For Codman Square NDC, Racial Equity is a Work in Progress

At its Annual Meeting in November 2021, the Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations 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 who have adopted the pledge are signing on to embrace four key values: 

  • committing to learning and addressing the different levels of racism so they can take action to dismantle those inequities; 
  • their staff should be diverse, equitable, inclusive, and representative of the communities they serve; 
  • their board should be diverse, equitable, inclusive, and representative of the communities they serve; and 
  • authentic representation in programming/services. 

Previously interviewed were Harborlight Community Partners, Community Development Partnership, and Somerville Community Corporation about their action plan to advance racial equity. I just talked to Gail Latimore, Executive Director, and Marcia Thornhill, Chief Operating Officer, of Codman Square Neighborhood Corporation. Codman Square NDC works with local residents and organizations to develop safe and affordable housing space and create economic opportunity for low- to moderate- income residents in Codman Square and South Dorchester.  

Latimore emphasized the importance of including all aspects of the organization, including the board, in their racial equity work. “You cannot do racial equity work as an organization, especially as a nonprofit, without including your board and them being there right there with you,” she says. “I need to have the board involved in this issue of racial justice, because I can’t, racial justice calls for confronting the existing status quo and power structures, and I cannot be out here on my own. Even if I take a hit or the agency takes a hit, the board understands the scenario or the situation.” 

Since the pandemic and the Great Resignation, Latimore says that hiring staff who are reflective of the community has become a priority as well as a challenge. “I do want to be intentional about [hiring]. I’ve even had staff push back on that issue, and say ‘no you should not hire for this position until you can find someone who is reflective of the community’, and that’s been a tension for sure. But a tension that I definitely understand and appreciate and that I’ve been trying to balance, between needing qualified help and the issue of allies and diversity of all different types being able to add to and not necessarily take from the racial equity and justice work that we’re trying to do, which is one of the issues that we’ve been involved in and have been talking about, you know you’ve got to have allies, you can’t do it on your own. But that is a very different scenario for us, trying to be mindful, and something I’m conscious of and we’ve had straight out conversations, in the hiring process and beyond,” she said. Thornhill adds “We also want to be reflective in our work, particularly our real estate development work, in terms of who we hire... we’ve pledged to hire people of color in the real estate field both construction contractors and consultants, the soft side, consultants, architects, attorneys. So being intentional in that arena, and hiring people of color, professionals, to work on our real estate projects. And we’ve been committed, and trying to since I even got there, so we were part of the original group of six CDCs, and it's grown over the last few years.” 

One of the biggest projects centered around racial equity, though is what Latimore calls their “Equity Army”, which was inspired by “the visuals and feeling that happened with the Million Man March... the visual on the screen of the mass of black men that went to Washington DC.... I’ve always believed in the power of the collective, but seeing the sea of men in DC, that’s what gave me the thought of an equity army. People who are there to push and do whatever is necessary to change things. I had been talking about that for quite a while, and so when Geoge Floyd happened, I decided that instead of making a statement... we’re going to try to figure out a way to create change in other ways. We decided we needed to launch what is now called the Anti Racism Equity Army, and are about to offer the first module of this training academy to residents and stakeholders in the community, who can learn about the history, and the reality, and the implications of race, as sort of a baseline for them to then take the next step to then organize advocacy around racial justice issues. And those Racial justice issues can take any form... whatever residents want it to be. The goal is to launch that later this month or next month with our Resident Leadership Institute Cohort, which is also about training, so the two are aligning their work so the Resident Leadership Institute graduates, their last module of that training will be the first module of the Anti-racist equity army.”  

In their work supporting constituents during the pandemic, CSNDC made sure to keep a lens on racial equity as well. After hearing reports of residents feeling isolated, they responded “by providing a group wellness session with clinicians of color over at UMass Boston, who volunteered their time, and up until last month, continued to offer those wellness sessions, almost every month and had great attendance. We ended up having one of the best sessions, this clinician of color did such an excellent job managing the group, and I feel like I learned so much, and we were very sensitive about clinicians of color who could relate to the predominately people of color in the session, so that’s an angle of racial justice.” 

CONNECTION WITH OTHER WORK – CLIMATE JUSTICE  

Another area of work that Latimore and CSNDC make sure to consider through a racial equity lens is climate justice. “We’re doing more environmental justice work with an emphasis on communities of color, and we created a climate justice group that’s been meeting for a little over two years now, and we want to... let the people of color take the lead on what the issues are and what's most important. With our climate justice group, we created a people of color working climate justice group, and we are centering what they are saying on how we should proceed, but also engaging them on what we think is important, like legislative issues related to climate justice etc., so we’re trying to incorporate it in every way in terms of just our day to day thinking and work.” 

Looking into the future, Latimore says their racial equity work is “a work in progress, I’m still learning. I’d like to think we’re learning as an agency, because the staff who took a training last week just told us they’re going to be preparing some recommendations for us to consider, and I’m open and welcome that. I’m not saying it's always easy and I’m always going to be aligned and in agreement with everybody, but that’s what this work is all about. We have to challenge and push and prod each other, and the staff, they are not shy around this stuff. That’s both a challenge and an opportunity. It helped me grow to have them do that. And I continue to grow, and I hope that people challenge each other while still continuing to work together. It has been cooked in and baked into the way we work and operate because of that.” 

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. 

 

Mila Roemer is a student at Northeastern University and MACDC's Communications Intern.