- What does it mean to be an organization that serves communities of color — one that has white volunteers, committee members, interns, and consultants?
- What does it mean to build solidarity between communities of color and white allies?
- How should we talk about and address microaggressions and implicit bias?
- How do we balance needing to be an organization that is a safe place for people of color — and also one that recognizes that each of us is on our own journey toward racial awareness and being committed to anti-racism?
By Jondou Chen, Evaluator, Rainier Valley Corps Note: Two years ago, when Rainier Valley Corps was still a tiny baby organization trying to figure out our way while building infrastructure that can support our programs, we experienced real and deep challenges in what it means to engage in racial equity, anti-oppression, and social justice work. These challenges reached a fever pitch and resulted in us calling a community meeting in hopes of solving some of the challenges. It was a hard and painful series of conversations. Jondou Chen, then a volunteer, now our evaluator, wrote this reflection in response to that meeting. It was 8:30 pm on a Monday night. I was sitting in the Rainier Valley Corps (RVC) office with 13 other folks. Everyone was a person of color, and I counted 8 or 9 different ethnicities. We had talked for the past two-and-a-half hours, asking ourselves what it really means to be an organization committed to racial equity. Now, I could stop this story right here. We could all feel really great about ourselves as an organization. Look at how diverse we are! Look at how committed our volunteers are! Listen to how many times we’re using the word “equity”! If you were to really listen though, and if you were to watch our faces right then and there, “great” is probably the last word you’d use to describe what was happening. It was a hard conversation. The meeting was only supposed to last until 8 p.m., but we kept pressing on. Looking around the table, I saw decades’ worth of community organizing and civic leadership experience. All of us had come from long days at work and had families and friends to go home to, and yet each of us were fully present. While we were all used to being problem-solvers and used to making hard decisions, nothing was coming easily that night. Vu Le, executive director of RVC, and members of the RVC executive committee had called for this meeting to address a sequence of challenging racialized events. Some of these tensions were between people of color and white people within RVC. Others were between different persons of color as they tried to make sense of what had happened and how to proceed. These were the questions we had to ask each other and ourselves: