KZCF Anti-Racism Transformation Team.

Kalamazoo Community Foundation strives for a community where every person can reach full potential – a community in which identities such as race and ethnicity are not predictors of an individual’s ability to live a high-quality, self-determined life.

KZCF believes structural racism perpetuates the inequities that threaten the well-being of our community. Since the board of trustees declared KZCF an anti-racist institution in 2010, KZCF has continued to deepen the commitment to an anti-racist identity through both internal and external initiatives and learning opportunities.

Transformation from Within

KZCF assembled an Anti-Racism Transformation Team (ARTT) in 2018. The team's purpose: transform the organization and community by dismantling racism and be more accountable to people who are historically underrepresented. This included a deep examination of organizational structures, practices and policies, as well as securing the training and skills needed to empower board, staff and volunteers to address racism within the institution.

ARTT includes 11 KZCF staff and ten external members. The team focused on establishing trust through honest dialogue during its first year. Artrella Cohn, an external member, considers this one of the biggest challenges of anti-racism work.

"Lack of trust produces fear," says Cohn. "If I do not believe that you are showing me who you really are, it leaves me to use my prior lived experiences to make a decision about who I believe you are." Though challenging, Cohn finds it rewarding to be a part of "laying a foundation for a new way of doing business that is rooted in race equity."

Elena Mireles-Hill, a community investment officer at KZCF serving on the team, says "We're deepening our transparency and accountability with community members. The team is helping us expand our imagination regarding the kind of culture we want to cultivate based on relationships, trust, and a safe space for all identities to be fully valued and empowered."

The anti-racism work is not only informing institutional processes, but also individual interactions. Team member Julie Loncharte, a donor relations officer at KZCF, says this experience has helped her build more authentic relationships with donors who are invested in making Kalamazoo County a more equitable community.

"I find that so many people want to talk about race and racism, but are reluctant to bring up the subject," she says. "My work on ARTT has prompted many meaningful conversations about the importance of interrupting racism."

Facing Race

In November 2018, members of Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (RHT) Kalamazoo participated in the Facing Race Conference in Detroit. Eight KZCF staff and four community members of TRHT Kalamazoo attended the conference, hosted by Race Forward, an organization that collaborates with community, government and other institutions to dismantle structural inequity.

"It was exhilarating to be in a space with over 3,000 human beings who may be actively engaging in race-explicit," says Mimi Bellamy, a member of the TRHT Kalamazoo leadership team. "Racial equity is about transforming value systems and paradigms on white superiority. It mutates over time so racial justice interventions must be highly customized, flexible and responsive."

Sholanna Lewis, community investment officer at KZCF, says "One of my favorite messages from the conference was: Yes, other identity markers such as gender, sexual orientation, and class, status are important; however, we have to keep using race as a lens because even when you look at all these other markers, they always get worse when you disaggregate by race."

Informing our Work

Since it began in 2017, TRHT Kalamazoo continues to develop and inform the work of KZCF. Key 2018 accomplishments include: establishment of the TRHT leadership team; visioning sessions that engaged more than 140 participants across five sessions; and training 25 healing practitioners to conduct healing circles.

"This first phase was about creating the conditions to establish a long-term, community-wide transformation process that will deal with both systems and culture," says Lewis. "This is hard work and we've begun by deepening relationships, developing a vision, sharing an understanding of the issues, and co-creating a structure to move forward."

Ed Genesis, a member of the Racial Healing team, says, "The community support is unbelievable. We know that in order for this work to be impactful and sustainable, we need our community onboard."

More than 100 individuals from nearly 50 local organizations signed a partnership agreement supporting TRHT's transformative work. Most of these partners engaged in healing circles, with over 90 percent saying the healing circles were personally transformative or helped them talk openly about race.

Regarding the internal and external components of equity work, KZCF President/CEO Carrie Pickett-Erway says, "We understand that achieving our vision -- Kalamazoo County is the most equitable place to live -- is not possible without racial equity playing a primary role in the conversation."

Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT) Leadership Team.

Click here to read the next 2018 Annual Report article "Removing Barriers"

Note: This article was originally published in the Kalamazoo Community Foundation 2018 Annual Report. To view the complete 2018 Annual Report, click here.