Modern H/HS Policy

In It for the Long Haul: What It Takes to Advance Race Equity – Insights from Local Leaders

By Tracy Wareing Evans    December 13, 2019

We want every human being to live a happy, vibrant life. It’s at the heart of what we aspire to, and what brings so many leaders in the American Public Human Services Association (APHSA) network together to share insights, spark new ideas, and work collectively together.

Earlier this fall, at a gathering of our local leaders at the 10th annual Harvard Health and Human Services Summit, the call to action was clear—to advance on our vision, we must commit not only to spanning the boundaries of human services, health, education, housing, and justice systems, but to getting underneath the structural inequities and biases within the systems in order to achieve well-being for all people.

We must commit to working with families to lift up community-relevant strategies that build health and well-being and to taking a deep look at not only how parents and their children are impacted by poverty, housing, and lack of economic opportunity, but why our systems have disproportionately impacted race and ethnicity.

As one APHSA member warned, “we will never be the country that we pretend we are if we don’t get at race equity.” Another leader noted that if we cannot get underneath the levers that cause structural inequities, then we will continue to talkaround the edges and be forever stuck in “managing side-shows” rather than building truly thriving communities.

The imperative is clear—and leaders in our network are asking how do we take direct action and ensure we are advancing our work through a race equity lens? What is required in our agencies, in our own communities, in our state, and as a collective group of national leaders? What we know is that the answers to these questions are not singular nor simple.

The challenge before all of us is complex, dynamic, rooted in historical policy and practice, and bigger than our field. There is no silver bullet—no single approach. We must create platforms to learn from each other, share our insights and progress, and tackle the roadblocks together.

At APHSA, we are committed to supporting the deep and intentional work required to illuminate where structural inequities exist and why. We believe the work is both an urgent imperative for our field if we are to make strides in achieving real and sustainable race equity, and a marathon, for which we must be willing to adjust the pace to make it to the finish line.

Key insights from APHSA’s county and city leaders include a focus on the following factors that enable traction within health and human service agencies and at the community level:

Top level support, especially from elected external officials, can help bring equity to the forefront of the work and give it legitimacy
Framing efforts as inclusive and positive can help create community as well as internal workforce buy-in
The proactive and frequent presence of top public sector leaders in the community, including directly participating in neighborhood and partner events, helps build trust and understanding of government’s role
Addressing structural inequities (e.g., as to affordable housing) is more impactful when neighboring jurisdictions or adjoining regions adopt common goals
Data Insights & Technology
It takes intentionality and focused, routine analysis on data and practice to shine a spotlight on the roots of structural inequities
Data that succinctly and clearly shows the disparities and inequities (i.e., how big the gap is) can be a catalyst for community buy-in and necessary investments
Leveraging data showing the socioeconomic disparities and/or impact on child well-being can be a politically viable way to advance efforts
Predictive risk modeling through data analytics can be a supportive tool in making decisions (not a decision-maker), and requires transparency with the data and algorithm
Relevant and impactful data can be qualitative in nature too, especially from the authentic voice and perspective of people who have or are receiving services
Showing the long-term economic burden to a community based on how we do business now versus what it could be if investments were made further upstream can be a particularly powerful tool for advancing equity
Community Engagement
Proactively working with community-based organizations to understand where government supports (direct service or backbone) can help free up resources to be invested elsewhere helps the community understand government’s role and address unmet community needs
Partnering with an anchor institution (such as a community-based organization or an academic institution) creates legitimacy and helps build trust
Partnering with related sectors (e.g., schools, hospitals, community colleges, etc.) to provide access to primary prevention through place-based, trusted institutions helps build trust and advance equity goals
Partnering with employers and businesses to make the business case can also help generate the political will from policymakers for necessary systems level changes and upfront investments
Inviting community partners to participate in training creates a shared learning platform that supports the broader workforce required to advance race equity
Workforce Well-Being & Engagement
An inside-out strategy that begins with in-house conversations and training can provide foundational support and help normalize race conversations for the long-term focus that is required of this work
Outside training supports from organizations like GARE and others can help ensure staff training goes beyond the diversity and cultural competence trainings of the past
Infusing specific training sessions on race equity with strategic vision anchors staff development in mission and can create organic efforts led by staff to advance understanding of each other
Strides can be made over time in culture of the workplace as people served in the system are employed at the agency

As these insights make clear, we must be both internally focused to enhance our own workforces’ understanding and orientation of what it means to work through a race equity lens and externally focused to co-create solutions with partners and communities. We are humbled and heartened to work alongside leaders who are heeding the Call to Action, and if you’re reading this post, we hope that you will join us and share your own successes and challenges along the way so that we and all can learn together.

About the Author

Tracy Wareing Evans (full bio)

President and CEO
American Public Human Services Association

In It For The Long Haul

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