anti-racism work at Alia

It’s important for us that you know how we are moving through the work of creating an anti-racist culture at Alia, and why. Working with Alia means engaging in anti-racist thinking. We commit to bringing it with us wherever we go, to sharing openly about our process, and we welcome your loving feedback and support.  

We recently created a connection tool to use as a guide for reflecting on the trauma-activated thoughts, emotions, and physical reactions that surface when engaging in anti-racism work.

Shifting our child welfare system toward keeping children safely with their families, not from, requires shifting the way we think. It requires de-centering biases and actively becoming anti-racist in your organization and community.

what we know

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what we don't know

We don’t know how specifically this will look in each agency and community, because we’re in the middle of it ourselves. We have not developed a tidy, proven, predictable guide for navigating systems to becoming anti-racist. We continue to learn and grow in this work and to draw on the wisdom of others with expertise in this area.

why it's important

Black and brown children represent a disproportionate number of children in the child welfare system, though this is not just a numbers game. These disparities are the result of deep trauma endured through centuries of oppression. Only through efforts in healing the primal wounds caused by permeating shame, violence, and loss can we realize healing-based support to families in our communities.  

First, we must recognize both the role we play in perpetuating oppression and how we have been wounded by it. Below is a brief timeline of the of the activities reflecting how we have engaged intentionally as a team about what it means to become an anti-racist organization. 

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how we're doing it

We have spent hours and hours engaging in this work. And yes, it is work. It’s not yet become who we are at Alia, but we have a deep organizational commitment to staying the course. So far, we’ve been more focused on our process than on results. We know we can’t skip over the deeply personal, emotional work; we can only go through. 

our process so far

Since November 2018 when the first time “race equity at Alia” was on the Board meeting agenda, Team Alia has spent hours and hours steeped in conversation – in pairs, on project teams, among leadership, at every Board meeting and every staff retreat. Still, we have missed opportunities and had regretful oversights. (One was in April 2019 – read about it here.) 

In July 2019, every staff and board member completed the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI), a widely used (though not universally revered) assessment to give us an idea of where we fall as individuals and as a group, using some measure of intercultural competence. (Read about those group inventory results here.) Each person participated in the one-hour follow-up coaching session with an IDI trainer to process a personalized development plan for achieving greater competency.  

Still new to conversations about race, staff and board were introduced to a model of engaging called Courageous Conversations in September 2019, in hopes of doing less harm to one another in this process. 

From October 2019 to April 2020, we held optional, informal, twice monthly (10 hours total) Race Equity Work Group meetings open to all staff and board. How do we do this? Who does what? Where do we start? What are we trying to accomplish exactly? What new awarenesses are we having? Questions like these were our discussion topics. Staff and board now work in parallel and use board meetings as a touch point. In March 2020, a staff Anti-Racism Committee was formed within the staff to help hold and advance our efforts. 

Slowly, we changed what we call this work from “race equity” to “anti-racism.” To us, calling this healing work “race equity” or “racial equality” only keeps the mythical notion of race intact. To be deliberate about building a culture that runs contrary to beliefs about the innate nature and hierarchy of race, we intentionally use the term “anti-racism” to describe our efforts.  

In our research into how others have structured and envisioned their anti-racism work, we learned that developing a shared set of terms was useful. Using terms like “racism,” “diversity,” “culture,” and “whiteness” without an agreement on meaning can trip up the progress, according to many, so we began to develop our own shared lexicon in early 2020. What we found, however, was that we needed to spend more time on how we talk about it, not what we say.

This led us to outlining some group agreements on how we would engage with one another based on what was important to us, like building self-awareness, embracing silence, and meta-communication. One of the most important group agreements is to be an active listener. Perhaps especially for those who identify as white and may be more accustomed to being listened to in groups rather than being the listener, listening with intention, curiosity, and an open heart is key.

Another practice we have initiated is caucusing or holding separate conversations by affinity group – staff who identify as white in one group, and those who identify as people of color in another. Every other week we spend an hour in dedicated anti-racism discussion, one in caucus and the next in debrief. In those conversations we talk about how we experience Alia, envision the culture we want, and co-create it together.

changes we've made

Toggling in between the process and outcome, we differ in preference of direction and pace. That said, we all want to be able to show we’ve gotten better/farther/deeper, whatever word indicates we’re getting closer to where we want to be. This isn’t necessarily how we track and measure our progress, however beyond our hours of discussion and learning, here are several concrete outputs (some in progress) that reflect our work: 

  • We created a template for reviewing our published materials, which includes additions and edits for building in anti-racism. 
  • We are in the process of reviewing all of our presentation material for visuals, language, assumptions, perspective, and to broaden the pool of content experts from which we draw our wisdom. 
  • We are building both a digital and physical library of anti-racism materials to engage with new ideas and perspectives.  
  • We are crafting a non-retaliation clause to include in our employee handbook that states there is no risk of losing employment due to genuine engagement in anti-racism efforts at work. This came from questions about to what extent it is safe enough to be as vulnerable as this work challenges you to be…at work.  
  • To be clear about why anti-racism work is so critical to our organizational mission, we are developing a piece describing the history of race and racism in the field of child welfare.
  • Recognizing the devastating colonization and theft of land, we are working to integrate a land acknowledgement practice in our work.

what we're going to do

We commit to being in it with you – every one of us. Like all organizations, Alia is a collection of individuals. Becoming an anti-racist organization requires individual commitments to advancing in awareness and anti-racist action. We’re all in different places on the road, but we’re all committed to forward movement. 

Among topics like power, voice, belonging, representation, gender, hierarchy, safety, and identity, we promise not to back away from the grief or healing. Alia’s commitment is to stay deeply engaged in the process of becoming an anti-racist organization and, with humility, share what we learn along the way.