When people asked me what I did for a living, I didn’t know how to answer at first. I’d worked with many different donors and non-profit organizations in the United States and overseas in Yemen and Jordan. The projects I contributed to range from Rule of Law and civic engagement to natural resource conservation, livelihoods, and teacher education. My work involved everyone from single parents to refugees and condensing this to answer the question was difficult to do.
I spent several years overseas, and it wasn’t until I arrived back in the United States where I was raised, that I could think about this more and start to make sense of things.
Now, I am part of Midwest Urban Strategies' Racial Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (REDI) Team as an AmeriCorps VISTA - focused on the premise that building and maintaining an inclusive, racially equitable culture at work is vital for organizations to succeed. Anti-racist and equity programming is intended to produce workforce practitioners who can plan, design, and deliver inclusive practices within their organizations. Investing in this education helps develop the knowledge, skills, and abilities in people and commits organizations to ongoing learning and long-term transformation.
As a consortium of Workforce Development Boards, Midwest Urban Strategies has launched its REDI Initiative and is spearheading other activities, which will increase knowledge-sharing and accountability throughout our network- with an eye toward dismantling the practices that narrow access to education and wealth-building for minorities and historically marginalized communities including African Americans.
This work is especially relevant to the many dislocated African American workers still reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic and economic crisis.
This work is also relevant to me, as an African American woman, yet it is not without controversy. Indeed, because discrimination and inequity are not visible to everyone and progress toward equality has in fact been made, sometimes people make assumptions. There are some people who assume if they are treated well and have access to education and decent work, then everyone else does also. They view accounts of inequity as exceptions rather than the rule and even in a climate crisis and pandemic recovery, question the purpose of REDI work like mine. There are even counter narratives that claim REDI work is itself a form of reverse discrimination and the vast array of public reports about the asymmetries and disparities in criminal justice, housing, education, or health haven't made them go away.
However, listening to arguments against REDI work has helped me. When people ask me what I do for a living, I now say, “I am a humanitarian. I uphold the right to education and work and help people recover from emergencies all over the world. I also remember what some people have chosen to forget - that minorities still suffer from past and present-day inequities, and it is worth correcting.”
August 31, 2021 is the International Day for People of African Descent. In the United States, Workforce Development Systems are critical spaces to situate our solidarity with Africa’s descendants and recognize African Americans’ equal right to quality education, decent work, and economic growth. I recognize this day and the many other International Days that compel us to confront inequality in all forms.