On Tuesday, I had the privilege of being on stage at Town Hall with three other women of color leading change, “movers and shakers” behind our region’s most influential non-profits, Solid Ground, Byrd Barr Place, El Centro de la Raza, and Neighborhood House. This conversation, expertly moderated by TraeAnna Holiday of Converge, was deeply personal, candid, and sparked a reminder of how connected we all are to each other, our ancestors, and why I continue to fight for social justice.
We each shared a little of our origin story and why we do this work – mine began in college when I learned what my parents, grandparents, and community really endured during their incarceration (because they didn’t talk about their experience at home). It began after I graduated from the UW, when I joined the board of the Seattle Japanese American Citizens League, and worked alongside trailblazing civil rights activists, like Cherry Kinoshita, Kip Tokuda, and Alan Sugiyama (may they rest in peace). These leaders and countless others were role models and mentors, that showed me I could aspire to be like them.
“We all have a reason for why we pursue this kind of work. It’s not really something we fall into, it’s something that is often times intentionally a choice we make.”
– TraeAnna Holiday, Converge Media
The role of an executive director is lonely, and as women of color, we are often walking into a spaces filled with people that don’t look like us or the communities we serve. Luckily, we are just a phone call away from each other. We have affinity spaces, supportive board members, and our talented teams. On Tuesday, it felt as though we were among friends and family, supporters that are pulling for us and our work. When asked how we care for ourselves, Andrea shared that she keeps a kudos file, and reads encouraging messages she’s received in the past to lift her spirits. After the event, we all received a beautiful note from a funder to add to (or start) our kudos file.
TraeAnna asked how we keep the community centered in our work. At Neighborhood House, we want our people we serve to be part of decisions and intentionally creating opportunities for those who are closest to the issue and elevating the voices of those we help. This shows up in our board of directors being representative of the clients who are/were enrolled in our programs. This means we prioritize critical advocacy needs identified by staff on the ground listening to what families want and need to create a more safe and vibrant community. This also manifests in our hiring practices intentionally seeking folks that speak languages other than English and share the lived experience of our clients.
We are also re-designing systems for lasting change. Neighborhood House is part of a national Whole Family Approach Community of Practice, which is re-designing our processes around the client’s journey and goals. We have over 30 different programs, and families told us they don’t know about all that we do. We’re working to change that so we can assist families seamlessly.
An audience member asked us about one policy we would change if we had the power. Estela talked about changing immigration policy and attitudes: the US needs to acknowledge that its policies in other countries have instigated exploitation, violence, corruption, and poverty necessitating immigration. One practice I talked about changing is while government and the public wants effective human infrastructure (child care, emergency shelter, food banks, home visiting programs, housing), in reality, most government issued human services contracts perpetuate racism and misogyny that devalues human services workers (teachers, counselors, social workers – fields dominated by BIPOC women). Shalimar called on all of us to vote, and raising the consciousness of others in order to pass on the passion for racial equity and social justice.
We all spoke of the future re-imagined, where all people can thrive. As a supporter of Neighborhood House here is what you can do right now to be part of these lasting changes:
Thank you to Solid Ground for organizing another community-gathering event to shine light on critical social justice topics. I am grateful to my peers Shalimar, Andrea, Estela for being in conversation with me about your deeply personal experiences! And shout-out to TraeAnna for moderating this event. If you’d like to catch the recording, you can find it here.
Janice Deguchi, Executive Director