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This week at the Foundation we took a staff field trip to the Race Exhibit in the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, where we had a facilitated discussion on race, discrimination, and equity. Rather than share my own experience, I figured I would pass the mic this week to our resident expert on equity at Triangle Community Foundation, the other Shannon St. John Fellow from the MPA program – Ebony West! So enough from me, here’s our discussion about her role at the Foundation this summer, strategic planning, and equity.

What are you working on this summer at TCF?

This summer I am assisting the Foundation with their five-year strategic planning process. This includes assisting with revising the mission, vision, and values of the Foundation. Most recently, I have been working on drafting strategies and measures of success for each TCF department to achieve TCF’s three aspirational directions.

Another project I am doing this summer is researching how peer community foundations incorporate an equity lens in their work. The end goal is to provide a written report to the Foundation that includes key findings, best practices, implications, and recommendations on how TCF can be more explicit and intentional about incorporating equity in their work.


What was your experience with the Race exhibit we went to on Monday and the facilitated conversation that followed?

I found the Race exhibit to be very interesting and profound. The basis of the exhibit was that the concept of race is a social construct – something we created to justify and fuel inequality and inequity. I think the education that the exhibit provided, as well as the cultural conversation, allowed for people to have uncomfortable conversations about race and racism. It also provided the opportunity to think about what we as people, as well as within the Foundation, can address and act on ending the legacy of racism.


What is the most interesting equity program or initiative you’ve come across in your research?

Within the programs department at the Denver Foundation, they have a Leadership & Equity (L&E) objective area dedicated to making the Denver Metro-area’s community leadership pool bigger, more diverse, more skilled, and more connected. Within these objectives are two programs that deal with inclusiveness and racial equity. The first program is their Inclusiveness Project, which aims to build more inclusive nonprofit organizations, increase the number of people of color involved in the nonprofit sector, and spread the word about the benefits and importance of nonprofits becoming more inclusive.

In addition, the Denver Foundation has a Nonprofit Internship Program that gives undergraduate students the opportunity to spend the summer working at nonprofit host organizations. While there are other foundations that do this, the Denver Foundation’s program intentionally engages with emerging leaders who are traditionally underrepresented in nonprofits, including students of color, low-income students, men, LGBTQ+ students, and students with different abilities.

I think Denver’s work on equity and inclusion in the nonprofit sector is extremely important, especially considering the lack of diversity in the leadership of nonprofit organizations. If you’re interested in learning more about the nonprofit racial leadership gap check out this report by the Building Movement Project.


Why do you think it’s so important for equity to be a key piece of the strategic planning process at TCF, or really any community foundation?

I believe equity is an important piece of the strategic planning process at TCF, and other community foundations, because it is the only way for them to achieve greater impact in our communities. OpenSource Strategies, Inc. describes an equitable society as ‘one in which there are improved outcomes for all people and the distribution of resources, opportunities, and burden is not determined, predictable, or disproportionate by identity.’

Despite community foundations’ best efforts, disparities in outcome and opportunity continue to plague the communities they serve. Prioritizing equity allows foundations to focus on addressing the long-standing institutional and systemic barriers that inhibit opportunity so that greater progress and impact can be seen within their communities. This move towards making equity a value of TCF will help create more meaningful change within the Foundation as well as in the Triangle community.


What’s your favorite thing about working at TCF this summer?

The staff and location! The staff at TCF were so welcoming when I first started and have been so helpful, supportive in the work that I am doing and provide continuous fun (and food). The Frontier has been a really great place to work and I really enjoy the collaborative space it provides and the community events it hosts.


Special thanks to Ebony for agreeing to share her PWE with me for this post! And if you haven’t already visited the Race exhibit, definitely take some time to check it out – it’s open until October and you can find more information here.

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