The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.
—Martin Luther King, Jr.
NOTE: NPQ intends to start publishing articles in this series toward the end of January. Readers will be able to subscribe to an RSS feed to follow articles as they are published approximately every two weeks. To stay informed of the project, we also encourage readers to sign up for our daily newsletter on the right side of this page. If you have any questions or would like more information about the EDI Project, please e-mail [email protected]
In early 2015, as the national consciousness was adjusting to the persistence of the outcry about police violence in African-American and other communities of color, and as reports of the lack of diversity and inclusion in nonprofits themselves continued to roll out, the Nonprofit Quarterly (NPQ) and the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network (YNPN) had a conversation about how to help U.S. nonprofits feel more urgency around changing our practices around equity, diversity, and inclusion. The discussion led to the joint project we are announcing today, where we will, over the rest of this year, publish a series of essays with the insights of young leaders on race, gender, sexuality, class, and other complex identities in their work and in their lives.
These essays will not constitute a series apart from the rest of what we do—we will continue to cover these issues elsewhere in our pages—but they will constitute a body of work on this topic from the young leaders who have been keeping this agenda vividly alive on the front lines.
The partnership and its intended reach are unique for NPQ and YNPN. While both our organizations are committed to diversity and inclusion in their own internal practices, whether as a news site or a network, neither organization had attempted such an ambitious participatory publishing project before. The project we envisioned would publish a series of articles online and then create a print reader of a selection of entries. We knew the entire process would need precious time and resources, but the need was urgent.
In August 2015, Ruth McCambridge, Shafaq Hasan, and Cassandra Heliczer from the NPQ staff, Jalisa Whitley from the YNPN board, and Anasuya Sengupta from the NPQ board, came together virtually to discuss the parameters and protocols of such an effort. Internally, we began to call it the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) Project. From the start, we knew that we wanted as much involvement from young leaders as possible, both as cocreators of the process and as contributors. So beyond our “editorial committee,” we sought advisors from YNPN and other networks to help us design and execute on such an ambitious project. We ended up with a dynamic group of seven, all committed to these issues in their own work and excited about the dialogue we hoped to generate with the EDI process. As the editorial committee, we are deeply grateful to our advisory committee: Iris Garcia, Kira Luna, Hafizah Omar, Bailey Patton, Katie Pieper, Renee Bracey Sherman, and Mark Turner.
The call for submissions
Our call for submissions went out at the end of August through NPQ’s website, YNPN’s networks, and social media. In the call, we asked for short summaries or outlines from writers under the age of 40. We said:
Over the past few years, it has become clear that many young leaders think, analyze, strategize, and act differently than older leaders around issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion. Those differences need to be surfaced and understood in personal, organizational, and political ways. In fact, our lived experiences are the result not just of our race, gender, sexual orientation, immigration status, class, age, or work status, but the result of the dynamic and sometimes conflicting experiences of the intersection of these identities in our lives and work.
Recognizing that this moment in time is marked by an increased attention to those dynamics and an increased openness to understanding them newly, the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network and the Nonprofit Quarterly are collaborating on a series of articles that explore issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion from the perspectives of younger leaders in communities and organizations.
In addition, we committed ourselves to editorially supporting the final contributors as much as they needed. We knew that in many cases these writers may not have been published before, but that was exactly what we were seeking: fresh, thoughtful reflections from people and places we don’t often hear from or see in public spaces or the corridors of power.
We tweeted, e-mailed, and talked ourselves hoarse about the effort, but none of us could have imagined the levels of interest it would generate. We had discussed the possibility of getting about 50 submissions that we would whittle down to about 10–15 final articles; by the end of September 2015, the deadline for submissions, we had over 130 abstracts from across the U.S. and different parts of the world, from a range of hopeful contributors seeking to write about equity, diversity, and inclusion in their communities, in their organizations, in philanthropy, and in national and international service structures. We were moved, challenged, and inspired by the range of submissions. What was most impressive—and what we had sought above all—was that even the short abstracts examined the frameworks of race, gender, sexuality, class, ability, and so on not as single identity themes but as complex, intersecting, lived experiences of people in their communities and organizations today.
Clearly, the time had come for an effort such as this.
The process and criteria for selection
Trying to filter the rich, textured pool of submissions down to a final few was a painful, passionate, and enlightening process. We began with regretfully turning down all the international submissions. We agreed that an international and global set of conversations, leading to incredible multiway learning, was beyond our scope for now; to take that on would require considerable thought and a much broader swath of editors, advisors, and parameters—including languages. We certainly do hope to do this at some point, so stay tuned for a possible international Phase Two!
