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Beyond Diversity and Inclusion

Report from the PolicyLink Equity Summit: The Narratives that Create Greater Equity

If you work at the intersection of “policy, politics and power—the ingredients needed for transformative change” you were likely at the PolicyLink Equity Summit April 11-13 in Chicago. This gathering included activists, organizers, artists and other leaders in business, government, philanthropy, and venture capital. We focused on our shared work in the U.S. aligned with the Summit themes: Our Power. Our Future. Our Nation.

As always, the Equity Summit dove deep, and fast, into the core challenges holding back our society. One of the most difficult decisions was choosing among so many relevant, compelling sessions: from housing justice to climate justice; culture to civic power; Opportunity Zones to the role of philanthropy in driving social change.

One of the common threads: to change our present, and future, we have to change the story.

It’s not a new insight. People have been calling for the attention, resources, and talent to address the root causes apparent to so many of us, to shine a light on the solutions that are all around, struggling for coverage.

This is a new moment in time. More people are waking up to the injustices embedded in the systems that we contribute to, and that inform who has access to opportunity.

How can we accelerate this awareness, and a shift in consciousness? How can we tell ourselves new stories about what is possible, and what we can build and create together?

Several sessions considered what’s needed to change the dominant narrative towards one that moves us toward greater equity. They lifted up key insights, including:

  • It is not helpful to speak in general terms to avoid discomfort. We must choose to be specific —naming structural racism, systemic discrimination, and oppression — if we hope to shift people out of old habits and ways of thinking
  • Artists provide an efficient, lasting way to spark new thinking and feeling. The arts can inform political organizing and inspire civic engagement, to lead to greater equity.
  • We can’t just center data in our stories; we need to center people. For example, historically the climate change narrative has focused on science, not humans. Highlighting indigenous communities as the frontline of climate change – as protectors of the natural resources we all share, and the first in many future waves of climate refugees – is not common in current narratives.
  • As we consider “truth narratives,” and teaching about what happened not just to our society and planet, but for generations of family, friends and neighbors, we need to go deeper. We must tell the truth, and continue to connect faces and lives to that truth.

None of this is easy. It goes beyond acknowledging past sins to naming what is still happening, and what we need to shift today. It requires courage, humility, and commitment to our shared work of improving our communities, and our planet. And all of it requires resources — financial and creative capital that can wake us up and begin to move us toward making different choices.

Categories: Prioritize Equity