In a matter of days the needle has moved sharply on a commitment to normalize racial equity in decision-making, and begin the process of organizing it. Local governments and others are taking up the opportunity to learn about structural racism, using racial equity tools offered by Racial Equity Here to guide actions that close gaps, improve outcomes and accelerate results, according to a recent announcement by the initiative.
The goal of the commitment is to create more equitable communities and workplaces, as five cities have done in transforming municipal operations to better address racial disparities.
Led by Living Cities and the Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE) — a joint project of Race Forward and the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society — the initiative has worked with municipal governments and partners through various cohorts. After success in Racial Equity Here cohort cities, the initiative formally asked organizations from across the public, private and philanthropic sectors to use the tools and make the commitment. Partner cities also lobbied their colleagues and connections.
In one week, the overall number of nonprofits/foundations, governments and private companies that signed on to the commitment went from 130 to more than 330.
“Racial Equity Here is about changing the structures and systems that create and perpetuate racial inequity,” said John A. Powell, director of the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society and professor of law at University of California-Berkeley. “We are committed to expanding the “we” in we the people, building bridges across sectors and states to amplify and accelerate our multiracial movement for belonging and racial justice,” he said.
Through GARE and Living Cities, Albuquerque, Austin, Grand Rapids, Louisville and Philadelphia have been working to change how they do business. They are:
- Establishing racial equity visions and action plans
- Training staff on government’s responsibility to create racial equity
- Using data and racial equity tools to guide policy, program and budget decisions
- Forming cross-sector teams as part of their broader commitment to improve outcomes for all residents
The key outcomes of their commitment to Racial Equity Here include:
- Albuquerque no longer asks about criminal convictions on its initial application for employment. It also has modified the W-9 form to give preference to local, minority owned, and women owned companies who bid for city work.
- Austin’s Office of Equity is collaborating with the Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Department and the Public Health Department to revamp procurement practices and increase the accessibility of city funds to organizations doing meaningful work to address inequity.
- Grand Rapids recently hired its most inclusive police recruit class ever and convened a series of listening sessions to strengthen community and police relations. Mayor Rosalynn Bliss and city commissioners also earmarked $1 million annually for the next five years to strengthen community and police relations.
- Louisville is revising its process for selling vacant or abandoned properties to make it easier for local residents of color to acquire the properties, with the goal of revitalizing neighborhoods.
- Philadelphia evaluated disparities in city response times to its 311 complaints about housing quality and recommended policy updates to better support fair delivery and quality of service to all communities. The city also launched the Department of Public Health’s “Get Healthy Philly Summer Youth Tobacco Survey Program” to help tackle racial health disparities related to tobacco usage among youth of color.
How Commitment to Achieve Racial Equity Works
According to the announcement, while individual efforts like training can be impactful, Racial Equity Here aims to fight structural racism by transforming policies, practices and norms within institutions and organizations at a national scale.
While the Race Equity Here cohort cities participated in GARE — a national network of local governments working on racial equity — the organizations who have recently joined the commitment benefit from the learnings of the cohorts through distilled, easy-to-access tools that were developed.
The tools are intended as entry points for organizations new to racial equity work, and there is no cost to use the tools or any others published online by Race Forward or GARE. Local jurisdictions can also join GARE and access further training and consulting opportunities.
According to a Living Cities spokeswoman, racial equity planning and use of the tools relies on regular data-driven reporting, and community-led accountability mechanisms. While those who have committed to Racial Equity Here are not bound to specific time frames or outcomes, the initiative hopes to build additional layers of support, outcome tracking and more, she said.
Partnership is key, according to Ben Hecht, president and CEO of Living Cities.
“No single organization can move the needle on racial equity on its own,” so Racial Equity Here is building a critical mass of partners across industries and sectors, he said.
The GARE cohort city, Philadelphia, found ongoing effort is necessary to close opportunity gaps:
“My administration has implemented various initiatives to ensure that diversity remains a priority throughout city departments, that access to high-quality education is delivered on an equitable basis, and that our economic growth is inclusive of all Philadelphians. The Racial Equity Here commitment is one of many pathways that will help our city move this important work forward,” said Mayor Jim Kenney.
About Race Forward
Race Forward: The Center for Racial Justice Innovation united with Center for Social Inclusion in 2017 to become the new Race Forward. Founded in 1981, Race Forward brings systemic analysis and an innovative approach to complex race issues to help people take effective action toward racial equity. Founded in 2002, CSI catalyzes community, government and other institutions to dismantle structural racial inequity and create equitable outcomes for all. Race Forward is home to GARE.
Explore previous EfficientGov coverage of racial equity resources for government: