Academic journal article The Foundation Review

Difficult Conversations: Lessons along the Journey toward Inclusion

Academic journal article The Foundation Review

Difficult Conversations: Lessons along the Journey toward Inclusion

Article excerpt

Keywords: Diversity, equity, inclusion, dignity, antiracism, intercultural competency, community conversations


Kelly Brown, director of the Chicago-based D5 Coalition, tells of mentioning to a f riend how D5's five-year mission is to grow philanthropy's diversity, equity, and inclusion. The f riend, who was then managing one of the world's largest pension funds at the height of the recession, replied: "That sounds really hard" (Brown, 2013).

It is extremely challenging work that exposes our vulnerabilities, but working for the inclusion of all people in our community is the right work and, most important, when done effectively, improves our ability to best serve all of our residents. Kalamazoo Community Foundation, established in 1925 in this southwest Michigan community nestled halfway between Chicago and Detroit, has a long history of aspiring to connect with diverse community populations.

Our 30 employees, working with assets of almost $400 million, serve a county population of approximately 250,000. A total of 18 percent of county residents are Af rican American, Latino, Asian/Pacific Islander, and Native American. At the beginning of this journey 13 years ago, 14 percent of our staff and 14 percent of our board of trustees were nonwhite; those figures are now 17 percent of the staff and 42 percent of the board. While these figures are useful for context, we fully recognize what is not captured in such numbers, such as sexual orientation and other factors informing this progress.

Our mission is to make life better for all through leadership and stewardship of resources that last forever; our success depends upon our foundation being aware of itself and understanding, reaching, and relating to people of all backgrounds, belief s, and abilities. These are our reflections on this journey toward recognizing and protecting the dignity of all people.

Diversity Policy

Kalamazoo Community Foundation's board of trustees approved a diversity policy in 2000. This was the beginning of "walking the talk," as we began a structured process to fully embrace and act upon our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). We believe that diversity encompasses but is not limited to ethnicity, race, age, gender identity, sexual orientation, economic circumstance, physical and mental abilities and characteristics, and philosophy and religion.

Geared for both grantees and donors, the policy states that "a more diverse philanthropic community, and one that reaches out to all, will result in richer and more responsive philanthropy that better meets the needs of the community." It was clear to us that we could achieve excellence - not perfection - as community leaders and conveners only if we led by example, and this policy set our course. The Council on Foundations recognized our adoption and implementation of the diversity policy as a community foundation best practice.

In the same year we established an LGBT Equality Fund to support lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning members of our community. The endowment fund has grown f rom $5,000 to $800,000 and continues to evolve with active support of a standing committee composed of members of the LGBT community. More than $460,000 in grants has been awarded, while the focus transitions f rom promoting education and respect for LGBT issues to active advocacy and appreciation. We now feel that our community has progressed beyond tolerance and we strive for full acceptance (Kalamazoo Community Foundation, 2013a).

Claiming Antiracism

We began our antiracism training in 2006 with a two-and-a-half-day workshop, Understanding and Analyzing Systemic Racism. The program, offered by Matteson, Ill.-based Crossroads, is locally sponsored by Eliminating Racism and Claiming/ Celebrating Equality (ERAC/CE). All staff and board members completed training by 2009 and all new hires attend this workshop.

The purpose of the training is threefold: to develop a common understanding of racism and its individual, institutional, and cultural manifestations; to apply this common understanding of racism to specific situations within institutions working with ERAC/CE; and to explore opportunities for long-term educational and organizing efforts to dismantle racism and build antiracist, multicultural diversity within institutions working with ERAC/CE. …

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