On the journey: Lessons we've learned about diversity and inclusion

Two of the Kalamazoo Community Foundation’s core values are Diversity and Inclusion and Excellence in All We Do. As a result of our commitment to these core values, over the course of the past year, we encountered some challenges, and thought it was important to share our experience.

Over 10 years ago, we incorporated Diversity and Inclusion as one of our core organizational values. Our focus on diversity and inclusion has led us on a journey intended to recognize and protect the dignity of each person. Furthermore, we recognize the future strength of our organization and our community rests firmly on our ability to create inclusive, learning environments that leverage the gifts and talents of every resident.

In the fall of 2010 our board of trustees passed a resolution officially declaring the Community Foundation an anti-racist organization — per the guidelines of the local Eliminating Racism and Claiming/Celebrating Equality principles — to self-correct unintended institutional racism.

After extensive discussions with community and national partners, we took another step on our journey and revised the Inclusion Statement we apply to all grant agreements. The statement now asks grantees to affirm that: the organization is continuing to intentionally increase inclusive practices; no person is excluded from agency services; and wherever practical, all people will be considered in employment or volunteer participation regardless of ethnicity, race, age, gender identity, sexual orientation, economic circumstances, physical and/or mental abilities, characteristics, philosophy, religion, or any other discriminatory reason.

We believe this revised statement is a better expression of our Diversity and Inclusion core value because it is intended to invite discussion, learning and action to create inclusive, learning environments throughout Kalamazoo County.

This was a process with challenges. Although well-intended, early versions placed unrealistic restrictions on many nonprofits — unintentionally disrespecting frameworks some organizations must have to perform their missions. And internally, some members of our team felt our process was poorly executed — so we took that external and internal feedback to heart and revised the statement to what was shared earlier in this article, without compromising our commitment to diversity and inclusion in any way.

We still have a lot to learn about creating a diverse, inclusive organization. Because this journey is challenging and requires courage, we invite dialogue with donors, grantees, and the community — with questions, observations, and lessons-learned — so we can learn from each other and our collective experiences.

Despite the challenges and the ones we will face in the future, we will continue on this journey, and remain committed to building a collaborative, inclusive community.

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