Deepening understanding of race and equity doesn’t happen overnight. And yet – learning how to develop or strengthen a race equity lens is a key part of bringing equitable change to communities.
That’s why, across our global network, United Way is engaging in 21-Day Race Equity Challenges. Developed by diversity experts Dr. Eddie Moore Jr., Debby Irving, and Dr. Marguerite Penick, the 21-Day Race Equity Challenge has been modified by United Way to help individuals learn more about the history and impacts of racism; and learn how bias, privilege, and oppression show up in our work and our lives.
United Way Worldwide recently hosted a 21-Day Race Equity Challenge that engaged nearly 2,000 participants from around the globe in a daily practice of reading articles, watching videos, or listening to podcasts about race and equity. The challenge explored racism on multiple levels, from looking inward to internalized racism, to examining interpersonal racism, and broadening the view to institutional and structural racism – highlighting ways to drive change at each level.
United Way of Washtenaw County in Ann Arbor, Michigan, was the pioneer in local Race Equity Challenges, with a focus on helping its community learn through the activity. Since 2020, they have hosted four equity challenges and had more than 10,000 participants. With each challenge, United Way continues to expand learning opportunities. They’ve incorporated a “Family Friday” page to engage children in conversations about race, added a specific day to address Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) history and the hate facing this community, and drew new connections to local communities to boost learning in people’s backyards. Check out this United Way's 21-Day Equity Challenge Catalogue here.
“It is so important for United Way to continue to center the community around equity to ensure it is a movement and not a moment,” said Pam Smith, President and CEO, United Way of Washtenaw County. “This is a life-long learning journey, and every time you engage you are in a new place to accept, discover and create change in how you think, feel and live.”
United Way for Southeastern Michigan in Detroit recently hosted its own challenge to help expand knowledge and understanding of historic and persistent inequities in Southeast Michigan. More than 5,000 community members participated in the challenge, which also featured weekly lunchtime roundtable discussions. Every Friday of the challenge, more than 200 people gathered for rich and impactful conversation led by 40 community facilitators.
“This challenge gave us an opportunity to both drive change in our community and within our own walls because in order to achieve our mission, we must understand the inequities that drive disparities in our region and work together to solve them,” explained Tonya Adair, Chief People, Equity, & Engagement Officer, United Way for Southeastern Michigan.
“This has been nothing short of amazing for all of us at United Way,” said Adair. “We were ecstatic to bring this opportunity not only to our staff, but to the community at large as an onramp to reflect, have the necessary conversations, and begin a process of healing and righting wrongs.”
Participants, like 27-year-old Corinne Albrecht, are also seeing the value. After the challenge, Albrecht shared her experience with United Way for Southeastern Michigan in a recent blog post. As someone who sought to broaden her understanding of inequities and reflect on her own experiences, Albrecht learned about topics she had never even considered – like the ongoing impact on environmental racism.
“I’m knowledgeable on some issues, yet I know that ‘knowledge’ and ‘some’ isn’t good enough,” said Albrecht. “There must be practice and effort combined with the learning, relearning and unlearning. There must be action behind the understanding. And by action, I mean real action – Instagram posts, Facebook status updates and other social media efforts are often empty at the end of the day. What can actually be done? What can I literally do to elevate the voices around me?”
To read more reflections from Southeastern Michigan community members, click here.
United Way partners are also engaging in these challenges and bringing learning opportunities to their employees. United Way Worldwide recently teamed up with Dow to offer a seven-week challenge focused on addressing racial inequities in the work environment and personal lives. Nearly 350 Dow employees in Europe, Middle East, Africa, and India participated in the challenge, engaging in daily activities aimed at nurturing more effective social justice habits and shifting the way individuals think and behave. Remarked one Dow employee who took part in the Challenge:"Sad insights, good learnings, many things I didn't know of." Said another: "Racism is and remains an important factor in a lot of areas of our everyday life. The way to overcome limitations is to become aware and get informed."
To learn more about how United Ways are driving equity work in their communities, please visit: equity.unitedway.org