President’s Message: Lessons Learned Advancing Racial Equity

“I would like to be known as a person who is concerned about freedom and equality and justice and prosperity for all people.” ~ Rosa Parks 

In this season of Thanksgiving, I’m grateful for role-models and leaders like Rosa Parks. I aspire to be a leader who uses my white privilege and power to lead the John Rex Endowment as it learns what it means to center racial equity in all aspects of the organization. In May, Board Chair Matt Leatherman shared the results of our racial equity assessment and reaffirmed our commitment and accountability to children and families in Wake County. Our racial equity journey has transformed our culture. It has changed how we make decisions, how we engage with each other, but most importantly, how we serve and are accountable to the organizations working tirelessly to improve the social emotional health of children and their families.  

The journey has also transformed me as a human-being. It’s been an honor, and a bit scary, as I’ve worked in partnership with our board, staff and community to learn, grow and disrupt inequitable systems inside and outside our organization. The work is slower than I’d like sometimes, more complex than I ever imagined, and more essential than ever if we are to build a more equitable Wake County, post-pandemic.  

The Endowment is fortunate to have the resources and time to support our transformation. We are currently revisiting our mission, funding and advocacy strategies, and developing an internal playbook to ensure equity is at the center of our decisions. We’ve heard from many of our partners about their desire to also strengthen their leadership and knowledge of racial equity within the context of their programs. In December, we will announce 2022 funding opportunities. A hint; we’ve been listening. 

In closing, I would like to share a few lessons I am grateful I have learned on my journey to center racial equity in my leadership and in the Endowment’s transformation. I hope you find them useful and encouraging.  

  • There is no one “right” path in racial equity work. There are many. Find what works for your organization. Get started. Stay committed. 
  • Do your homework…individually and collectively. Respect and listen to people of color and their lived experiences, but don’t expect them to teach you about racial equity and justice. It’s not their job. It’s yours/ours. 
  • Challenge the assumptions, history and norms you’ve been taught. I’m stunned, and a bit embarrassed, how ill-informed I have been.   
  • Listen and apologize when you get it wrong – and you will – give yourself grace and forgiveness and then get back to the work. 
  • Model and encourage self-care: Advancing racial equity is liberating and exhausting for everyone; but we must acknowledge the disproportionate labor people of color bear in racial equity work and support to manage the impact upon them.  

My hope is we will all take time next week to gather safely with family and friends – and rest. We have more work to do so all children can thrive! 

With Gratitude,