At its Annual Meeting in November 2021, the Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations (MACDC) committed to a Racial Equity Pledge, upholding their dedication to making their organization a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive place. As of June 2022, 28 member organizations have signed on to the pledge as well. The pledge stemmed from a push for more racial equity from the CDC movement in the summer of 2020.
Organizations that have adopted the pledge are signing on to embrace four key values:
I. committing to learning and addressing the different levels of racism so they can take action to dismantle those inequities;
II. their staff should be diverse, equitable, inclusive, and representative of the communities they serve;
III. their board should be diverse, equitable, inclusive, and representative of the communities they serve; and
IV. authentic representation in programming/services.
Previously, I’ve spoken with staff from Harborlight Community Partners, Cape Community Development Partners, Somerville Community Corporation, and Codman Square NDC about their action plans to advance racial equity. In this interview, I spoke with Alexis Breiteneicher, Executive Director at Valley CDC. Valley CDC serves low- to moderate-income communities in Hampshire County in Western MA through affordable housing and small business development. Breiteneicher’s experience with the racial equity pledge is unique compared to other CDC staff with whom I’ve spoken as she joined Valley CDC about two weeks after the pledge was adopted in December of 2021.
Breiteneicher reflected on the unique dynamic of racial equity work in Hampshire County, whose population has a significant white majority. Despite this, the tenants in the housing developments managed by Valley CDC are much more diverse. One major issue she’s looking to address is the discrepancy between the racial diversity living in Valley properties and the lack thereof on Valley’s board. Breiteneicher says Valley is working to incorporate more people of color on their board. A major aspect of this is in incorporating tenant representation. “It’s important that we have tenants on our board, especially because they represent a more diverse population that the rest of the county,” said Breiteneicher.
Beyond representation, Breiteneicher also says that Valley CDC is working on organizing DEI training for staff and board members. An important first step, Breiteneicher said, was to “make sure everyone is on the same page,” from board to staff members. “We have Racial Equity Lunch & Learns every other month,” she added, where staff and board members discuss “DEI concepts, past and present racial discrimination, and other systems of oppression, as well as how they relate to our organization.”
Working in the primarily white and rural communities of Hampshire County has provided several unique challenges for Valley CDC. One such challenge, says Breiteneicher, is that it's difficult to hire and contract work to BIPOC-owned businesses. “If I need printing work done, it’s not like I have a number of businesses to choose from– there’s one printer and that’s it,” she explains.
Challenges aside, Breiteneicher says “really appreciative to MACDC for developing the pledge,” saying that it “serv[es] as a tool to facilitate the work,” and that she’s been able to use the public nature of the pledge to “put our feet to the fire.”
MACDC hosts meetings for both members who have already adopted the pledge and for those who are considering it. To support members in their implementation, we also offer member-only workshop opportunities through the Mel King Institute. For more information and a full list of adoptees, visit the Racial Equity Webpage.