On June 5 of 2020 Children’s Institute endorsed the Black Agenda Group’s declaration that Racism is a Public Health Crisis. Although Children’s Institute (CI) has supported racial and social equity, how we communicated this lacked cohesion. Over many years, a cultural responsiveness committee provided resources for staff, such as self-reflection and learning materials, however no clear organizational goals and objectives were defined.

In response to a growing recognition of CI’s responsibility to formalize this work, and with much encouragement and support from funders and community partners, CI staff and leadership began looking deeply at how to incorporate and reflect our institutional values and recognition of systemic ills caused by racism. This required a frank and comprehensive examination of our power and privilege as an organization and as individuals, seeing a need to champion anti-racism and social equity in light of multiple lived realities. Through staff participation in Cohort II of the Racial Equity and Justice Initiative (REJI) in 2019 (now a part of Urban League’s Interrupt Racism initiatives), we also sought out our partners and community members in acknowledgement of the varied expertise gained through lived experience to learn humbly from agencies further along this journey.

As we had also embarked on a new strategic planning effort mid-2019, with concerted board level discussions throughout the winter and spring of 2020, we had to reckon with whether the original strategic planning process was leading to transformational goals that could help how we as an organization understood, as well as proactively and fully confronted, the ills of racism – including self-examination of Board engagement and endorsement of anti-racism and social justice tenants. We needed to examine social distance and implicit bias, and acknowledged that CI had not yet adequately prioritized combating racism as a matter that adults, especially those who work with children, need to examine in order to achieve the social and emotional health of every child. We had to put in front of ourselves key decision points as our mission to ensure ‘the success of every child’ means ‘Black lives matter’.

Through such processes we recognized we had to develop our collective capacity to amplify such clarion calls – as silence is not neutral and failure to acknowledge these harms actively perpetuates racism. Developing our words and commitments to step out against racism’s role as a public health threat was also a full leadership effort – each one of us had to find and say the words aloud that directs our work accordingly. It was collectively our statement.

And so, CI comes to reckon with the dis-ease of racism. Our board, leadership and staff collectively are committed to continuously improve, addressing diversity of staff as well as board; engaging families and developing positive unconditional regard for adults as well as children; partnering with, not doing for; deepening and diversifying our data sources; and refocusing our processes and analysis with an equity frame, making sure we are doing good. The work of anti-racism that involves consciousness-raising around “whiteness” (and the many cultural forms white supremacy can take) is the tip of an iceberg. We will continue to learn from feedback and debrief our experiences – as we remain on the path to foster CI’s organizational evolution.

Our organization now hosts a thought-provoking Lunch ‘n’ Learn discussion series for all staff. In response to requests from community organizations, these sessions and accompanying documentation are continuing and will be made available for implementation by others – with over 25 sessions held. The organization also curates an internal resource library and shares external resources including social media posts, and a webpage. Included on this page are resources we continue to develop such as a curated slide deck to examine the disproportionate burden of COVID-19 illness and death among persons of color in America and public narratives around this. CI also energetically participated in the 21 Day Challenge led by the United Way of Greater Rochester, and now Interrupt Racism led by the Urban League. We have endorsed RMAPI’s employer pledge and are increasing minimum wage to $15 per hour by the end of 2022.

A key organizational change has been the hiring of our new Director of Family Engagement and Equity – Earl Greene, MA, CAMS-1/Fellow, ACT Certified Trainer. The role focuses on advancing the application of theory and research in such practice to strengthen CI’s program quality, family and lived experience engagement, cultural responsiveness, and child and youth outcomes. Earl is now directing initiatives and projects that keep racial and social justice and family engagement at the forefront of the Children’s Institute’s organization and work as we strive to advance holistic wellbeing. This includes advancing an organizational approach to cultural humility. Earl and our Executive Director, Dr. Ann Marie White, serve on the Equity Review Board for both the Monroe County Systems Integration Project and the Community Engagement for Racial Justice Committee of the University of Rochester.

We seek to continually acknowledge that it is impossible to be adequately knowledgeable about cultures other than one’s own, to be willing to assess oneself and one’s limitations while holding our institutions accountable, to acknowledge gaps in one’s knowledge, and to be continually open to new ideas, contradictory information, and advice. Training sessions on cultural humility are being conducted in 2021 and are challenging our understanding of cultural competence, with the goal of enhancing our effectiveness in ensuring equity in the workplace and engaging authentically with the communities while reinforcing their autonomy and self-determination. This includes caucus work within the organization, providing spaces for people to work within their own racial/ethnic group, creating brave spaces to challenge our beliefs and practices and safe spaces to do the work.