The Full Frame Initiative (FFI) recently began an intentional examination into how, as an organization, it can step up its efforts as a racial equity champion. This summer, I was invited to a day-long conversation with a small group of FFI partners and allies to a consultative session “to inform the design of a process and structure that would allow FFI to better address the critical intersection of wellbeing, race and oppression.” Having been on the staff of FFI and now serving as an FFI Senior Fellow, I was excited to participate. Moreover, as an African American woman and “social justice warrior” I was especially eager to explore this critical topic with the leadership of FFI and several admired colleagues. We were able to have a relatively candid conversation that day: about the challenges of advocating for racial equity within the systems that stubbornly uphold status quo policy and practice despite their rhetoric; about the dearth of funding that incentivizes and supports a shift to equitable practice and policy; about the difficult conversation race and racism is in diverse company; and about how an organization like FFI, which has been predominantly “white,” steps into and embraces an appropriate role. The conversation was a forthright beginning, and together with a follow-up conversation I led with some of the other participants, some concrete recommendations were lifted up, upon which FFI can act. Additionally, the conversation revealed some important process points that can inform FFI’s actions as an ally of organizations of color at the forefront of the movement to undo systemic and systematic racism within the human services sector and beyond.
With regard to recommendations upon which FFI can take action, there are several building blocks in FFI’s existing approach and Five Domains of Wellbeing framework to build from. These strengths include:
- A focus on people from marginalized communities who are not inherently broken but who struggle mightily because of/in spite of the conditions that confront them in toxic environments
- A desire to co-create (read: recognize that solutions cannot be prescribed from outside these communities) conditions that are more supportive of wellbeing
- A strengths-focus, that assumes that all people (even those, maybe even especially those, in the “deep-end of the deep-end”) have strengths and assets to build from
- Movement building, which acknowledges that programs that fix people are not the answer, but that the challenges faced by marginalized communities are systemic and require a comprehensive, coordinated and sustained effort by many stakeholders
- That value-based structural changes are the only means to transformed institutions, policies and practices that currently maintain inequity and disproportionality
One recommendation is for FFI to use its influence to ensure that the voice and participation of intended beneficiaries of color center any discussions/decisions about what works to support their pursuit of wellbeing. For each of the Five Domains of Wellbeing, FFI is encouraged to include even more explicit descriptions of how each domain is experienced by people of color at the intersection of poverty, violence and trauma. For example, how does being African American or Latino affect one’s perception of safety when one’s very identity is questioned or debased or serves as the basis for racial profiling? FFI should revisit existing documents, communications and training materials and make a focus on race equity more explicit (for example, by incorporating more cases, examples and statements that name people of color and their struggles and triumphs in striving for the same respect and opportunity available to others). FFI had already taken steps to make changes based on these recommendations and is continuing to do so.
With regard to FFI’s actions as an ally of organizations of color at the forefront of the race equity movement to undo racism, FFI intends to courageously delve into the question of what being such an ally means. The answers are not so simple, and I for one am glad that FFI recognizes this. I know that FFI has made serious attempts to diversify its staff and create a more inclusive environment where all staff contribute their value. In the meantime, how does an organization like FFI, which has been predominantly “white,” lead without minimizing the leadership of organizations of color? Are there specific realms of action that FFI should lead on versus follow? And given the hard-scrabble existence non-profits have to grow or even sustain their own work, where do FFI and allies find the space, time and resources required to build the trust necessary to forge strong, diverse racial equity partnerships? And yet it starts simply by recognizing the importance of sincerely asking these questions and acting responsively. I know that FFI is serious about asking and answering the tough questions and will seek able consultation to help them in developing a long-range plan of action. FFI recognizes the critical importance of engaging informed allies in its networks for change; it is encouraging that it recognizes also the critical importance of being/becoming an informed, engaged ally for/with others in the common ground network for race equity.
Audrey Jordan is FFI’s Senior Fellow of Community Engagement. Through her fellowship, she is exploring ways to “translate” and document how the Five Domains of Wellbeing are understood by people and communities with lived experience with poverty, violence and trauma.