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Black Lives Matter, so let's do something
Meaningful allyship in the local non-profit sector

Like you, I have spent a lot of time following current events closely, from the spark of rightful outrage at the murder of George Floyd and the ensuing protests that have gone worldwide.

Here is a list of some ways that those of us working in the local non-profit sector can make a difference and this is a reminder to myself as much as it is to my colleagues.

Acknowledge your privilege and biases

I am a settler on this land in Canada. My skin is brown and my parents moved here from the Indian subcontinent. Nonetheless, I benefit from a great deal of privilege. There might be others who have types of privilege I don't have, but that doesn't change the fact that I have privilege. My privileges include my Canadian citizenship by birth, English being my first language, and that I do not live with a disease or disability. Acknowledging my privilege and my social location helps me personally try to gain some humility. But more importantly, it is an acknowledgement that I have biases that are both conscious and unconscious. It means that I need to try to account for that in my decision-making, while knowing without lived experience I might not be able to account for it fully. It makes me cognizant that I should listen and gain insight from others who may know better. It may help disarm others who are concerned that my privilege will make it difficult for me to understand them.

Address injustice even when it's uncomfortable

Address, do not ignore, injustices, including microaggressions. "All Lives Matter" is a deflection from the issue at hand. The more common it becomes to call out microaggressions and correct misinformation, the less uncomfortable it will be on the whole. It could be normal for us to tell someone when they said something untrue or hurtful. My cousin started an initiative in Pakistan called "kuch karo", which is Urdu for "do something." So much time is spent arguing and fussing over why something won't work or a theoretical endgame, or lauding all the "progress" since the abolition of slavery, rather than taking any action. So, where there is injustice, do something. Now, if you're already at your wits' end with everything you're trying to do for inclusion, consider whether your organization can codify some of your own smaller efforts into organizational policy. Maybe it could be organizational policy to hide names from resumes before they're reviewed to mitigate name-based bias, to commemorate Black History Month, to establish a minimum percentage of demographic representation on your board.

Call things as they really are 

It wasn't simply an "incident" with Breonna Taylor. She was murdered. With systemic racism being what it is, that fact might not yet be proven in a legal sense, but in a moral sense, if we know it to be true, then let's call it that. Words affect our attitudes and those attitudes permeate society. If you're waiting for people with more power to tell you it's okay to talk about the issues, you'll be waiting forever. We talk about inclusion all the time, but how often do we get specific about it? Taking no risk by saying nothing is not really paving the way to a better future. It's amazing how often, even in our supposedly super-inclusive sector, people are still using terms, even slurs, ignorantly and have no clue. There are organizations and many resources out there to help us learn, but that won't happen until we all admit that we have a long way to go. 

Centre Black voices in our work

Whether you go to the Federation of Black Canadians, a colleague or are a local organization you know, the voices of the communities most affected are important to amplify. We can quote them, share their words on social media, but better yet, make it central to our work. We don't have to think of this issue as a distraction from our work. What good is our work if it's not based on antioppression, equity and inclusion? Therefore, let's design our projects and programs such that this is a component of it. Then, let's *pay* Black people who have the knowledge and lived experience to give us meaningful input and direction. Invite them to be our facilitators, guest speakers, project leads, or consultants. Yes, it's hard for organizations to afford anything, but once you decide that this is essential, you will somehow find a way. Besides, we can't expect systemic change to be easy or free.

Elevate the work of ACB-serving organizations

Free For AllMoyoRoots. Here I am naming a few of Volunteer MBC's Member Organizations that I know are engaged in good work here in Peel, though there are many others and I do not wish to snub by omission. Partner with them, promote them, support them, and fund them. Truthfully, we don't have the excuse that we don't know these organizations because finding out is not difficult when you actively seek it. The analysts and funding bodies have already told us all to collaborate and to focus on serving marginalized and racialized communities, so if you're seeking additional reasons to do it, there are plenty. It takes resources to deliver anything of value, and collaboration between organizations is sometimes tricky to start, but ultimately when it works it's far better than anything we do on our own. 

Create space for dialogue within your team

The non-profit sector does have a wonderful nature of kind-hearted people who make personal sacrifices every day for the good of their community. Sometimes our good nature prevents us from having difficult conversations. We are, by design, apolitical, and we don't want to blur or cross a line. Sometimes our niceness makes us gloss over or talk about things indirectly. Other times, we're just not as nice as we think we are. But some organizations have more open and honest engagement than others, and that is built by creating space for dialogue. It might take initiative and it's not necessarily going to be the senior leadership offering the opportunity. You're starting a meeting, is there an opportunity to add some dialogue to the agenda? Mark a spot for pausing and reflecting, for honouring Black and Indigenous lives, and for people to express their anger or sorrow. If you do that regularly, it will make a difference to you, your team and your organization's character.

Increase Black representation

90% of non-profit boards in the GTA have no people of colour at all. Increase Black representation by recruiting and hiring inclusively. Some of you may be about to bring on summer hires, so be sure to share those postings with us so we can increase the visibility among organizations that reach Black audiences. Beware, whenever inclusive hiring practices are discussed, you'll hear some naysayer talk derogatively about "affirmative action" and question the "merit" of any person of colour. Don't get it twisted. The game has been rigged against people of colour, especially Black people, for centuries. Therefore, if anyone's merit ought to be questioned it's yours and mine and anyone else already employed. There are many qualified, capable, incredible people to bring to your organization. We just have to put in a modicum of effort to counter the immense forces that have kept them from accessing participating in our organizations to begin with. 

Don't let this moment just be a moment

Why did George Floyd's murder by police move the world when countless others have been murdered this way without a sound? Some people have described it as a "perfect storm", as COVID-19 has increased our time online and reduced the amount of other forms of work, entertainment or recreation that would have distracted us. But if this moment passes, when the news loses its sharpness, when the sting goes numb, what will we do? We have to become advocates for this in the long haul. We have to understand the local implications of the issue and better understand the systemic racism that is present in Peel, Ontario, and Canada. We have to commit now to paying attention and investing ourselves into the issues for the rest of our lives. After all, we have our lives. For those whose lives were devalued and destroyed, we must take on the mission to make #BlackLivesMatter forever

 

That's a list to chew on. What suggestions can you add? What are you trying to implement now? Email us.

 

 

Shan Abbasi
Manager, Community Engagement