February is Black History Month, and when we open our internet browsers and smartphones, we see custom logos, categorized lists of Black authors and artists and quotes from famous Black leaders. Black voices and creators – both modern and from across history – are in the spotlight. And over the past two years, our society’s commitment to amplifying those voices seems to extend beyond the meaningful, but episodic, period of Black History Month.
In the nonprofit sector, our communities are making progress with investing in organizations and individuals closest to the issues they seek to address in order to ensure that those without a voice are being heard. Companies and philanthropists are acknowledging #BlackLivesMatter and the importance of lifting up Black leaders. Still, while there are signs of progress, our march towards a truly anti-racist and equitable society has just begun. Many of those corporate dollars – earmarked for BIPOC leaders and racial justice organizations – remain unspent, with a host of BIPOC-led organizations actually experiencing a decline in funding. Many of the Black leaders who are stepping into nonprofit leadership roles are not supported in the same ways that their white counterparts have been able to rely upon.
While many of us in the nonprofit sector can sense the ways in which our work is connected to racial justice, I’ve often heard from nonprofit leaders – and have felt myself – the desire to do more as an individual to support the Black community. What can each of us be doing on an individual and personal level to positively impact racial equity – not just this month, but all year long?
Here are a few ways I’ve thought about recommitting as an individual every day:
- Share your platform: If you’re a white leader, you likely have access to spaces and platforms that leaders of color don’t. When you’re using that platform – whether it’s a guest spot on a blog or podcast, a position for a community office or an invite to an industry convening, considering sharing that “seat at the table” with a person of color. I make it a practice to ask whether there are other leaders of color on the invite list and whether I can “invite” additional folx to the table. Usually the folx that coordinate these nonprofit forums are eager to increase the diversity and richness of the conversation, and welcome your support and awareness building. It’s very rarely a zero-sum game.
- Continuous education: Those Black artists, authors and creators that we’re hearing about during Black History Month need to be supported all year round. At the end of the day, I ask myself, “What did I read or learn today from a Black leader? What can I do tomorrow to educate myself on what racial equity and justice truly means in my own work and life?” We all have incredibly busy lives, but taking two minutes at the end of the day to reflect on this question has helped me prioritize the continuous learning and education that I need as a white leader in the sector.
- Get uncomfortable: You’ve heard this before. Progress on racial equity means upending the systems and routines that we’re used to and make us comfortable. Stepping into hard conversations where we tackle the racism that has been hardwired into us because it’s been hardwired into society is deeply uncomfortable. Think about what you can do to open yourself to that discomfort through practice. Sometimes that’s direct racial equity work – confronting your racist uncle or speaking up to advocate for a colleague who has experienced a micro-aggression at work. But sometimes, it has nothing to do with race – it’s just something that you have a personal fear around or makes you uncomfortable. The practice of actively stepping into discomfort demystifies those scary situations. It helps us learn how to deal with our daily fears, and is one of the best ways we can step into the powerful advocacy role we all have within us.
What are some of the individual practices you have that help you integrate racial equity into your life during Black History Month and beyond?
Danielle Holly is currently leading learning programs at the Aspen Institute's Business & Society Program, working with senior leaders to progress tangibly towards stakeholder capitalism and a world that makes society and the environment a part of its economy. For the past ten years, Danielle was the CEO of Common Impact, a pioneer and leader in skills-based volunteering. She currently serves on a few nonprofit boards, Women in Innovation and Fan4Kids, and is a writer for Nonprofit Quarterly and a podcast host of Pro Bono Perspectives.