When you look at any metric of community well-being and dig into 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 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 to achieve our mission and do this work well, we must challenge ourselves to learn and grow as individuals and as an institution. This page outlines some things we have learned and actions we have taken as a result of our equity work. We're excited to share more about our journey.
In May 2022 our Board of Directors approved the following Acknowledge Statement:
Acknowledging Our History in Pursuit of Healing and Trust
In 2022, as we came to the close of our centennial year, United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County (UWABC) is reflecting on our impact and accomplishments over the last 100 years, and we are incredibly grateful to the countless volunteers, donors, and community partners who made this work possible.
As we look forward, it is also important to acknowledge the ways that our history harmed others. Doing so helps us learn from our past so that we can be even more effective in the future by rebuilding trust where it has been lost and forming new partnerships across our community on a foundation of transparency. Only by working together can we accomplish our mission to “mobilize and support a robust network of people, partners, and resources to co-create opportunities for every person in our community to live free from poverty and injustice.”
As such, the UWABC Board of Directors and staff formally offer the following acknowledgments and commitments:
- A number of the policies and practices that our investment process utilized over the course of our history effectively excluded programs and initiatives led by smaller, less-traditional, grassroots organizations with BIPOC leadership.
- UWABC contributed to narratives that portrayed BIPOC individuals and communities as reliant on our support and services, and therefore incapable of helping themselves.
- Many of the terms we have historically used as labels for BIPOC individuals and communities have depicted them by deficits and weaknesses, rather than on the basis of assets and strengths.
- Those most impacted by poverty and injustice were too often not in the room as important decisions were being made about our grantmaking strategy and investments.
- Mapping assets, needs, and power dynamics among individuals and organizations to best understand the community
- Advocating for racial equity and justice
- Investing in community-led efforts and organizations in alignment with UWABC’s vision, mission, and focus
- Amplifying and uplifting leadership from BIPOC communities
- Implementing equitable convening practices that increase accessibility and value the time, energy, and expertise of community residents
- Creating intentional processes to ensure that community perspectives inform our strategy, tactics, and decision-making
- Co-creating innovative solutions and accountability systems with community residents
- Recruiting and retaining staff and board members from BIPOC communities throughout all levels of the organization
- Ensuring that our marketing and story-telling narratives are accurate, inclusive, and an equitable reflection of these communities
These statements are rooted in our guiding principles and belief in the importance of listening to, learning from, and working with community residents, particularly in communities of color and those with lived experience of poverty, marginalization, and injustice. Without them, we cannot achieve our vision for a “united and resilient community where everyone belongs and everyone thrives.”
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Learn -- Ask Questions -- Look Inward -- Acknowledge Harm -- Make Changes -- Repeat
Accountability | Embedding Equity In Our Work
As time goes on, we will share examples of how we are improving our policies and practices and how they tie back to the commitments outlined in the statement above. We do this as a form of public accountability and hope that they serve as helpful tools to others considering a similar path. We want you to know exactly how we're living out our commitment to equity and for you to see yourself as our partner in this work.
We also hope that by sharing a few of our own steps we can serve other organizations that are contemplating their own equity journey.
But we also know that compiling a bulleted timeline of our equity journey can be a tricky thing for a number of reasons.
- This work isn't linear. Just because something was done 5 years ago doesn't mean it is complete.
- There's a lot of work that is essential to centering equity that doesn't fit neatly into a single sentence.
So as you look at the information below, know that it will grow and change as time goes on and will likely never cover all of the work that has been done.
Grant Making & Investments
As our equity journey has progressed, we realized that while our grant-making system has evolved over the years, neither the application process nor the decision-making table has been equally accessible to all organizations and individuals in our community. After conducting several listening sessions, we've worked with people across the community to co-create a new community investment process that will be led by community members. This has resulted in a fundamental shift in how United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County invests in community. NEW In 2023 we instituted the next phase of changes to our community investment strategy. And while we recognize this is an ongoing process — continuing to place community wisdom at the center of the decision-making process — we invite you to explore our realigned strategy by visiting our Community Investments and Partnerships page and this page that outlines a new Community-led Pilot Grant Process.
Anti-Racism Personnel Policy
In alignment with local and national trends to dismantle racism in its various forms, United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County (UWABC) has developed an Anti-Racism policy. This policy is intended to create organizational accountability around anti-racism in the workplace and in our work, create guidelines around what the Organization will and won’t tolerate, clarify the reporting process, foster an anti-racism workplace that improves our workplace culture, and reflect our commitment to recognizing and challenging the dominant culture narratives, norms, and power structures that prevent all people from belonging and thriving.
Co-Creating A BOLD Community Goal
Our community partners have been working together for a number of years now, refining a vision for how we need to support the youth of our community. Incredible work has been done already, but we knew we needed a rallying cry, something to widen the circle of support for this effort. So in 2020/2021, we convened nearly 150 youth, school, and community partners to help craft and eventually adopt the United for Youth 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.
Centering Youth Voice
As we work to grow and define United for Youth, we knew that it would be important to center youth voice in the creation of its logo. In 2022 we held a community-wide contest and Max Crum, an Asheville High School Senior was selected to apprentice with a local graphic designer, John Hornsby, to learn more about design tools and processes while finalizing the logo.
We have a lot more work to do to reach this Bold Community 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.
Earlier Moments In Our Equity Journey
Today our United Way has a board-level Equity Change Team that develops and guides our racial equity priorities. But before that team was formed, a number of key decisions guided the most recent elements of this work:
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 in February 2019
In the summer of 2019, with the support of a formal “thought partnership” contract with Tracey Greene-Washington of Indigo Innovation Group, 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 board and staff.
- 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 customized White Supremacy Culture training for staff and Board members with two local consultants
- Exploring internal caucusing opportunities for BIPOC and white employees
- Created a funding opportunity for all current grantees to begin or continue their own diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.
- In the days following the murder of George Floyd, our staff filmed a statement to re-enforce our commitment to equity.
If you would like to learn more, please contact Aisha Shepherd, Vice President of Community Engagement firstname.lastname@example.org