Measuring progress. Inspiring action.

June 2014

Minnesota Compass tracks the well-being of all of who live here. In doing so, we often find our state's generally high quality of life in not shared by all, and that large, racial disparities are particularly troubling. We asked Rowzat Shipchandler, manager of the Facing Race Initiative, sponsor of the Racial Equity Directory on Minnesota Compass, to give insights on how organizations can work to achieve racial equity.

Conversation is the first step

By Rowzat Shipchandler, Minnesota Philanthropy Partners

Rowzat ShipchandlerFor many years, I managed an initiative of The Saint Paul Foundation that helped more than 10,000 Minnesotans have honest dialogue about racism. In conversation after conversation, I witnessed the participants’ sincere interest not only to talk about racism, but also to go deeper by making racial equity an integral part of everything their organizations did. 

My organization shared that same interest. And in fall 2014, after many honest conversations, many assessments, and a comprehensive task force report, we launched a renewed commitment to equity that aims to transform our organization and the work we do.

Having helped my own organization and other organizations move the equity focus from conversation to holistic organizational commitment, I’ve learned a few things about this type of change. Here are three ideas to keep in mind as you help your organization define its own role in combating racism and commit to implementing this type of change.

It’s a struggle

The majority of organizations I’ve worked with sincerely wish to achieve racial equity and diminish injustice. But this is not easy work nor easy change to achieve. It’s hard and scary. It involves re-considering assumptions, policies, and practices. It involves hearing ugly facts about ourselves and our country.

Addressing racism creates conflict. Some colleagues resist because they don’t believe it still exists. Others think the organization’s racial equity work is too slow and too timid. In all cases, racial equity progress requires learning to see the world with different lenses. Those lenses are not for sale at the store. They are only available after we allow ourselves to release assumptions and to be open to a new way of thinking.

The journey is not linear

The journey toward racial equity is not reached by following a straight path. Often, a group of committed employees or volunteers pioneer racial equity work in a small way, and only years later, is the majority of the organization ready and willing to embrace it.

For those eager for change, the journey can feel slow. While you may be eager to address any institutional racism in your organization, bring in culturally competent practices, and advocate for policy reform, others may question the need to change at all.

You will need to assess what your organization is ready to explore. For an organization to ultimately be effective, the incremental steps toward racial equity eventually need to align with the overall mission, values, or strategies of an organization. However, incremental steps are all an organization may be able to take at a given point in time. These incremental steps may ultimately yield significant change.

The benefits are big

Struggling may feel uncomfortable, but the benefits are potentially huge. Struggling can help clarify an organization’s values and disrupt the larger forces that keep racism in place. Keep in mind that pushing through cultural barriers and pushing to end racial isolation may lead to great growth for your organization. Cross-cultural conflict is not inherently negative. Instead, it can be a key to unlocking creative energy and progress.

The ultimate result from this struggle is even bigger: a racism-free community that helps all people have the opportunity to achieve their potential.

Rowzat manages the Facing Race We’re All in This Together® anti-racism initiative. In this role, she helps individuals and organizations have honest discussions about racism. She then works with these groups to address, and ultimately eradicate, racism within their communities. As racial equity manager for Minnesota Philanthropy Partners, Rowzat also guides the organization’s internal equity work.

Related resources on Compass

Racial Equity Resource Directory
A listing of racial equity programs and training providers.


Opinions expressed in Minnesota Compass guest columns do not necessarily reflect the views of Minnesota Compass. Compass welcomes a range of views about issues pertaining to quality of life in Minnesota.