Engaging new allies in racial equity work requires strong and effective communication of why eliminating structural disparities is important.

Working to address the structural, root causes of racial inequity is complex and difficult work. It fundamentally requires collaboration across industries, sectors and stakeholders. Through our Integration Initiative, Living Cities supports a variety of cross-sector partnerships that work towards racial equity and inclusion in cities. Some of our Integration Initiative sites, for example, work to reduce racial health, employment and education disparities.

Those working to advance racial equity often note the difficulty of engaging new, non-equity focused allies in racial equity work. This barrier can be particularly challenging to those implementing a collective impact strategy as collective impact by design engages diverse stakeholders with varying backgrounds and priorities.

We recently hosted a webinar which explored the ways that collective impact efforts can advance racial equity.

Throughout the presentations and following discussion, three key lessons emerged for how practitioners on the ground can bring new allies into their racial equity efforts:

1. Explicitly Communicate Current Levels of Inequity

In many cases, stakeholders in a given region may not focus on racial equity because they are not aware of existing levels of racial inequity. Explicitly communicating existing inequity helps non-equity focused partners see the urgency behind this work and helps generate buy-in on efforts to advance equity.

Disaggregating data by race is one critical practice for explicitly communicating disparities. The StrivePartnership in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, for example, disaggregates education data by race so that all stakeholders can understand the different barriers facing different racial groups. By publicly publishing data on racial and other disparities, the partnership elevates the importance of examining disparities, allowing multiple stakeholders to unite around working to reduce such disparities.

Visual tools can also explicitly communicate the level of disparities to potential partners. King County, Washington, one of our Integration Initiative sites, found that maps are more engaging to the average viewer than number-filled reports.

Maps from Seattle-King County visualized disparities in public health indicators across the region.

Kirsten Wysen, the local Initiative Director with Public Health-Seattle & King County, noted that the county’s maps on public health and social outcomes served as a “wake up call” to many about the levels of economic well-being and health-related inequality in Seattle & King County. Explicit “wake up calls,” like the maps, can be a powerful and effective means of bringing new allies to the table.

2. Show Partners how Equity is Related to Their Own Goals

Other potential partners may not partake in equity efforts because they do not see the connection to their own work. However, reducing racial gaps is often integral to achieving other goals that key stakeholders hold. By calling out the crucial relationship between equitable outcomes and shared goals, potential allies are more likely to recognize the importance of equity in their own work.

For example, Junious Williams of Urban Strategies Council noted that Oakland, CA has a community wide goal of 85% of children reading at grade level by the year 2020. The Council is able to demonstrate through data that this reading goal cannot be achieved without improving outcomes for students of color who disproportionately face structural barriers to reading at grade level. The Council is therefore able to appeal to those interested in the reading level goal when making the case for the importance of eliminating disparities to potential partners who are not explicitly focused on equity.

3. Frame Equity in terms of Collective Economic Prosperity

Framing racial inequity as a threat to overall economic prosperity can engage partners who are not swayed by exposure to current levels of inequity or potential allies who do not have specific goals which are undermined by racial inequity. This kind of framing can inspire their action on issues related to racial equity.

A growing body of work quantifies the cost of racial equity to the United States. The Business Case for Equity, published by the W.K. Kellog Foundation finds that equity leads to a more productive workforce, government savings in subsidies and stronger economic growth. Similarly, PolicyLink’s National Equity Atlas shows the potential GDP gains that would exist if racial gaps in income and unemployment were eliminated. Much of this work argues that the cost of racial inequity will only grow since the United States is projected to be a majority-minority nation by the year 2044.

According to Junious Williams, such literature quantifying the costs of failing boys and men of color has been key to engaging non-equity focused stakeholders in Urban Strategies Council’s work on Boys and Men of Color. When the organization launched its Boys and Men of Color initiative, it made the decision to make not just moral, but also economic arguments for the need to reduce racial inequality. Junious explained that the initiative realized an economic argument would resonate with people who would otherwise not be interested in working towards reducing racial disparities.

What other strategies have you found helpful in communicating the importance of racial equity work to potential partners? Add your thoughts 

Engaging new allies in racial equity work requires explicit, empathetic and effective communication about the importance, and impact, of eliminating structural disparities. The strategies we outline in this post, exposing potential partners and unlikely bedfellows to current levels of racial inequality, emphasizing the connection between their own goals and racial equity, and framing equity in terms of economic prosperity, are just three ways to attract potential allies in this work, and help new partners recognize the importance of working to reduce racial disparities.

To learn more about how collective impact partnerships can be a tool to reduce racial equity check out 5 Ways Collective Impact Partnerships Can Advance Equity, Four Insights on how Collective Impact, Community Engagement, and Racial Equity Intersect or view the full webinar:

Resource Webinar Recording: Webinar: Racial Equity and Community Engagement in Collective Impact
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