Pathways to Equity wins SEED Award for Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

Our collaboration with West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project has been recognized for its equitable process.

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The 2020 SEED Award is a partnership of NOMA, NAACP and Design Corps

We are honored to be a recipient of the Award for Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion for our work with West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project! The National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA), National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and Design Corps have come together to highlight built and conceptual projects in architecture, community design, and economic development that exemplify justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) at their core. Pathways to Equity’s collaboration with West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEIP) has been acknowledged for its equity-focused process to address how land use development can create equity where it has previously created disparity.

“It’s important to educate the professionals on our process of engagement… to further their understanding that we always have to have the community at the center.” — Ms. Margaret Gordon, Founder and Co-Director of WOEIP

One of the first questions Ms. Margaret Gordon of WOEIP asked us was: “What are your intentions?” This spoke to the pattern of “experts” coming into communities with their own agendas and solutions. Our response was to support Fellows in the Pathways to Equity (P2E) program to prioritize process over product.

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Shalini Agrawal, P2E Co-Director, and Ms. Margaret, WOEIP Co-Director, chatting at an event.

P2E guided Fellows to understand the value of trust and relationships from the very beginning of a partnership. These trainings included the history of systemic racism in the built environment, team building skills, trauma-informed engagement approach, and moving at the speed of trust. From the start, P2E Fellows did their inner-work necessary to gain the skills needed to hold themselves accountable beyond good intentions. They applied these lessons as stakeholder meetings started with WOEIP’s wider community web. The interdisciplinary team of Fellows leveraged their skills for the benefit of the community after listening to the collective needs.

“We started by showing up and getting to know each other. I learned to not lead with solutions and skills, but to listen” — Jillian Solomon, P2E Fellow

Throughout the team’s collaboration, a central question emerged: Can West Oakland leverage community power to make development of the built-environment a net-positive for the most vulnerable? Shortly after meeting and getting to know each other, WOEIP invited the Fellows to a meeting with the Oakland A’s about the new Howard Terminal Ballpark stadium. In their debrief, they dove in together to discuss how to leverage power dynamics for positive long term community impact.

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In April 2019, the Fellows and WOEIP hosted their first community meeting, relying on WOEIP’s community connections and stakeholders, inviting potential dissenters and supporters alike. Prioritizing equity for this meeting meant choosing an accessible location to meet, providing homemade food, childcare, name tags, and considering barriers that could limit participation. The Fellows presented their research on Community Benefits Agreements (CBAs) and facilitated discussion with many stakeholders.

“It’s not just about community engagement, but it’s about community building, and that’s been an incredibly powerful process for me” — David Peters of WOBE and West Oakland community member

After completion of the Fellowship in May 2019, four of the Fellows continued to support monthly Saturday meetings about the CBA with the West Oakland community, with the newly formed group, West Oakland Benefits for Equity (WOBE). Now organized as a social enterprise, Equity Research Team (ERT), the Fellows continue to coordinate WOBE monthly meetings.

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Fellows presenting CBA research at one of the first community meetings.

The first cohort continued their partnership with WOEIP well past the program’s official end, and a second team joined efforts cohort began a new journey with WOEIP in 2020 to support a project modeling the community engagement process.

“Initially when we started this process I was a little concerned about the fellows being outside of the process… but the way they’ve operated from day 1 has been inclusive, has been a desire to drill down and dive deep into the West Oakland community and the needs of the community.” — Phyllis Hall, WOBE and West Oakland community member

The WOEIP collaboration has demonstrated a core aspect of equity — reliability, consistently showing up over time, and prioritizing relationships. It is from this kind of slow and deep partnership that truly equitable systems redesign can emerge.

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The Open Architecture Collaborative is a global learning network to mobilize architects and designers towards greater community good.

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