Reflections on PCN from Fizah Omar

At D5 Coalition, we define equity as, “Improving equity is to promote justice, impartiality and fairness within the procedures, processes, and distribution of resources by institutions or systems. Tackling equity issues requires an understanding of the underlying or root causes of outcome disparities within our society.”

In the PolicyLink’s Equity manifesto, it says “it [equity] demands honesty and forthrightness calling out racism and oppression, both overt and systemic”

But let’s be real, talking about equity is hard. It’s hard to talk about the root causes and contextualize it around people’s lived experiences when it’s so entrenched in the systems of oppression. It’s harder to talk about equity when it feels like there have been movement and progress around diversity and inclusion. But diversity and inclusion focus on numbers and people, equity is about impact.

We have to dig deeper. We need an understanding of the underlying or root causes. And we need a common language around equity.  But first we need to talk about the inequities 

Inequities such that cops get away with murders of black bodies.  But also, we must look at long disinvested communities where rising inequality disproportionately affects people of color, takes away jobs and opportunities and continue to disenfranchise our youths.

Inequities such that when a terrorist attack happens, Muslim communities must again face their rights being taken away in the name of National Security. But also, we must look at the ways that the South Asian, Asian American and Pacific Islander communities are usually rendered invisible when talking about racial disparities.

Inequities such that there are systems in place that become roadblocks for historically marginalized communities to move forward and flourish. We’re not just talking about the racial wealth gap or the rate of policing and incarcerations in communities of color- we are talking about how inequitable systems affect the most quotidian things like insurance premiums, car loans and banking.

The PolicyLink Equity Summit is an effort to address these multifaceted equity issues across sector and issue areas. It is no surprise that the sessions and workshops encompass issues from housing, workforce development, health, policing to immigration reform. It was almost dizzying to choose – how could I choose between a session on affordable housing, cross-racial coalitions, and mass incarcerations of black men?

The opening plenary on Race, Place and Economy really hit it on the nail. These issues are closely intertwined in a system that’s entrenched with systemic inequities. Place matters and race matters. You cannot really talk about any of these issues without first acknowledging systemic oppression on communities of color and other historically marginalized groups.

Equitable Housing & Transportation, Fighting Gentrification and Displacement

My neighborhood in Chicago is facing rapid gentrification that has caused thousands of Latinos to be displaced in the last five years. This is not unique to my neighborhood as I learned from other communities across the country.  We Are/Somos Logan Square, the community organization that I am a part of, fights against displacement, promotes tenants’ rights and advocates for equitable development.

One of the plenaries, New Moves: Holding Ground, Fighting Displacement focused on how the issue of gentrification is linked to the displacement of low-income people and communities of color. We heard stories from the AAPI communities of LA, the diminishing black community of Portland, and displacement of black and Latino communities of Bay Area and how they are fighting in their communities.

At the Affordable Housing Mobile Workshop, we had a chance to tour LA’s downtown’s expansion into South Central LA, the USC Village expansion, Lorenzo Housing Develoment and the Crenshaw Corridor. Led by the UNIDAD coalition, we saw the different ways communities have been able to push back and gain community benefits agreements (CBAs). It becomes clear from the CBAs that affordable housing is not a single-facet issue – to ensure that housing access to all, we need to negotiate access to jobs, healthcare and schools.

Many of these neighborhood stories mirror my own neighborhood and other neighborhoods in Chicago. In Chicago, neighborhood school closings (mostly neighborhoods of color) have made headlines almost every year. When neighborhoods lose their schools, access to jobs and affordable housing is also taken away from the community. Stories of parents having to move so that their children can go to school and in the process of doing so, have to give up affordable housing, have become commonplace. 

One of the biggest causes of gentrification in South LA is University of South California (USC). This is a common story as universities encroach on cheap land and take away affordable housing from communities to accommodate students. In Chicago, University of Chicago and University of Illinois (UIC) Chicago are culpable of the very same actions. We have to make these institutions accountable on the damage they are inflicting on our communities.

We cannot talk about equitable and affordable housing without talking about transportation.  At a session around equitable transportation, we heard from the US Department of Transportation, community organizers, a rural independent living advocate, to show that how inequitable our progressive transportation policies have been and how millions of low-income people, people with disabilities and people of color live in communities where access to quality transportation is nonexistent or unaffordable.

How do we have development that doesn’t continue to perpetuate disparities and inequities?

We are fighting against inequities such that:

  • Transit-Oriented Development ordinances are being put forth as progressive policies without taking into account the affect of such policies on affordable housing for lower income community and communities of color or if these development are truly accessible. 
  • 10% affordable units on luxury developments is considered a win, while thousands and thousands of long-time residents continue to be displaced.
  • The same bike lanes, coffee shops and other markers of gentrification that make our lives better are only there because the long disinvested neighborhoods are now deemed “marketable.”

Over and over again, at We Are/Somos Logan Square, we have said that we are not against development. What we are against is when developers, city council, and the government refuse to acknowledge that developments in our neighborhoods are not for the community.

UNIDAD’s slogan rings true, we are fighting for “Better Neighborhoods, Same Neighbors”.

Network Building for Social Change: Claim the Torch!

The Summit opened with a really powerful spoken word video, chronicling the different social change movements that have happened in the past year. From Baltimore to Fight for 15 to the Nail Salon Workers in NYC fighting wage theft, we saw how fiery moments become movements.

Working in philanthropy as a young person and a non-grantmaker, sometimes it’s hard to see what exactly I could be doing in my role in philanthropy. I cannot emphasize what a tremendous opportunity it was to be part of the People of Color Network delegation at the Equity Summit. Having access to this network of amazing, inspiring emerging leaders of color in philanthropy has been an eye-opening experience.

In my reflection on EPIP National Conference last May, I talked about how strong networks can build movements.  And I talked about how I want to bring that back to my community in Chicago. At the Equity Summit I had the opportunity to connect with a Chicago-Cook County delegation. We are moving forward with shaping a cross-sector city-wide equity agenda. My hope for this PCN gathering is that we will continue to keep each other accountable and we can become a stronger network that can fuel movements for social change in our work and community. 

The Summit and PCN gathering really crystallized the work that we do at D5 and the work that I do outside of my work – either it’s EPIP Chicago or YNPN or community organizing.

The question that we should ask ourselves every day in our work and our lives: Can we fully address social inequities and disparities without taking into account the historic marginalization of women, people of color, LGBTQ community and the disability community?

The answer is unequivocally no.

|Hafizah Omar