Social Strategies for Equitable Communities

Recently, a delegation from Pittsburgh attended PolicyLink’s Equity 2015 Summit. I am writing a series of blogs to highlight recurring themes I observed and share the best practice strategies I learned. These blogs reflections of my own experience during a three day national conference. My first blog post on the PolicyLink Equity Summit 2015 focused on people because without people you do not have community. This second blog focuses on various social factors and strategies.

A big theme throughout the sessions was “now is the time”. As a country we at a point in time where the momentum is bringing together people from all walks of life around common interests, to build the movement of movements. This movement of movements is going to dismantle systems of oppression and create equity for community that have been marginalized for long enough. It is clear that the power is with the people — leaders at the local level are informing the movement on a national level. It is incredibly inspiring and beyond beautiful to be a part of.

  1. Place Matters. But Place Changes. Where you live dictates how well you live. However “improving” a neighborhood can price out long-time residents. Equitable communities build healthy individuals — equitable communities do not become unlivable for them. PolicyLink has a great report outlining the importance of place which you can see by clicking here.
  2. Collaboration. The movement of movements brings together marginalized populations who are in the struggle against a common oppressor. Our liberation is intertwined. We must have each other’s backs since we cannot all be in the same spaces at once. The fight is the same but the movement will only move as quickly as trust is built. For examples of what cross-movement collaboration can look like, check out The Justice League in New York by clicking here and the Organization for Black Struggle by clicking here.
  3. Intentionality. Be intentional about how you approach solutions. Be honest about the issue you are addressing. Use language and outreach strategies that are appealing and relevant to those who are affected. Data-based strategies are the best ways to address inequities. When engaging the public ask yourself — how are people being received and cared for in the spaces you are creating for engagement? Providing childcare, food and transportation not only helps to get people to a community meeting but it also signals that people are valued and their needs are understood.
  4. Language — Language is not just about which language you speak — whether you speak English, Spanish, Portuguese or Mandarin — it is the actual words that are used. It is the difference between saying “I care about safe streets” and “I care about gun violence”. Historically, in marginalized communities words such as “planning” or “development” are equated to changing the neighborhood and pricing long-time residents out. If the intention of a community process is to strengthen and elevate the existing community, then it is important to use language that resonates with neighbors. Otherwise, planning efforts encounter resistance.
  5. Local Leadership — The leadership exists. Invest in it. Community members are already engaged in conversations on a daily basis about the changes they want to see and the vision they have for their neighborhoods. If we asks residents to share their knowledge and time there should be some type of or support compensation for those who are leading the effort.
  6. The Arts — At the Equity Summit the arts were front and center. Each day was kicked off by live performances, dance, poetry, song and comedy. Many of the sessions I attended began with spoken word. This was incredibly moving and I was often brought to tears by these performances — I was inspired. The arts gives us a unique opportunity to communicate complicated emotions and concepts in a way that everyone can relate. They are an integral part to ensuring our communities are not only healthy but that they tell the story of who we are.