The reality of COVID-19’s scope and impact is just beginning to sink in and in many ways is still unknown. At Living Cities, we are doing our best to hold the complexities that come with racial equity work, particularly in a time of global pandemic.

We are asking how to best move the long-term work of closing racial gaps in income and wealth through partnership with city governments, while acknowledging and affirming the immediate crisis that public servants are addressing. We are committed to our vision of a united, multi-sector movement for racial equity, while recognizing the importance of physical distancing and grieving the imminent losses our society is facing.

Living Cities is a convener and connector, and we will continue to show up for our communities during this difficult time. To that end, we are offering a set of opportunities for public servants to share and align around our responses to the moment and navigate the complexities together.

A Virtual Space for Public Servants to Connect

Over the past six months, our team has been laying the foundation for the Closing the Gaps Network, a new initiative that builds off the last decade of partnership between Living Cities and local governments across the country. The Closing the Gaps network will unite up to 30 cities to deepen their racial equity work–policies, practices, and processes–to close income and wealth gaps over the next decade. Starting April 1, we will host a series of three webinars that will convene city government employees with the following goals in mind:

  • Connect public servants to a supportive community of peers who are navigating a shared crisis

  • Ground public servants in a set of values that can inform a race-centered approach to crisis response that builds upon the work of Black, indigenous, and disabled organizers who have for many years been demanding the public services that we so desperately need in this moment

  • Introduce the Closing the Gaps Network as a potential space for public servants to build relationships within and across cities, deepen their racial equity work, and align around approaches for closing racial income and wealth gaps now and for many years to come.

We know that inequities exacerbate public health crises, and public health crises exacerbate inequities. The public sector has a unique role to play in disrupting inequities in order to reduce the impact of COVID-19 and other crises in the years to come. Join Living Cities and public sector peers on April 1, April 8, or May 5 to connect around the work at hand. More information about the webinars and the Closing the Gaps Network is available in the Resources section of our website and at the bottom of this blog.

A Set of Values to Guide Decision-Making

When we started building the Closing the Gaps Network in autumn 2019, our team developed a set of values that have guided all of our decision-making, including the difficult decisions we face in this time of pandemic. We are sharing the values and some reflection questions in the hopes they can do the same for you.

  • We honor the labor that got us here. What might it look like to honor the labor of Black, indigenous, disabled, and other marginalized folks who have been creating new ways of caring for each other, offering mutual aid, and discussing consent for many decades, now that we are all having to adopt these new ways of being in community?

  • We value working with an abundance mindset and an openness to possibilities. What might it look like to approach this moment with an abundance mindset, remembering that our resources are plenty even though they are hoarded by few? To stay grounded in a vision of healing and liberation, rather than fear and scarcity?

  • Racial equity is a process and an outcome. How might our crisis response plans change if we see this moment as part of the process of advancing racial equity?

  • We know that racial equity work is a day-to-day practice of shifting our behaviors and power. We are committed to anti-racist principles; antidotes to white institutional culture; accountability at all levels; working together in new, transformational ways; and continuous learning and improvement. How might the response to this pandemic look different if local government was working very differently around racial equity? How might this moment be used as an opportunity to begin practicing those new ways of working?

  • When we say community we name what we mean. Who is your community? How can you deepen, focus, and build the future you want together, through this crisis moment and beyond?

Resources to Ground an Equity-Based, Healing-Centered Response to COVID-19

We have been overwhelmed and inspired by the countless individuals and organizations who have shared reflections that can inform the way we show up in this moment. The list below is just a tiny snippet of the inspiring and healing resources being shared, but we hope they are a solid place to start.

  • Our friends at Race Forward wrote a statement calling for local and state governments to center communities of color in their responses to COVID-19. We are all only as safe as those members of our community who are most at risk.

  • The folks at Healing Justice produced a podcast and resource list on addressing the pandemic through a social justice lens.

  • Organizers at Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste uplifted an essay on “Organizing in a Time of Approaching Pandemic.”

  • The Movement for Black Lives released a set of policy demands for federal, state, and local governments to center Black communities in their response to COVID-19.

  • The movement-building and storytelling platform Transformative Spaces posted a list of demands from grassroots organizers concerning COVID-19, acknowledging that some municipalities have already covered some of these bases. We share this in the spirit of highlighting expressed needs of communities and honoring the work that public servants are already doing.

  • Our partners at PolicyLink have called on federal leaders to take bold steps to ensure the safety of the public, particularly the most vulnerable among us. They also commend the swift actions that leaders in cities across the country are taking, “proving once again that local leaders are national leaders.”

  • In an essay by science-fiction author Octavia E. Butler, originally published in Essence magazine in 2000, Butler wrote, “There’s no single answer that will solve all of our future problems. There’s no magic bullet. Instead there are thousands of answers–at least. You can be one of them if you choose to be.”

There have been many, many more pieces written on the cyclical relationship between racial inequity and public health. We hope this moment offers space for all of us to pause, reflect, and act with intention. At Living Cities, we know that, for folks committed to public service, this is a time of great uncertainty and daunting challenges. We want you to know that we are here for you. Thank you for being part of our community.

Resource Document: Closing the Gaps Webinar Series
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Banner Photo: Possibility by Mary Tremonte from Voices From Outside: Artists Against the Prison Industrial Complex Portfolio