At the close of 2019, the Foundation for Tacoma Students and the Gates Foundation announced a catalytic investment into the Graduate Tacoma community-wide movement. Named the Community Learning Fund, the work focused on three core areas: Community Partner Capacity & Capability, Data Capacity & Capability, and Postsecondary Access & Completion. As part of the investment, the Foundation convened a cohort of 38 youth-serving organizations committed to a year and a half of peer learning. Our shared goals:
- Increase our understanding of the various types of inequities impacting young people in Tacoma.
- Increase our understanding of the ways that practices, policies, and behaviors influence systems change.
Shortly after our first convening in February, COVID-19 and nationwide uprisings in the face of police brutality not only lay bare the need for the Foundation and Graduate Tacoma Partners to explicitly confront centuries-long racism and inequities in our community. The events of 2020 stressed the urgency of launching the Community Learning Cohort.
Amidst a tumultuous summer, the Foundation piloted a Racial Equity Organizational Assessment tool. All Community Learning Fund members were asked to complete the assessment for their respective organizations. Simultaneously, the Data Capacity & Capability workgroup engaged in their first workshops on using a continuous improvement framework to design and adapt youth-serving programs with a racial equity lens. The work the Community Learning Cohort has done to address internal policies and practices particularly hindering the success of students of color has the potential to inform the way we collaborate in Tacoma moving forward.
We spoke to five organizations participating in the Fund to reflect on the weeks following the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Manuel Ellis, Rayshard Brooks, and Jacob Blake. They shared how their work became newly defined in the last year and signaled a turning point to double down on their efforts to be anti-racist.
Following the death of George Floyd, I remember this feeling of just sickness. My work with youth started in Minneapolis. There was a sense that the work many of us have invested has made little important headway against the entrenchment of systemic racism. It’s been too incremental. As tough as it is, it feels like maybe we had to go to that level of interruption and darkness before we can achieve transformation. Here in Tacoma, families are facing real insecurities about how to make ends meet, where is the food going to come from. We did a shift to be relevant to the changing needs of the families and kids we work with by providing virtual programming and food assistance.
Simultaneously, though, the assessment surfaced deeper questions about how we reflect racial equity in every aspect of our work. It’s been extraordinarily timely to have the Community Learning Fund even though we are all facing different challenges. For Big Brothers Big Sisters, we have been grappling with the barriers keeping men of color, specifically African American men, from filling mentorship roles with our organization.
The Community Learning Fund generated a resource-sharing opportunity to improve our work in supporting community-based initiatives in achieving their collective goals for children and families. Like others in the Cohort, we are using multiple tools to guide our anti-racism work.
We are in a unique position as a community convener; we are not a direct service provider for families and students. To this end, we have been looking, first, internally at our board and staff, how we operate as an organization, and our role as a facilitator in the community. Second, we are analyzing the ways in which systemic racism is embedded in, and impacting the early childhood system.
Kimi Ginn: We just finished a two-year grant where we supported the University of Puget Sound’s Masters of Teaching program to assess curriculum, pedagogy, resources, and to work with masters candidates on undoing institutional racism. Now, we have been asked to come back to UPS to help them partner with Tacoma Public Schools for professional development with their teachers. This is a new opportunity to influence institutional change, and it’s happening at a pivotal time.
What we have to plan for with the aftermath of Covid 19, is how we can support the social emotional needs of students in Tacoma Public Schools as well as staff. We know there’s going to be academic remediation, but what about the social emotional restoration.
We are a Community Action Agency, which means we are one of the first Community Action Programs founded by the 1964 Economic Opportunity Act with the primary purpose of lifting people out of poverty and breaking the cycles of poverty for future generations. Our goal is to mobilize and wrap services around people — get them into stable housing, provide energy assistance and weatherization, help them find employment, education, or support people so that when they’re in school, they have the things they need to focus on attaining secure employment and a decent living wage.
One thing that we have struggled with historically is referring those we serve between departments and understanding what each of our departments do. So that’s been, I think, the biggest takeaway that’s happening with this work is we’ve been able to come back with tools and ask some serious questions at both the organizational and departmental levels.
Racial justice is a journey. No matter where you are on it, if you ever think you’re at the end then something is wrong. Because there’s a lot of work to be done, and until the entire community is thriving, no one organization will ever really be there. And so, having that as a core belief, that regardless of where an individual organization is, it takes community to make this work happen.
The Racial Equity tool, coupled with the disproportionality of COVID-19 and the timing of George Floyd’s death, has increased our focus and intensity on the issue of racial justice. Over the years, we have been involved in a lot of statewide work, including a task force with the Governor’s office to address racial inequities. We also continue to look at how our programs, in particular our workforce development programs, are serving and are informed by communities of color.