Asking Hard Questions: How We Created a Racial Equity Statement

An indispensable aspect of any journey are the signs pointing the way, indicators of where you want to go that keep you moving in the right direction. 

Over the last several months, the board and staff of the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation have been exploring ways to incorporate racial equity more fully into all aspects of our work, from grantmaking to mission investing, from internal practices to external communications, from organizational culture to the vendors we hire. In an effort to be transparent about this process, we shared a blog announcing our journey and detailing a few of the reasons equity is so important to our work, particularly now.

It also became apparent we should post a statement about our commitment to racial equity in a permanent position on our website – a manifesto declaring our guiding principles and vision for a more equitable South. We began by reading the equity statements of other organizations we respect and admire. We collected resources about the ways racism and white supremacy created and maintain today’s status quo. We learned about the latest research on the most effective ways to communicate about race.

The development process helped us clarify aspects of our thinking, and we identified key points we wanted the statement to reflect:

  • Anchored in a vision of the South we want to see
  • Framed in a race-explicit but inclusive way, seeking to connect to a broad audience
  • Explanation of the importance of equity to us, the South and the nation 
  • Recognition this is a journey, not a destination
  • Rooted in a humble learning orientation, acknowledging we will make mistakes 
  • Infusion of equity across our work: some things will change, some will not 
  • Ongoing, transparent conversations with our partners

Our staff worked together to draft a first version of the statement, then shared it with our Equity Leadership Team, a group of trustees and staff members who guide our equity learning process. The team suggested revisions before sharing the statement with the full board for approval. This was an iterative process that prompted us to ask and answer many challenging questions: 

How explicit should we be about racism and white supremacy? New communications research indicates being race explicit increases the likelihood of favorable responses to certain messages. We also decided the Foundation had an opportunity to influence the conversation by clearly articulating how racism and white supremacy impede progress for people of color. 

Should we address the role of economic inequality in creating much of the wealth in philanthropy today? Given structural racism is a system designed to unfairly distribute power and money to white people, it felt important to recognize that the financial resources we steward today are a product of that system. We also felt it was important to recognize the inherent power dynamics in grantmaking and the complications they can create.

Other questions included: Are we sure enough about word choice, given the ever-changing language in this field? Who is our primary audience? How inclusive should we aim to be? These were new, at times uncomfortable conversations, and the diversity of perspectives among our staff and board enriched and strengthened the statement every step of the way.

Posting an equity statement doesn’t mean the learning process has concluded; to the contrary, we believe it never will. In the coming months, we will undergo further racial equity training and look for more ways to apply the lessons to our work. New questions will present new opportunities to deepen our collective resolve. This statement will evolve as we do, and we hope it holds us accountable to our mission, our values, our partners and the communities we care about.




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