliminate inherent white advantage in the organization and wider community
- Build clear lines of accountability to racially oppressed communities
- Practice inclusive decision-making and other forms of power sharing
- Encourage full participation in decisions that shape the institution, and inclusion of diverse cultures, lifestyles and interests
- Transform the internal systems and structures that perpetuate oppression
In addition to all teams and individuals setting intentions for equity as part of our annual goal process, we have seen growth in dedicated time for intersectional learning about identity and diverse experiences within and beyond our organization.
A number of active affinity groups have facilitated organization-wide learning conversations including: a Juneteenth recognition, an exploration of LGBTQIA+ Pride, two storytelling areitos about anti-Blackness and the wounds of colonization drawing from “The Problem with Latinidad” and “The X in Latinx is a Wound, Not a Trend”, and a session in preparation for National Coming Out Day about the disproportionate challenges faced by Black queer folks and trans people of color. Similarly, our AAPI Affinity group facilitated a conversation on confronting anti-Blackness and building solidarity among Asian-American communities. The large majority of organization-wide calls include processing spaces for problems of practice and shared visioning related to racial equity.
To close out 2020 and begin the new year with a renewed focus, our People team has hosted organization-wide roundtable discussions and interactive goals reflections on department equity vision statements and progress to date. While teams and individuals have been empowered to largely define equity commitments in the way that is most responsive to their work and context, we are continuing to explore shared expectations and language.
Program teams that work closely with school system partners have shifted their practices in other contextualized ways including: expanding the amount of professional learning time dedicated to unpacking mindsets and disruption through teaching, incorporating considerations for creating multiculturally inclusive community spaces in facilitation and coaching rubrics, interrogating coaching practices, and identifying partnership practices that replicate and perpetuate dominant culture traits.
In July, the Leading Educators extended leadership team established a 12-month goal to (1) increase the size of the board by 3-4 members, and (2) increase the racial and gender diversity. More specifically:
- At least 50% of new members will be women (result in 33% woman Board)
- At least 50% of new members will be Black and Latino/a/x (result in 33% PoC, 20% Black and Latino/a/x Board)
To date, we have recruited and confirmed two new members: Tiffany Johnson Lewis, a senior executive at J.P. Morgan Asset Management, and Dr. Tommy Chang, an education consultant who most recently served as Superintendent of Boston Public Schools. We are continuing to consider additional board candidates and will announce any transitions as they occur.
In sharing these updates, we know there is still much for us to unpack and work toward in our actions. This month, we will be releasing a new framework called Teaching for Equity that distills a cohesive vision for integrating academics, anti-racism, and social and emotional learning in students’ experiences. We hope this resource will be a source of new inspiration, renewed direction, and purposeful action in your personal and collective efforts for anti-racism. Alongside this release, we will virtually convene student activists, researchers, and teachers and leaders to facilitate collective imagining and identify future commitments.
We also acknowledge that there is much we are still trying to figure out. As we interrogate our work on teams this next quarter, we will be paying special attention to the following questions:
- How can we continue to raise expectations for antiracism in all of our work as our collective understanding and skill grows?
- How might we continue to interrogate and disrupt power structures that preserve an unjust status quo?
- How might we work more closely with the communities we serve and key stakeholders who experience the consequences of our successes and failures?
Expect more updates and stories from our learning over the next quarter. A new calendar year brings a sense of renewal, and we look forward to working in community with you to create the future that Black students, educators, and community members deserve.