Even limiting the scope to a U.S.-based set of conversations, and confining the ages of contributors to under 40, we were left with over 110 fantastic possibilities. We divided the submissions into three sets. The editorial committee read all the submissions, while teams of two or three advisors divided the sets among themselves for review. The editorial and advisory committees agreed to a set of criteria that would help make our choices as consistent as possible. Our criteria included:
- The identities of the writers. (Were they from traditionally marginalized communities, or did they have interesting insight into being allies of the underrepresented?)
- The issues. (Were these clearly issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion? How relevant was the focus?)
- The insights and approaches offered. (How well did the writer combine personal experience with broader substance, data, and research?); and
- How action- or practice-oriented the outline was. (Overall, what could we learn and change in our own actions or practices as a result?)
Of course, we also searched for the overall sense of challenge and excitement that a fresh idea, approach, or perspective can have. We wanted to make sure the final collection would spark vigorous dialogue and debate.
We filtered our long list of 110 proposed outlines down to an extraordinary set of 24. The range and depth of these writers can be gauged both by the power of their own writing and of those we had to decline. We truly hope that those who initially submitted outlines but are not published in this collection of writing will respond to the writing of those we publish now, participate in the conversations they engender, and feel themselves to be part of the larger NPQ community of contributors.
Our finalists and their contributions
Our final list of contributors—24 articles from 28 writers—work in a range of fields, from community organizing to philanthropy, theater management to academic research. They write from the deep places of their own histories and experiences while offering rich texture and insight into the broader spaces of their work and engagement. What they do not do is claim to be representative of any single identity, approach, organization, or idea, and we do not make that claim for this collection, either. While we sometimes helped writers expand their ideas or focus to an extent, we did not ask for all-compassing overviews of an issue area or field; our writers speak for themselves and their particular perspectives. If their narratives and reflections spark broader conversations, that would be a triumph of their insights both as individual writers and as writers in conversation with each other.
Our writers describe equity, diversity, and inclusion in action, from the embeddedness of practice in cross-sector collaborations to the work of individual staff members and organizers within the structures and processes of their organizations and communities. Their articles examine sites like nonprofit theater and the streets of Ferguson and Baltimore, and approaches like design thinking and “big data.” They challenge their own organizations as they challenge institutional funders, asking whether social justice issues are truly being served without a reflexive set of embodied practices around equity, diversity, and inclusion.
As a taster of the multifaceted nature of this collection, in the very first set of articles to be published, Kortney Morrow and Amanda Leigh Lichtenstein write about the complexities of race, gender, and class in a creative writing program for students across the country. Ross Jackson examines blackness in nonprofit theater, saying at the outset: “As a black male in the south, my very presence was a form of trespass.” These questions of belonging and un-belonging are examined through the lens of transfeminism by Rye Young and Zavé Martohardjono, and they posit critically and thoughtfully that trans inclusion is “not as simple as letting go of hurtful stereotypes.”
Megan Aebi offers an unusual glimpse into the multiple discriminations suffered by mothers and their families in the healthcare system, and sees her own practice as a doula as a commitment to shifting birthing inequalities. Austin Thompson takes a look at fundraising and philanthropy, asking provocatively how democratic and participatory are the funders who seek to support democratic participation.
All of these writers—and those who come after them—offer new ways of thinking about old structures of discrimination and fresh insights into the evolving practices of change. They all provoke civil society to reexamine its own ways of being and doing; Kortney and Amanda quote Ta-Nahesi Coates’s acerbic statement: “‘Good intention’ is a hall pass through history.”
Looking ahead: our invitation to you
2015 began with a sense of anger and despair around issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion, both in the United States and elsewhere. It became a year of countless cases of police brutality. Yet it was also the year in which the U.S. Supreme Court recognized same-sex marriage. 2016 began with our horror that the police officers involved in killing Sandra Bland and Tamir Rice were not indicted, yet it may be a year in which the country gains its first female president, or a president with an unusually scathing critique of “big money.”
This is a complex time of gains and losses, hope and despair. So it feels appropriate that we begin publishing this series of articles in 2016, a year that will see many of the same tensions and possibilities as 2015 and host the final stages of a U.S. presidential election that has included an extraordinarily high level of hate speech against refugees, Muslims, women, Mexicans, and people with disabilities—to name a few.
We are honored to be holding this virtual space in which powerful young leaders can examine their visions of a more just and inclusive future, express their own experiences of anger, and offer the possibilities for hope and transformation during a time of major leadership change in the country. We believe this series embodies fresh, thoughtful, multigenerational approaches to seeing and enacting change, but we do not want “good intention” to be our hall pass through history. We invite you to join us, challenge us, and inspire us through this ongoing set of honest conversations.
Anasuya, Cassandra, Jalisa, Ruth, and Shafaq (the editorial committee)