Equity Doesn’t Happen in Silos

Last Thursday afternoon I sat in a cozy home in Mid-City, New Orleans with my supervisor Rhonda to my left, Board member Maggie to my right, puppy in my lap and glass of rosé in my hand. It was my last official meeting with Beloved Community for the summer and I was presenting the work that I have done building diversity, equity and inclusion metrics to create more equitable schools, housing and corporations in New Orleans. After the presentation was finished and we hugged goodbye at the door, I thought about how this meeting reflected so much of my time in New Orleans; spending time with people and hearing their stories.

After dinner at The Franklin

The first night I met Maggie, Rhonda and fellow board member Darren we sipped cocktails in the Marigny and I learned about how deep family histories run in the city. Darren, a 7th generation New Orleanian, discussed the differences between his family’s okra gumbo and shrimp gumbo. Rhonda told stories about secretly learning French from her grandmother, who was her favorite person on the planet. Maggie discussed growing up in Northern Louisiana, but spending each summer in New Orleans. Early on I saw how deep connections to the city and its history impact the work that each member of Beloved Community does today.

At first, I was very aware of my presence as an outsider in this city. There is a sense of pride that comes with being a New Orleanian, whether your family has been here for generations and lived through oppression, storms, or swarms of termites. But the pride of being New Orleanian doesn’t come with a sense of exclusivity; I was welcomed with a flood of stories, professional advice and many wonderful meals. During an Education Pioneers workshop I heard from Erika McConduit, president of the Urban League of Greater New Orleans, who, with deep passion and motivation for the work reminded us that “it’s lonely at the top.” One hectic morning in Gentilly, a native New Orleanian and founder and CEO of New Corp, Vaughn Fauria talked about how her family’s legacy in Gentilly lives on through her daughters. High school students at College Track gave me food recommendations when we paused from interview practice and learning about each other. Although my roots don’t run through New Orleans, the multitude of narratives I’ve had the privilege of hearing have helped me piece together stories to build a foundation for the research I’ve conducted on how to build more equitable systems.

Beloved Community’s mission is centered on people making change to replace segregated systems with equitable ones. My task this summer was to create a tool that organizations can use to measure their own progress towards diversity and inclusion. The work began with a great deal of research. I read articles, studies, and statistics about segregation, and the lack of affordable housing. I built a set of goals that Beloved Community will use to help organizations strive towards to create more equity in their organizations. What I learned was that success does not happen in siloes. Equity can’t occur in schools if we are not working to create diverse and inclusive corporations and housing as well. Creating sustainable change means understanding why and how these systems impact one another and that we must commit to equity across all of them.

Attempting to grasp the incredible complexity of the city of New Orleans does not do justice to its richness. I’m incredibly thankful to those that shared their lives with me while I was a part of this city; their stories are woven into the fabric of Beloved Community and the equity work that continues here. I feel proud to call myself a member of this wonderful organization that will make a great deal of impact as the good times in New Orleans roll on.

Written by: Julie Zdonek. Julie is a 2017 Education Pioneer Fellow currently pursuing a Master’s Degree at Carnegie Mellon in the School of Public Policy and Management.