Group Addresses Racial Equity, Calls for Hires
By Dianne Anderson
Local volunteers recently gathered for their first semi-normal, human-based event in well over a year, dutifully spaced six feet apart in chairs doing breakout sessions with groups of real people.
It was a reality check for Reena Carrol, and interesting to hear some of the comments from those attending.
“They were – Oh, there’s no chatbox. There’s no emojis. We actually are present, so of course, that transition takes a moment,” said Carroll, MSW and Executive Director for the California Conference for Equality and Justice (CCEJ).
Since coming on last year, especially with the start of the pandemic, Carroll has been moving the organization through critical times.
Following George Floyd’s murder, more heightened awareness brought more companies and corporations inquiring about racial equity, asking for help on how to facilitate conversations in the workplace.
Most people in the Black and Brown community may wonder what’s not to understand, but she said some people really don’t know what they don’t know.
CCEJ goes into workplaces, now online meetings, prompting uncomfortable conversations and a little bit of prodding. She starts with small steps, like the definition of racial equity.
“People wanted to know about what was happening in their workplaces. The news stories and social media were coming out about white privilege. They wanted to know what it meant when we say white privilege,” she said.
On Friday, October 9, the organization is reaching out to companies looking to explore anti-Blackness and other diversity efforts with a Workplace Inclusion Network Webinar: From D&I to Racial Equity. The event runs from 1:00-2:15 p.m.
Diversity and inclusion were big buzzwords before George Floyd, but adopting models of racial equity should be the priority.
“Living out racial justice values and challenging white supremacist culture, but diversity and inclusion don’t get to the heart of culture. How are we treating and promoting people equitably?” she said.
When Carroll first came on board, she questioned their own racial diversity at CCEJ. They had lost two of their 16 Black employees, none now are Black-identified on staff. She is currently seeking more Blacks for hire.
As for policy change, another area CCEJ helps with is opening up access conversations, which, in turn, could help cities address policy inequities, such as supplier diversity. She invites employees or leaders in companies to find out about equity in their processes.
“It has to be very clear so that city can be held accountable. We need to be able to say in 2022, that number needs to be 30% represented by Blacks. We would be happy to facilitate that conversation around that strategy and implement accountability,” she said.
Before coming to CCEJ in 2020, Carroll ran a social justice organization in St. Louis, Missouri, and recalls the killing of Michael Brown as the epicenter of conversation. In 2014, Black Lives Matter opened the dialogue further, but not yet within corporations. By 2020, companies were under pressure, like Bed Bath and Beyond, and Macy’s, put out statements regarding their support of BLM.
While she starts off giving the benefit of the doubt regarding corporate ignorance about racism in society, but she knows that some companies only participate to check the box that they’ve gone through social justice training.
For CCEJ, she feels “decolonizing systems” requires meeting people where they are at, but the problem doesn’t stop with the conversation.
“We are not interested in doing one-offs,” she said. “If you engage with us, you’re looking at three months to two years to get introspective on what this means on a personal level and organizationally.”
Microaggressions happen to people of color and women all day long. As odd as it seems, some people don’t view themselves as the perpetrator.
Recently on Zoom, people were invited to submit a baby photo while others had to guess and match it with a person.
“If 90% of the people on the call are white, people who have the Black and Brown picture, it’s obvious, right? Why are we still here at this point?” she said.
She is also promoting more workplace training, encouraging employees facing discrimination to turn to their company’s Human Resources to connect them with CCEJ guided racial equity workshops.
Last year, CCEJ engaged with 65 companies from Los Angeles to New York, including large recognizable names. They also work with Long Beach City Unified and Coachella Valley school districts, along with several nonprofits, such as Watts Labor Community Action Committee.
The organization hears all types of racial justice issues. Employees being discriminated against, or others that need to talk about their experiences are invited to get involved. Year-round, they host racial affinity groups where like-minded community can come together.
“They are welcome to come and share with people who look like them, an d it doesn’t need a lot of explanation,” she said.
For learn more, see https://www.cacej.org/events/win-webinar/ or call CACEJ at (562) 435-8184