IS on the Road: PolicyLink Delivers for Thousands of Equity Champions

Last week, two of my IS colleagues and I were able to attend PolicyLink’s Equity Summit. The event, held in Chicago April 11-13, brought together more than 4,000 people from across the country and lived up to its mission:

The Summit is a call to activists, organizers, and leaders to step into our power, activate our imaginations, and set the national agenda. That agenda will build on what’s been learned about advancing equity and justice and will push us to achieve the scale required for all to reach our full potential.

Working on equity – racial, economic, or social – is hard. Let’s not fool ourselves. These topics are tough for even the most steadfast believer.

A reminder of how tough it can be came the morning of the second day of the event. Heading down to the event, I found myself standing on the escalator next to a gentleman attending a healthcare conference in the same hotel (the suit and tie were dead giveaways). He nudged his younger colleagues ahead of him and joked about the Summit, saying, “’Equity Summit?’ I bet their keynote speaker is Al Sharpton.” They laughed. It hurt. Nothing like having an entire effort mocked to show you how far we still have to go.

I have to admit, that moment shook me. It took me a little bit to recover but I was reminded of something that was said just the day before during the opening plenary. Maria Teresa Kumar, executive director or Voto Latino, described herself as “pissed with a purpose.” Yes. Pissed. But with a purpose.

Art by Alixa Garcia, Co-founder and Artistic Director at Climbing PoeTree/Technical Director at TruthWorker Theatre Company

As Charlene Carruthers, founding national director of BYP100, said during the second day’s plenary, we’re still dealing with the effects of the systematic extraction of wealth, resources, and the spirit of various communities of color and other marginalized communities. We know this because there is data. There are stories. There is a constant barrage of news to show us we still have work to do.

Throughout the event, equity in all forms was spoken about and highlighted. It wasn’t just enough to speak of the inequities that exist in American society and the strategies to fight them. The event itself was effortlessly inclusive with representation from communities of color, faith communities, LGBTQ communities, and the arts – all seamlessly part of the fabric of the conference. No topic was off limits – from anti-blackness to the role that the “nonprofit industrial complex” should or should not play in equity. (Trust us, that one stung a little!)

Angela Glover Blackwell also announced she was stepping down as CEO of PolicyLink in the fall and that Michael McAfee, the organization’s current president and IS board member, would be assuming the role. Family and friends honored Angela at an event at The Chicago Theatre that included a special performance of Frederick Douglass Now by Roger Guenveur Smith.


PolicyLInk’s Equity Summit typically occurs every three to four years. I already cannot wait for the next one. I hope that we’re all a little closer to a reality that PolicyLInk’s Equity Manifesto captures so well:

It begins by joining together, believing in the potency of inclusion, and building from a common bond.

It embraces complexity as cause for collaboration, accepting that our fates are inextricable.

It recognizes local leaders as national leaders, nurturing the wisdom and creativity within every community as essential to solving the nation’s problems.

It demands honesty and forthrightness, calling out racism and oppression, both overt and systemic.

It strives for the power to realize our goals while summoning the grace to sustain them.

It requires that we understand the past, without being trapped in it; embrace the present, without being constrained by it; and look to the future, guided by the hopes and courage of those who have fought before and beside us.

This is equity: just and fair inclusion into a society in which all can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential. Unlocking the promise of the nation by unleashing the promise in us all.

Here’s to each of us, as individuals and as organizations, finding ways to make equity a central feature of our strategies and our missions.

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Types: Blog
Global Topics: Congress, IS Board, IS Member, IS Staff, Public Policy, Race, Equity, and Inclusion, Voices for Good