How anti-racism teams are transforming the workplace in Kalamazoo

"We need to be critical lovers of our organizations -- we need to love them enough to change them." Kara Bender, Organizer and Trainer with Crossroads Antiracism Organizing and Training says that is essentially the impetus behind Antiracism Transformation Teams (ARTT) in the workplace. Two local organizations – PFC Natural Grocery & Deli and Kalamazoo Public Library – have embarked on an endeavor to transform their organizations to be antiracist through an intensive and intentional process.

Antiracism Transformation Teams examine their institution's personnel, programs, products or services, organizational structures, constituency, mission, vision and values, and then come up with a strategic plan that addresses meeting the goals of improving those areas. The teams go through intensive training and mentoring and commit to a years-long process of committing to and achieving their goals.

Crossroads has been doing antiracism work for more than 30 years and antiracism transformation teams have been part of that work all along. The organization is currently working with 15 to 20 teams nationwide. Bender says workplace transformation teams are particularly effective because the work they do influences both individual and systemic issues.

"Organizing within a workplace can give you a lot of energy because you realize, 'oh, I can affect change and I can actually see the direct effects of this change.' It'll affect the people that are hired, it'll affect the programs that we run, it'll affect how constituents interact with our organization," Bender says. 

Bender notes that while lots of groups are doing the important work of addressing individual behavior, Crossroads' focus on institutional level change is uniquely influential. 

"For us, at Crossroads, we think that the most effective way to work towards racial equity in our communities and reach the most people is to actually empower people to think about their spheres of influence, which is often their workplace. This is where people spend huge amounts of time and energy and where they have relationships and deep commitments because of their values and their passions for whatever their workplace is."

Bender says that Antiracism Transformation Teams need three things in order to be successful:

• Resources – organizations will need a budget and a commitment from leadership to fund antiracism work.

• Authority –organizations need to have a mandate from their Board or governing body. It doesn't work to do this work "rogue."

• Technology – organizations need technical assistance through consulting, workshops, and expertise of a variety of kinds. This is where partner organizations, like Crossroads come in. 

PFC Natural Grocery & Deli

Chris Dilley, General Manager of PFC and Jo Woods Brown, member of PFC's ARTT collectively answered our questions about PFC's Transformation Team via email. Their transformation team began with trainings done through ERACCE

PFC got to work when it recognized that by default, its organization was set up by white folks to meet the needs of white Kalamazoo. At the urging of the board chair at the time, PFC sent a group of folks to an ERACCE introductory workshop in early 2011. It then got serious about sending their staff through the two-and-a-half Day workshop. 

"By early 2013, we'd sent more than half our Board and staff through the workshop and were increasingly dissatisfied with how racism and other oppressions were impacting our ability to meet our goal of creating access for all to food that is healthy for people, land, and the economy. So, we decided to take the next step and establish an Anti-Racism Transformation Team at PFC," say Dilley and Woods Brown.

PFC started transformation team training with ERACCE in early 2014 and completed the training in June 2015. It came out of the training with a strategic plan to transform the organization.

Ultimately, PFC says its goal is to transform PFC into an antiracist organization, and by that it means it wants "all levels of the co-op to be accountable to People of Color and other systemically disempowered members of the community." 

Specifically, PFC's team is working to create more equitable hiring, budgeting, and management systems. And it also has a goal to keep a critical mass of staff trained and engaged in antiracism work.

PFC says that their years of work are starting to pay off. 

"Since we started this work, our board leadership has become very diverse. We now have three People of Color and five white people governing the organization. We have about 19 percent People of Color on staff, and an increasing number of People of Color at the management table. We've developed a new employment application and revised our hiring systems to be more inclusive. We've employed open book finance and a livable wage working group to give the staff more knowledge about finance and the workings of the PFC."

PFC credits ERACCE's partnership support, mentorship, and networking with their ability to achieve their goals. 

Kalamazoo Public Library

Judi Rambow is the Lead Librarian for the Eastwood and Alma Powell branches of Kalamazoo Public Library, and she is also on the Kalamazoo Public Library's Antiracism Transformation Team. She says their team formed about three years ago and before that, the library had a Diversity Committee in place for several years. 

"About four years ago, we realized that we needed to be more effective and to be more effective we needed training and a better understanding of institutional racism," Rambow says. 

The library developed a planning and design task force. Their training came through ERACCE and Crossroads, which included 10 days of intensive training that the entire Antiracism Team participated in. 

The library’s ARTT has a 20 year plan to eliminate racism within KPL. It has identified three areas within the library in which people of color have been historically underserved or underrepresented or both. Those areas are collections (books, DVDs, magazines, etc.), programming, and hiring practices. 

Rambow says an example of the ARTT efforts is the work KPL is doing to diversify their collections by working with vendors to purchase books from smaller or independent presses, and their participation in the We Need Diverse Books campaign. Rambow says they are also increasingly intentional with hiring practices and programming.

The process

"You have to do a lot of early work to build that critical mass, to build an understanding of what you're working toward in order for people to have enough buy-in and enough capacity to understand what this leadership team is going to do," Bender says. 

She adds, "Once there is a critical mass – once people have a common language and a common analysis of systemic racism – and there's an interest in doing more internal, institutional assessments and strategic planning around these topics, then we work with organizations to go through a process we call a 'planning and design process' – where basically we're helping organizations create a leadership body."

Bender says that that leadership body should be very representative of the organization and be diverse.

"For Team creation, racial diversity is obviously important but also, having Team members who have other diverse identities like, sexual orientation, religion, gender, age, being new to the organization, and also having folks who have that historical memory and have been around a long time – all these people give valuable perspective and insight into an assessment of the organization. We want to help groups think through that process."

Crossroads helps organizations form an ad hoc team to get that official, final team in place. Then the transformation team is trained and equipped. Teams can expect 10 days of intensive training done over the course of about a year. 

"In those ten days of Team Training, we're walking with them to do that assessment and that strategic planning – so it's all wrapped up within that. And by the end of the year and those 10 to 11 days, the team begins to implement that plan."
Bender points out that the process to start up an ARTT is an involved one that must be well thought out. She says that if an organization is considering an ARTT in their workplace, the first step is to contact an antiracism organization, like Crossroads or ERACCE, to start a conversation about next steps.  

Kathi Valeii is a freelance writer, living in Kalamazoo. You can find her at her website, kathivaleii.com.
 
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