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Leading with Equity: Communities Working Toward Resilience

Transparency, trust, truth, trauma, and healing.

That’s how our New Orleans-based partners, Healthy Community Services, described their approach to their resilience project, and those words set the tone for a powerful and transformative three days with the Partnership for Resilient Communities (PRC) at last month’s peer learning workshop.

Each PRC partner in attendance works in communities vulnerable to climate change because of institutional, systemic, and structural racism. This event was devoted to collectively coming up with solutions to address each community’s biggest challenges.

All six partners, and even the on-site technical experts, left this intensive event with new perspectives and directions for how locally, they could make their communities stronger and more equitable, and nationally, how to advance the power and authority of leaders of color in the climate change and resilience fields where people of color have been excluded.

With a key focus on racial equity, the transformative and electrifying speakers (all people of color, addressing an audience largely people of color) ignited a spark of truth, transparency, and healing that ensconced all attendees throughout – necessary ingredients to create a space for meaningful and deep conversations. New collaborations and partnerships began to form. People started to gain interest in exploring new areas of work. And teams figured out actionable steps for how to apply new learnings back home.

What We Learned  

From plenary sessions to breakout groups and networking lunches to team clinics, the conversations ringing around the room uncovered the real challenges organizations face at home. Every participant had a voice in sharing ideas on how to inspire transformative change with resilience strategies rooted in the community. Here are some key takeaways all of us can infuse into our work:

Understand that the climate change economy is a wealth-building opportunity.

The issue of climate change is not just a problem to solve—it has created a whole new economy. There are growing industries and jobs being created at an overwhelming pace, yet people of color across the country are consistently being left out of the conversation, and therefore, are missing the chance to build skills and wealth. Leaders of color must carve out their space and not only demand a seat at the table, but set their own tables to address the needs of their communities. Others must consider how they can contribute to making an inclusive and equitable space for everyone to benefit.

Lead with equity and sustainability will follow.

Racial equity cannot be ignored when dealing with issues of climate resilience and sustainability. Historically, communities of color have been relegated to the worst parts of a city where flooding occurs, power outages wreak havoc, and extreme heat or cold can cost lives. Sustainability does not exist without justice. It is imperative that leaders of color not only fight for opportunities to help mitigate or prevent some of the impact of climate change, but also fight for justice for people who may not even realize what is truly happening in their communities.

Support the power shift for communities of color.

Although communities of color have been left out of the climate conversation, there are increasingly more leaders across the country working to change that. The power structures that currently exist are rooted in systemic racism—those with wealth, connections, and access to information have the means to act on opportunities that are quickly evolving. Because communities and leaders of color historically have not had that same privilege and leverage, they haven’t been able to reap the benefits in such times. Those who are holding the wealth and power must learn that shifting this dynamic is imperative to growth and prosperity. A movement is happening and we are bold and courageous enough to believe we can transform our communities together.

Take transformative action.

Consider that incremental action is transformative. Remember who you are working for and celebrate the small wins. And pay attention to the choices you are making. Are you choosing to perpetuate injustice or are you disrupting it? If you’re disrupting it, excellent! Keep interrupting the status quo and bias. Seek greater understanding and explore opportunities to change. Be rooted in your purpose and understand why you are there and what you have to let go of in order to do your work. And lastly, decolonize your work. Undo the thinking that there is only one right way to do things.

This is all heavy and hard work. Despite the heaviness, all of the PRC participants and staff left this event feeling recharged and inspired to continue building resilient communities that are equitable and transformative. With new peers to call on and best practices in our back pockets, we can continue to make positive changes that benefit all residents of our communities