When Trust Means Everything

Our reach into communities is literally hands-on — with some 1.5 million nonprofit organizations helping to feed, nurture, support, provide disaster relief, foster civic engagement, encourage economic growth, and other supportive services for millions of residents in communities across the country. At this critical time when COVID-19 continues to take and threaten the lives of so many – particularly those disproportionately affected – community trust is critical to our work to help meet the urgent need of getting vaccines to communities that need them most. Yet, trust in the nonprofit sector is declining, a trend we can ill-afford when trust between nonprofits and our communities is everything.

During our first Upswell Pop-Up of 2021, we focused on the vital intersection of trust and racial equity, and what we must do to repair some of our deepest divides. We explored how nonprofits, philanthropy, and community-organizations can build trust; how our words and voices can be a pathway to individual and collective healing; how academia and communities can work together to strengthen trust and advance strategies to ensure children thrive; and how we must align discussions about workplace wellness, organizational development, and equity work to strengthen trust bonds that are key to equitable growth – even in the midst of the pandemic.  

Trust, COVID-19, and the Role of Civil Society

COVID-19 vaccine production and distribution are speeding up, but much work remains to build the trust required to ensure the vaccine is accessible and taken, particularly in communities of color where distrust is high due to a history of medical harm.


  • Utibe R. Essien, MD, MPH, Assistant Professor of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine
  • Dr. Rami Nashashibi, Founder and Executive Director, Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN)
  • Kristina Gawrgy, Chief Communications and Community Building Officer, Independent Sector

 Key Takeaways:

  • Lack of trust and hesitancy about the vaccine is reasonable due to a history and legacy of the past, and what continues to happen today.
  • Trust and trustworthiness have nuanced distinctions. Where does faith play a role in the intersection of faith and medicine?
  • What will happen in the next couple of years? How invested are we in health systems and in sustaining health equity? We have to look beyond the pandemic.

Using Poetry as Self-Care

In this interactive workshop, members of Street Poets, Inc. helped participants explore how to use words and voices to create a direct pathway to individual and collective healing.


  • Alyesha Wise, Director of Program Development, Street Poets, Inc.
  • Matthew ‘Cuban’ Hernandez, Director of Juvenile Programming, Street Poets, Inc
  • Francisco ‘BusStop Prophet’ Escamilla, Director of School and Community Programs, Street Poets Inc.

 Key Takeaways:

  • Being heard is a key element to being healed.
  • Poetry is medicine and the world needs more medicine.
  • Trust your instincts and power in your younger voice. The more people practice trust, the easier it is to take off our masks and step into community with trust. 

Building Bridges Where There Were Barriers

Using The Pittsburgh Study as a case example, community members and academic researchers shared how they collaborated to build trust and advance strategies that ensure children and youth can thrive as we recover, and how organizations can replicate these strategies.


  • Dr. Jamil Bey, Founder and President, UrbanKind Institute
  • Felicia Savage Friedman, Founder and CEO, YogaRoots On Location, LLC
  • Dr. Liz Miller, Professor of Pediatrics, Public Health, and Clinical and Translational Science, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine
  • Shallegra Moye, Founder and Executive Director, Brilliantly Blessed Community Health and Wellness

Key Takeaways:

  • What’s important to note about The Pittsburgh Study is that we do research with the community and not on the community.
  • How do we build trust when there are still being barriers being put up? How do we shift this narrative of competition? There’s enough food for everyone. We just need to share in that.
  • We can’t have thriving children without thriving parents, We can’t have thriving parents without thriving economic structures. We can’t have thriving economics without thriving structural systems.

Laying Foundations of Trust

Organizations must end siloed conversations and initiatives and interweave wellness and equity into strategy, policy, and culture work. This session reflects on organizations that are centering safety and cultural humility through a trauma-informed resilience-oriented approach, even in the midst of the pandemic.


  • Nkem Ndefo, Founder and President, Lumos Transforms
  • Traci Bivens-Davis, MA, Intervention Trainer
  • Tina Binda, MA, LMFT, Administrator, TEAMMATES

 Key Takeaways:

  • There is siloing of diversity, equity, and inclusion work – or justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion work – from wellness work and organizational development – as if they were separate work.
  • Leaders must educate themselves about what they bring unintentionally to bias.
  • You can’t just slide equity into culture change training. It has to be intentional.
Types: Blog
Global Topics: Civil Society, Race, Equity, and Inclusion, Upswell