Facing Race Reflections from the conference and from ZSR sponsored participants

Social Justice and Equity

For decades, the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation has supported racial justice efforts and recognized the work of North Carolina's racial justice leaders. The Foundation also has had a keen interest in increasing racial inclusion among our grantees, primarily by promoting authentic diversity of representation of their staff and board members. The Foundation's grantmaking policies reflect the belief that organizational performance is greatly enhanced when people with different backgrounds and perspectives are engaged in an organization’s activities and decision-making processes. 

As many organizations have expanded their work to increase racial diversity and inclusion, the Foundation has sharpened its focus on racial equity as a cross-cutting priority for all of our focus areas. We have come to see that racial equity is a necessary element of a successful path to growth for individuals, organizations, communities, and the entire state. 

On November 10-12, 2016, the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation sponsored 55 individuals from North Carolina to participate in Facing Race: A National Conference, in Atlanta. Participants included some ZSR staff, two ZSR Trustees, a handful of ZSR Community Leadership Council members, ZSR grantees, other nonprofit leaders and government officials. Thirty participants rode a bus down to the conference, stopping in Durham, Raleigh, Winston-Salem, Charlotte and Spartanburg, to pick up folks along the way.

The conference – sponsored by Race Forward – brought together more than 2,300 advocates, nonprofit and philanthropic leaders, elected and government officials, and journalists in an open, inclusive space with the goal of deepening their understanding of racial equity and social justice.

Several themes emerged including, but not limited to: institutional racism; misogyny; and the need to change rhetoric used against immigrants, people of color, women and individuals in the LGBTQ community.

In the end, the broader question that surfaced was how can we unify and coordinate bold, transformative, multiracial movements for racial, gender, economic, and environmental justice to make the biggest impact.

While the election was still fresh on everyone’s minds, the overwhelming message and takeaway was one of hope and optimism.

We asked several of our grantees, and other North Carolina participants who joined us, to reflect on their experience at the conference and share with us actionable steps they are planning to implement within their own organizations based on the knowledge they gained while in Atlanta. Here are some of their responses:

Kate Fulbright, NC Conservation Network
I am bringing back ideas on how to implement racial justice and equity work into the environmental community. I think the biggest thing that struck me was that the tools that we use to tackle person to person racism are different than the tools we use to dismantle structural racism. While that seems obvious, breaking it down and looking at what those tools are and how they work really gave me a plan of action for how to direct my work.
Keysha Walker, African American Community Foundation
I'm taking back the need for my community foundation to dig deeper into racial equity work. I hope to encourage my fellow board members to think outside of the box and also be intentional about creating an open environment for all.
Rob Wall, NC CRED
The conference was a great opportunity to step away from my everyday work and see what we are doing in the larger movement for racial justice. I also see the need for my organization to build relationships with groups and people outside those we typically collaborate with. I am seeing that those relationships are important in strengthening each other's understanding of the landscape and, more importantly, better enables a strong partnership if/when we need each other.
Shannon Binns, Sustain Charlotte
A renewed sense of commitment to naming structural racism and addressing it through our work. We have even added the word "equitable" to our mission statement: "Inspiring choices that lead to a healthy, vibrant, and equitable community for generations to come."
Trae Cotton, Winston-Salem State University/The Forsyth Promise
I will begin small group sessions, particularly with young men, to start talking about trauma and its impact on their psyche, with the hopes that by naming it they/we can begin healing from it. I will be doing the same with other men in the community and hopefully leading both groups to further discussions around how patriarchy and misogyny are also causes of trauma for us as men, not to mention what negative impact it has on women.
Denise Coleman, City of Charlotte
I work with a Mayor/Council appointed committee. I will ensure we include questions about equity/inclusion during our annual board retreat. As we plan the year, I will be asking my board how we will make an impact in the quality of lives of all the people that live in the city. I also plan to challenge them to recruit more members and volunteers of diverse backgrounds so we can hear about the needs of different groups in the city.