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Communities Creating Racial Equity Lessons

We hope that communities around the country addressing issues of racial equity and racism can take some of the lessons we've learned from the Communities Creating Racial Equity initiative and apply it to their work.

Three years ago, Everyday Democracy (then Study Circles Resource Center) launched the Communities Creating Racial Equity (CCRE) initiative to better understand the intersection of civic engagement and racial equity. We had questions such as...

  • Is it possible to address structural racism directly through inclusive dialogue, action and problem-solving?
  • Is it possible to begin a racial equity change process aimed at measurable structural change with a public dialogue process?

While we still have much to learn, the lessons from Communities Creating Racial Equity have strengthened our tools and advice on linking dialogue to measurable change, and our ability to integrate three critical kinds of advice – in racial equity, strategic communication, and evaluation – into all our assistance. A summary of our lessons are described below, but the learning does not stop here. We realize that organizing civic engagement and linking it to measurable change on racial equity is a work in progress.

Since Everyday Democracy and many of the communities are committed to continuing their work on racial equity beyond this initiative, the following findings are a snapshot in time of what happened. We will continue to expand on these findings as we and communities broaden our work on racial equity.

Key lessons:

  • Communities can connect dialogue to action on issues of racial equity. Dedicating program staffing to supporting action and change seems to play a key role.
  • There is value in understanding what the underlying assumptions about how a project will lead to social change.
  • Tools to address closing racial disparities cannot be used in isolation, without the training to help people understand the ideas and concepts embodied in them.
  • It takes time to grasp the deeper meaning of working on racial equity. This was true for Everyday Democracy, and true for the eight communities. Many community people (of all backgrounds) who want to “work on race” need to spend time learning what  racial equity means, how patterns of disparity and poor outcomes are tied to policies and structures which may be hidden or misunderstood. 

In a number of the communities, a diverse cross-section of community leadership has gained a much deeper understanding of what racial equity means, and have begun to work in multi-racial teams to achieve specific racial equity outcomes. While establishing this baseline of understanding took longer than we had imagined, we can see it taking hold in several communities, and we believe that it will continue to drive their dialogue and change efforts.

  • There were important racial equity outcomes in many of the communities. Within this project, these outcomes include concrete changes in policing; changes in municipal hiring practices; changes in school district practices; and more.
  • As an organization, we have greatly advanced our internal understanding and practice around racial equity.We understood in some way that this internal work would be key to our work with communities, but we hadn’t fully appreciated the depth of the work that this initiative would cause us to carry out. This has affected the ways in which we work with others in the democracy field, with communities outside this project, and our communications. It has affected our internal policies and our ongoing commitment to organizational learning on structural racism.
  • By continuing to name the importance of explicitly addressing racial equity, we and our community partners had to keep pushing ourselves to explore its deeper meaningsfor organizational and community change. Of course, none of this is easy, but given what our country needs to work on in terms of race, we think it is critical to be explicit about this and keep at it.

In addition to the power of continued naming, for this initiative, we found that there were a number of ways to encourage community coalitions to deepen their knowledge and commitment: through communication assistance; through providing evaluation assistance with a racial equity lens (helping them identify specific racial equity goals); through trainings in structural racism and how to address it; and through learning meetings. 

We are learning more about how to provide the tools that can help communities move from dialogue to action, and where to focus our learning. In particular, it is useful to help communities figure out how to select action steps, how to support the movement to action and change, and to figure out what contribution their efforts can make to reducing racial disparities. It is important to find ways to help them target their actions and understand what their “theory of change” is, without becoming overwhelmed with some of the more technical aspects of evaluation.

Feedback from the communities on the structure of the initiative:

What worked:

  • The learning exchanges helped connect and support the communities. All eight communities described the two learning exchanges that brought them together from across the country as supportive, helpful and uplifting. Communities recognize that working on structural racism/racial equity is challenging and knowing that there are others you can call upon for support is essential.
  • The trainings were inspiring and challenging. The communities valued our trainings on organizing, facilitation, evaluation and structural racism. Some communities even took part in additional trainings to strengthen their content knowledge of structural racism and evaluation. Learning how to use evaluation tools was a challenge for some communities. Introducing the evaluation training early in the initiative, however, helped prepare the communities to explore the best racial equity outcomes and action ideas.
  • Communities used the grants to jumpstart some of the action ideas. The $10,000 grants served as a springboard for helping the communities implement some of their action ideas. As a funding prerequisite, the communities developed logic models to help them prioritize and focus on the ideas most important to forwarding their work. Completing a logic model also helped the communities realize that they did not have to implement or track every action idea, just those that mattered the most to them. Understanding this frame helped the communities appreciate the usefulness of evaluation.
  • Everyday Democracy modeled working in bi-racial teams with communities: The communities appreciated  Everyday Democracy's openness and transparency on our own internal racial equity work. We sought to model the kind of multi-racial interactions within the organization that we encourage our communities to do.

Where we can improve:

  • We need to give communities a longer lead time in understanding and coming to terms with the meaning of racial equity. Providing the communities with more in-depth trainings on structural racism earlier in the initiative could have made a real difference. At the time, we as an organization were developing our own knowledge of racial equity, so we did not yet have a shared way of talking about the issue. With the help of our outside evaluator, we began to increase our capacity to deliver the support communities needed to make progress on racial equity.
  • There are limits to what we can learn about successful action implementation in various issue areas. While we have learned several possible pathways to action, we realize that we as an organization are limited in our knowledge. We are currently deepening our learning on what it takes to make action happen while also trying to figure out the boundaries of our work. We are exploring the idea of connecting with issue-specific organizations that are better positioned to work with communities on the action phase of their work.
  • Making additional funding available to the communities could go a long way. Many of the communities have established logic models, have a deeper understanding of racial equity, and are moving ahead on their action ideas. We will continue to advise the communities, but we realize that any amount of funding could help them go further.
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Dialogue to Change

Our ultimate goal is to create positive community change that includes everyone, and we believe that our tools, advice, and resources will help foster that kind of change. Whether you’re grappling with a divisive community issue, or simply want to include residents’ voices in city government, the dialogue to change program can help community members take action and make their voice heard.