Racial Justice and Power-sharing: The Heart of Leading Systems Change

By Lili Farhang and Solange Gould

Systems change of all kinds, including public health, must begin by tackling the deep inequities entrenched in our social systems.
  • Develop a shared analysis around how power imbalances, racism, and other forms of oppression define and structure the systems that drive health.
  • Tend to the work of “being” together, and not just “doing” together, as a way of deepening the relationships necessary to disrupt these patterns at the interpersonal, team, organizational, and community levels.
  • Establish change processes that embody a model of sharing power; shift who represents and is leading transformation.
  • Facilitate processes and practices for groups engaged in systems change work to examine the histories of racism, white supremacy, patriarchy, and other forms of oppression and how they continue to influence power in social systems today.
  • Create what we call a “container” for systems change processes — a shared working and thinking space with clear group agreements that allows us to tackle complex and emotional problems effectively. A few examples include having trained facilitators guide hard conversations, providing tools and space for emotional responses to discussions, and encouraging participants to share racial and gender identities as part of building deep relationships and learning to talk about race and gender with nuance.
  • Integrate the head and the heart, and make space alongside our intellectual work to feel the physical sensations and emotions that arise when confronting the reality of racial inequities and unjust power imbalances, both in the policies and systems we aim to shift and in our own organizational culture.
  • Adopt a power-sharing approach in internal work, meaning those with more power relinquish control and authority and those with less power step into greater responsibility and ownership over decision making.
  • Forge long-term relationships with community power-building organizations, which often represent and are made up of people and communities most impacted by inequities.

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Bringing the power of public health to campaigns and movements for a just society