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Part 2: Practice Equity Daily


4. Tell Stories Centered On People And Systems

Without solid data collection and analysis of disaggregated data, it’s difficult to identify and address inequities and disparities. Still, the numbers alone won’t align strategies to change outcomes. Humans are wired for story. We make sense of the world, our identities and our connections to others through narrative. You’ll need a clear narrative that’s grounded both in the lives of real people and a systemic analysis of the history and causes of inequities and disparities. You’ll also need stories that help people understand why changes should happen, how change can happen, and what roles they can play. In this section, you’ll explore ways to talk about your race, equity and inclusion work, particularly in the context of fundraising and public communications.

Replace “stock Stories”

When we focus on race and racism in this country, we have a set of “stock stories” that can narrow our thinking, guide us to beliefs that are just not true, and distract us from a more complete picture.

For example, rarely in school or workplace settings do we hear about Black wealth generation or White people who acted fiercely as allies against slavery or present-day racism. Stories like Horatio Alger’s “up by your own bootstraps” promote a dangerous myth that social mobility is purely a matter of persistence, concealing policies and other racialized barriers for Black, Indigenous and other people of color. Versions of these stories exist everywhere in popular and organizational cultures.

Identify how such narratives show up in your formal organizational literature and strategy, and pinpoint informal narratives that similarly describe “what it takes to succeed in this organization.” Find ways to highlight stories that counter stereotypical narratives. It’s good to get very specific and look to the communities in which you work to find stories of resistance or transformation, as well as some of the stories of oppression that we tend to sweep under the rug.

Replace “fix The Individual” Stories With “fix The System” Stories

For many, particularly in fundraising, we know that telling stories is incredibly compelling. Often, we’re drawn to telling the story of the individual and how our help shifted who they are or how they were able to succeed. Instead, it can be powerful to look at the systems you’re engaged with (e.g., education, housing), learn their problematic policies and histories, and share how your United Way has fixed them.

In addition, you can shift the individual stories to collective stories. How did the community get together to respond, protest, build and thereby adapt to unfavorable conditions with a creative response? Even reporting on disparities in outcomes can reinforce a narrative of the need to fix “broken people” or “broken communities,” unless the data are accompanied by a narrative that explains how structural barriers (e.g., policies, practices, norms, laws) created the conditions for the disparities to exist in the first place. Frame your stories so you’re not just explaining the problems but detailing solutions and helping people find a place for themselves in making a difference.

In This Section, We’ll Explore How To

  • Facilitate Story-Sharing
  • Adopt Equity-Minded Language
  • Capacity Building Training
  • United Neighborhoods.

Facilitate Story-sharing

Storytelling can be a great way to build empathy, relationships and knowledge within your race, equity and inclusion work, as well as for your United Way overall. Although much of this toolkit focuses on how to changes systems, processes and practices, we know individual-level change is part of changing systems. With stronger knowledge of each other’s stories, we can increase connection and commitment to work focused on race, equity and inclusion. There are many ways to approach this, including resources in the workbook. Some of the common ideas include:

  • Create brown-bag lunches where staff can share pieces of their personal stories. One activity is called “I am from.” You can have people write and share a poem or free write with various prompts such as: the foods I ate/eat, sights and sounds where I grew up, a phrase or saying you would hear in my family, the values communicated to me/I communicate to my kids, the favorite holiday.
  • You can set up Employee Resource Groups or affinity groups where people who share one or more identities can gather (for sharing, learning, mutual support and problem solving).
  • In workshops that you create as part of your race, equity and inclusion processes and practices, you can include time for storytelling. Again, it’s great to have people bring their stories and identities into this work. Many people (Black, Indigenous and other people of color, as well as White people) can experience distance from ones’ ethnicity or culture. It’s important to lift up what’s known as well as the disconnection.
    We’ll be more successful in this work as people are able to look at their own personal and shared histories and name elements of culture—even their problematic aspects— and commit to creating something new.

Adopt Equity-minded Language

Common uses of language are constantly changing. Sometimes the changes are stylistic, as in the way that, over time, different words have been used to describe something that’s very good (e.g., bad, phat). Some of these changes are powerful responses to self-determination or changes in political consciousness (e.g., Negro to Black to African-American). Some are the result of seeking to eradicate offensive or oppressive metaphors and references (e.g., dropping the term “off the reservation”).

Use language that helps people understand your goals and see your vision. You’ll find tools in the workbook that offer specific guidance. Be sure that people understand the problems you’re trying to address (e.g., racism, other -ism’s and exclusion) in terms that are clear without watering down your message. You’ll find tools in the “Build Shared Language and Analysis” section of the toolkit to support you with key terms.