June 19, 2020 observed the 155th anniversary of what many consider to be the earliest liberation of Black Americans and the most celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery. The recent protests and demonstrations are indicative of America’s ongoing struggle for racial equality and social justice as summer months throughout our nation’s history mark the anniversaries of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, March on Washington, 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, Red Summer of 1919, and LGBTQ rights.
While diversity among supporters in the current uprising is unconventional, the persistent call for transformative change is not, as our nation has remained a grossly unequal society more than sixty years after the civil rights movement. If we have learned anything from the efforts of our predecessors, we know that the eradication of racism and discrimination will not be accomplished through a single piece of legislation that yields incremental progress, but through long-term systemic change that exceeds the tenure of individual elected officials. This great awakening has only confirmed a theory of systemic racism and inequality that the plight of minorities continues to prove true – “the systems of our government are not at all broken but are working as intended and as originally designed.”
The concept of good public governance can only be achieved when the systems and policies that sustain it are equitable to all citizens alike. Since its inception, the nonprofit sector has long been the cornerstone of civic inclusion, a vehicle through which citizens advance their principles through the promotion of sound public policy. Now is the opportunity for nonprofit organizations to be recognized as an essential partner to local and state governments as they seek to invest in community-led solutions to combat issues that contribute to systemic oppression and institutionalized racism. We must leverage our assets to influence decision-makers, public policies, and systems. The sector has never been outnumbered; we have only been outorganized. As the nation’s third largest employer, nonprofits are able to organize 12.3 million employees and mobilize networks of donors, volunteers, and constituents across 1.5 million organizations to lead seismic shifts in public policy that reduce disparities and close racial equity gaps.
Every organization and employee of the nonprofit community has a role to play in creating a more just and equal society. A civil society cannot be established without the sector’s collective advocacy to enact policies that address criminal justice reform, equality of educational opportunity, healthcare needs and disparities, affordable housing, democracy and election reform, digital equity, economic and environmental justice, immigration reform, addiction and mental health services, and the eradication of poverty. The nonprofit sector cannot be recognized as a model for racial equity without first resolving our own impediments that perpetuate the same inequities that we work to abolish. Being an ally to a marginalized community or minority group requires an ally to not only acknowledge their privilege, but to actively use their privilege as a platform to educate others.
We are seeing protests across the country successfully result in change because a diverse and expansive representation of communities are demanding action. While diversity statements and charitable contributions to social justice nonprofits are a helpful form of allyship, scaling change to a systemic level will require widespread participation from the entire sector. Nonprofits can contribute by:
- Encouraging civic engagement among staff, organization members, and community residents;
- Addressing unconscious biases that foster a culture of pervasive racism and discrimination;
- Developing a robust policy agenda to increase advocacy and mobilization efforts; and
- Remaining steadfast in our efforts to recruit and develop diverse talent to ensure that our executive leadership and governing boards are as inclusive as the communities we seek to serve.
As a sector dedicated to advancing racial equity, we must ensure that our commitment to inclusion and fairer outcomes for all extends beyond a talking point to include accountability, intentionality, and action.