This past October I had the privilege to attend the 2015 Policy Link Equity Summit as a part of EPIP's People of Color Network Delegation. The Summit was a gathering of minds and hearts from a variety of fields: government, activism, philanthropy, corporate, non-profit, etc…all in the name of equity. The experience in being in such a place when the country and our local communities are in such great states of unrest was timely and inspirational. Upon its conclusion I left the summit feeling invigorated, challenged, and full. Invigorated to do more within this space and to dig deeper into the work of social justice on a personal and professional level. Challenged to identify how I can use what resources are at my disposal to activate and agitate others into action. Full with hope and reassurance that no matter how bleak things may look in the news or in the everyday life of local communities, there is a shift happening.
A shift that is pushing both organizations and the individuals that drive the work forward to question long held practices, challenge biases, and seek to include more voices in the decision making process. Within the philanthropic sector specifically, as foundations seek to partner with the public sector and local citizens in new ways, to stand more assertively on the side of justice, and "walk the talk" for the betterment of social good I see a shift towards social justice, racial equity, and a re-evaluation of the old infrastructures that have long skewed the scales of justice away from those who have been historically disenfranchised and oft underserved.
Yet, how does this shift happen? Slowly and steadily through the work of everyday people who are willing to do their part. One of the biggest takeaways from the Summit was this idea that we all have a stake in creating thriving communities, providing opportunities for youth to grow up healthy and addressing the systemic racism and sexism that often leave too many out of the most important of conversations. It's a lofty goal, but many hands make light work…and what strikes me even now is how much potential we each have to be change agents. Being an agent of change is not exclusive to any one kind of person or any group in particular. Every day we have the opportunity to become agents of change in our places of work and personal spaces.
At the Summit, I was surrounded by individuals from all walks of life, working across multiple sectors who were committed to equity, and through the varied informal conversations, panel presentations, and plenaries I saw how intricately issues of equity and the damages of inequality touch every sector and tie to every social issue. From transportation, to food access, displacement, the criminal justice system, the way philanthropy funds non-profits and how those no-profits are chosen…it is all connected. And I sat with and continue to sit with that understanding. I look at the working being done by all of these beautiful, committed, and passionate individuals and feel inspired. Then I look at myself and the sector I work in and continue to hone in on what I think my piece of this "work" is.
“Every decision we make is an equity decision.” Jamie Bennett, Executive Director, ArtPlace America
There is a call for equity and as philanthropic professionals, we need to answer this call, making sure we are carrying our share of the load. Within this sector we have a unique opportunity to be the convener diverse ideas and perspectives, connectors of knowledge and resources to communities and individuals who are in need, and champions for change through our partnerships with other organizations. Every decision we make, every action we take, no matter how great or small, carries with it an opportunity to advance equity and to break down the power dynamics that hold so many back. We all have our reasons as to why we have come to this work and come to be so moved by issues of racial justice and equity - my reasons are both personal and professional. There have been far too many sacrifices made by those who came before me, far too much left to be done, and far too much that I feel I have left to give. A commitment I've made to myself as both a result of attending the Summit and EPIP's 2015 Annual Conference this past May is to question, probe, and lead from my own place of power. Be that through my work as an EPIP Chapter Leader, my personal advocacy and interactions with family and friends, supporting colleagues as they take their own stand, or through my actual professional endeavors…I have a responsibility to uphold. Truly, each of us does and as we all do our "work" I believe we will see the progress so many have been hoping for. To quote Archbishop Desmond Tutu, "Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”
A native of Camden, NJ, and a graduate of American University, Storme Gray brings over a decade of experience to the philanthropic and non-profit sectors and has spent the majority of her career focused on supporting initiatives, programs, and organizations that help underserved communities. As a current member of the EPIP DC Steering Committee and an EPIP Inclusive Leaders Cohort member, she is very much involved with determining ways in which young philanthropic professionals can align their skills and passions to advance social justice and human rights issues within their professional and personal lives. Follow her on Twitter @Storme1913.