As we finish out this first month of the New Year, we wanted to provide an update to our community on the status of anti-racism and racial equity work at Our Saviour’s Community Services.
It’s been nine months since the murder of George Floyd, less than two miles away from our campus, ignited a wave of civil unrest in support of Black Lives. At the time, we issued this organizational statement, publicly recommitting to the work of becoming an anti-racist organization.
We know, however, that statements not followed by action are performative and empty. We also know that progress toward a more racially just society requires action on many fronts, both within our organization and in the wider community. Here are some of the actions we have taken since last summer to become a more racially just and inclusive organization.
- We made Juneteenth an annual paid holiday. Employees are encouraged to spend the day learning, reflecting, and acting to undo the legacy of racism in this country. We also encourage employees who identify as BIPOC to rest and practice self-care as it makes sense for them because this too is an act of resistance and radical self-love. In future years, we will use Juneteenth as an annual reminder to check our progress as an organization on concrete actions that advance the cause of racial justice.
- We changed our benefit policies to provide more equitable access for part-time employees, 58% of whom identify as BIPOC. All employees now accrue paid personal leave, regardless of full-time or part-time status.
- We lowered the eligibility threshold for healthcare and short-term disability benefits from 32 to 20 hours per week (the minimum required by our insurance provider) and added long-term disability as a new benefit at this lower eligibility level.
- We added a new Employee Assistance Program, which provides free and confidential 24/7 support to help manage daily stress, trauma, or any issue affecting quality of life – not just for our employees but for all members of their household, however they define it.
- We are deepening and formalizing our practices for ethical, asset-based communications and storytelling. This includes sharing stories in ways that highlight program participants’ strengths and drawing connections to racist and inequitable systems. We’ve also begun financially compensating program participants for their time and labor when they tell us their stories and discussing ways to implement Community Centric Fundraising.
- Our Board of Directors established a Board Development Committee, which will focus on developing and sustaining a diverse and inclusive board. As part of this work, the board reviews and discusses materials covering whiteness and white supremacy, racist systems and history, and racial justice at each monthly meeting.
- Our staff created an Equity Team to identify and promote equity initiatives with a focus on racial equity. They are working in collaboration with the Board Development Committee to identify and hire a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) consultant to help guide and grow our work moving forward.
- The budget for our next fiscal year will include an equity line item because this work requires an investment of resources, and our budget is a reflection of our values.
- We will be actively recruiting BIPOC candidates, and candidates with demonstrated experience working toward racial justice, as we begin the formal search for our permanent Executive Director.
At Our Saviour’s Housing
- We continue to operate the shelter at a hotel as the safest option in the middle of a pandemic that has exposed existing racial disparities in healthcare access and outcomes.
- We have created a peer-review process so shelter guests can appeal to a group of their peers when they are asked to leave the shelter due to behavior violations. The peer group hears the case and makes its own recommendation. This shifts power so the staff does not serve as the sole decision-making authority in such important decisions.
- The budget for our next fiscal year will include a raise in the base wage for our shelter workers, a position that has been both the lowest paid in our organization and filled predominantly by employees who identify as BIPOC.
At the English Learning Center
- All volunteers are now required to take Racial Equity 101 training with Literacy Minnesota. This helps set an expectation for volunteers and establishes a common language and understanding around race and racism.
- Several staff members are participating in trainings through the Social Justice in Education Certificate series at Literacy Minnesota. These are designed to help participants learn to understand themselves within a cultural context and develop methods for nurturing a learning environment where all identities are affirmed and included. They are free and open to the public.
- We’re revising our curriculum to more intentionally show real-life images that reflect the race and gender diversity of our students, teachers, and staff. We’re also revising units in our curriculum to be community-safety oriented, including discussing alternatives to calling the police during emergencies.
- We’re continuing our partnership with #IamABE, a grassroots advocacy group started by ABE (adult basic education) teachers. We signed this statement, promising to hold ourselves accountable to build a more just education system that functions as a tool for positive change.
- We are addressing existing racial disparities in access to technology by providing computer devices and Wi-Fi access to students who need them to support remote learning during the pandemic and beyond.
We know there is still much to do – both at Our Saviour’s Community Services and in our broader community. This work doesn’t come with an end point or certificate of completion. But we can commit to doing better today than we did yesterday and the day before. We’ll continue to share updates in the coming months and invite you to both join us and help hold us accountable along the way.