Our Communications and Research Fellow, Christie Saint-Vil, recently sat down with EPIP's board chair, Jasmine Hall Ratliff, to reflect on her service with EPIP. Jasmine's board term ends in December 2015, and we are forever grateful for her leadership, grace, humor, and wisdom.
How did your time serving on the EPIP board help you with your professional development?
Serving with EPIP helped me enhance people skills by building and maintaining relationships. My role as Board Chair definitely helped with communication and public speaking- whether in our small group of board members or having a role at the annual conference. Especially with speaking at the conference it helped me become more comfortable standing behind the podium, in front of a microphone and preparing what you're going to say ahead of time. I’ve also learned plenty about time management. As Chair of the Board, I’ve learned how to prepare and read material while being able to multi-task. That contributed to my professional development by strengthening my ability to properly prioritize these tasks as such. Leadership and governance skills are extremely important because I am playing a major role in helping lead an organization to fulfill its utmost potential and carry out its mission as effectively as possible. Besides managing the Board of Advisors, I work closely with the Interim Director Emily Kessler- and while she and the next Executive Director work on the day-to-day operations of managing EPIP, I help with the governance and advisement side making sure EPIP is well-connected, carrying out our mission and contributing to social justice through philanthropy. It is a shared responsibility really, but I make it a priority to assist the ED as much as possible. Understanding the role, what it means and what it comes with is essential. All of these experiences definitely contributed overall to my leadership and management skills, one of the key components of our Measuring a Leader program.
Speaking of professional development, it is known that you have extensive experience in Public Health. How does philanthropy contribute to social justice vis-a-vis public health?
When I first started working with EPIP, I quickly made the observation that the organization works within a social justice lens. I struggled with trying to figure out how health can be considered a part of social justice. Getting more involved with EPIP and even delving deeper in my work with the Foundation, I paid a lot of attention to the diverse range of social justice issues my peers at EPIP focused on. For example, issues that focused on economic justice, education reform and tackling poverty. Listening and learning from them allowed me to realize that everything is interconnected. I think health justice so to speak, is among the fundamental aspects of social justice. If people are not granted the right to have access to good healthcare and all the things that help you maintain good health (for example: the ability to have access to healthy food), it becomes difficult to fulfill those other things that contribute to a person’s success in life. It is difficult to learn in school, to maintain a job, when you’re not healthy, which ultimately affects your income and so forth. And conversely, if you don’t have a good job you may not be able to get good health care or if you have asthma but live in poor housing then you stay in a state of bad health. Everything is interconnected. Everything impacts health in some way and health impacts other things as well.
What do you expect from the philanthropic sector in terms of positively impacting the lives of people of color?
I’ve worked and continue to work for organizations that rely heavily on data and evidence. When you look at the data alone, when you look across the list of issues affecting society - education, poverty, health, etc., people of color often fall on the low end of the spectrum or the high end depending on the list you are looking at. In sum, people of color are mostly, if not always, on the disadvantaged end. The disparity issue in all of these is huge. Philanthropy needs to take a close look at these disparities between people of color and White people and start to figure out how their funding will address and help improve those disparities. Philanthropy needs to hone in on how people of color are being more impacted than whites on a particular issue and then figure out how to adjust and work towards a solution by allowing the funding to enter these communities.
Do you have any examples of how the philanthropic sector can do that?
Well, I’ve done a lot of work on obesity and how it affects people of color. Obesity rates have gone down all over the country in recent years. However, in communities of color, rates have remained stagnant or increased. Over the course of our work to reduce childhood obesity we have implemented a combination of funding initiatives that were universal for all communities and those that were targeted towards communities of color. We funded an organization that was led by and worked specifically in communities of color. We launched a program that addressed childhood obesity solely in Indian Country. We funded research that focused on African-American and Latino populations. That’s what I mean. Philanthropy needs to take a serious look into what they’re funding and if the gap between whites and people of color isn’t shrinking, then we need to ask ourselves what is it that we could be doing differently to ensure that our funding is responding in an equitable manner.
Now that you in your final months as EPIP’s board chair, what are some valuable lessons you have learned about us?
Haha, the revolution will not be televised but it will be tweeted! I definitely have to say the most valuable lessons were learned with the EPIP crowd! One of my greatest and most recent memories at EPIP was when I was at a meeting on Millennials and the millennium generation. I am on the tail end of generation X. I didn’t feel like the oldest in the room, but I saw distinct differences in terms of new media, social networking, and ideas on philanthropy in general. These differences are demonstrated the most at EPIP conferences- so much that you’re able to see how strong the social media buzz is during that time. The conference is made up of a very active group of individuals who are proactive and direct in addressing social justice issues like racial inequality. They are not afraid to look at themselves, and constructively criticize power structures and systems in place. They are also eager to work collaboratively and learn from the more seasoned philanthropic leaders, which I believe helps establish a wonderful dynamic. They are doing all of these wonderful things while simultaneously trying to figure out where they fit in all of this. EPIP is filled with so many motivated and ambitious groups of professionals dedicated to better the world of philanthropy.
It’s funny, I was actually listening to the radio and I heard John Lewis give a speech to the class of 2019 at Howard University. Firstly, I was blown away that it was the Class of 2019! But he encouraged the students to cause some trouble - but good trouble. He said something along the lines of “put yourself where you’re uncomfortable and where you make people around you uncomfortable.” I could just envision him saying that to the EPIP audience because they exemplify those words and I am always inspired when I work with them.
Do you plan to continue to be involved with EPIP going forward? What would you like your involvement with EPIP to be in the future?
Of course! I will be wherever EPIP needs and wants me to be. I recognize that I would like to do more with writing and blogging, so that could be a way I can contribute to EPIP - maybe writing on the blog regularly, or hosting a webinar. Or even to advise EPIP in any way would be helpful too. I would love to continue being involved with the organization. The question is finding out how to do it.
Here's a fun question - if there were one thing EPIP would call you to do in the future, what would it be?
Haha, I think maybe something related to the conference since EPIP knows how much I love and value our yearly conferences. I would love to host a series of panels on a particular theme or having a key role in one of the plenaries. I’m not sure if I am senior or advanced in my career enough to be part of the emerging leaders salons yet, but being on that panel would be really cool. I always like the participants they get for that specific panel. I would like to be on that side of the table giving words of wisdom and advice. We’re not sure where next year’s conference will be yet, but I assure you I will be there!
What are the next steps for you Jasmine?
As you are well aware, there are many changes happening right now for EPIP. Even after my official departure in December, I will continue to help our new board members as well as our new board chair. We’re soon to decide our new Executive Director - so I will also be assisting with that transition and getting everyone up to speed. I got the governance bug from my time on the EPIP board so I’m in the running to join another National Board. I will continue with my board service for sure on some level with organizations that I believe in. And beyond that, I will continue to be involved with EPIP in any way, shape, or form.
Jasmine Hall Ratliff speaking at the 2015 EPIP National Conference