Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Diversity Faces



When you look at any metric of community well-being and disaggregate the data, it is far too easy to predict on the basis of race alone who will be on top and who will be on the bottom. It is just one reason why our 2021-23 Strategic Plan identifies racism as a root cause of poverty and recognizes that we can’t effectively fight poverty without addressing underlying systems and applying a racial equity lens to everything that we do.

This plan also outlines our commitment to employing community schools as the central organizing framework for everything that we do. Community Schools is a systems-based, equity-centered strategy that coordinates relationships and resources through a public school to accelerate equitable outcomes in health, education, and employment.

But in order to do this work well, we must challenge ourselves to learn and grow as individuals and as an institution. That’s why we’ve undertaken some of the following actions and we hope that if you have questions about any of them, you reach out to us:

With the leadership and guidance of key Board members, specifically Lakesha McDay,  UWABC began an intentional journey to improve our inward and outward-facing equity practices in 2017. This journey began with the formation of the Diversity, Engagement, and Inclusion (DEI) working group, a small team of staff that met weekly to start the process of mapping out a strategy. Some early outcomes from this process included:

  • Completing and acting upon staff and board assessments of our internal practices via the Global Diversity and Inclusion Benchmarks tool (GDIB), focusing specifically on Vision, Leadership and Structure
  • Prioritizing and budgeting for full staff and board participation in the Racial Equity Institute (REI) training
  • Joining CoThinkk and the WNC Diversity Engagement Coalition
  • Dedicating six staff meetings a year exclusively to our equity work 
  • Formally adopting a vision statement (under Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion tab) in February of 2019 

In the summer of 2019, with the support of a formal “thought partnership” contract with Tracey Greene-Washington, we began an intentional process of centering racial equity in all aspects of our work, beginning with embedding equity in our 2020-23 Strategic Plan. Some results of this included:

  • The formation of a board-level Equity Change Committee (to replace the DEI staff team) that prioritizes, plans, and guides internal and external facing equity initiatives. This team includes staff, Board members, and community members with lived experience
  • Restructuring the organization to form a new Community Engagement Department, led by a new Vice President of Community Engagement
  • Adding a full-time Equity and Network Development Specialist to our Community Schools team
  • Improving the racial diversity of our staff, from 20% POC in 2019 to 32% POC in October 2021.
  • Intensive training on Equity-Centered Design principles to support our staff’s ability to authentically “co-create” strategies and solutions with community members who are most impacted by the challenges we seek to address
  • Initiating a process of redesigning our investment model to follow a participatory grantmaking approach
  • Developing a year-long White Supremacy Culture training for staff and Board members with two local consultants  
  • Exploring internal caucusing opportunities for BIPOC and white employees


If United Ways are known for anything, it is for raising money and then investing those dollars in a variety of programs throughout the community. and, with 100 years of history behind us, we know a thing or two about it. We also know we still have a lot to learn and unlearn. Two things we're doing:

  • CoThinkk brings together community leaders who care about the economic and social well-being of communities of color in Asheville and Western North Carolina. Two of our staff members dedicate 40+ hours a year, and UWABC contributes financially to this giving circle. 
  • In 2019 we added an opportunity for funding for all current grantees to begin or continue their own diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.


In our 2021-23 Strategic Plan there is a reference to a "Bold Community Goal": 

By 2035, ALL Asheville City and Buncombe County students graduate from high school ready and fully prepared to pursue their goals and dreams.

We knew that our commitment to equity required that we include others in the design process. That’s why nearly 150 youth, school, and community partners (including Asheville City Schools and Buncombe County Schools) helped to craft and eventually adopt the goal in February 2021. 

We have a lot more work to do to reach this goal, but at the heart of this is a commitment to working together, with youth and family leadership, to ensure that educational outcomes are determined by the high quality of our schools and partner organizations, the abundance and accessibility of opportunities in our community, the strength of our collaborations, and never again predictable based on a student’s race, home language, family income, or any other dimension of identity.








Our staff and board members recognize that using a robust diversity, equity and inclusion lens can help us make better decisions. While much of our work will center around racial inequity, we want to acknowledge the importance of all these (and others) in our work. Click on the image to see a full-size version.