Reflections on Adopting a Racial Justice Framework for Human Impact Partners

By Lili Farhang

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Health Workers in Oakland Protest for Black Lives.

Across the world, communities have come together to demand justice in response to the ongoing police murders of Black people, and the continued structural violence of systemic anti-Black racism. As we mourn George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade and the countless others killed by police, it is our responsibility as public health practitioners to name and confront a glaring and urgent truth: policing, incarceration, and structural racism are endemic public health crises.

Racial justice and racial equity are fundamental to our mission at Human Impact Partners (HIP). Human Impact Partners transforms the field of public health to center equity and builds collective power with social justice movements. As we follow the leadership of the Movement for Black Lives, and generations of Black, Brown, and Indigenous movement builders and community organizers, we continue our work toward a transformative vision of health equity and racial justice. And we know that this work must happen on all fronts, and at every level.

To this end, our organization has developed a racial justice framework that reflects our commitment to equity in our externally facing work, makes explicit our values, and holds us accountable to shared principles and practices in both our work with partners and our organizational culture and internal relationships. Because to show up fully in our work for racial justice, we must embody these values, principles, and practices internally.

The Genesis of HIP’s Racial Justice Framework

As the co-director of a nonprofit organization, I believe that aligning one’s internal operations with one’s external mission and practices is fundamental to both achieving and advancing a liberatory ethos that can spread like wildfire.

The heart of any anti-racist work is to make space to notice how institutional racism can impede our ability to create the change we want to see. External transformation begins by supporting relationship development and internal practices, norms, and procedures that are aligned with truly equitable outcomes.

This approach debunks a false dichotomy that is often made between internal practices and external work. Leaders who are engaged in transformational work can easily fall into the trap of defensiveness, believing that time is being wasted on needless criticism or that it is counterproductive to dedicate valuable staff resources to projects that don’t directly address community needs. This dichotomy between internal practices and external work is a false one.

We cannot achieve equitable outcomes without recognizing that structural racism rests on the formalization of often-undissected interpersonal codes and practices that perpetuate inequity. Even in well-intentioned organizations, we can see how certain harmful practices, when they go unspoken, can fester and foment distrust and disempowered relationships between staff members, ultimately reinforcing the violence of white supremacy.

When we are able to step back and acknowledge that how we behave as a team shows up in how we do our external-facing work, we see that an internal racial justice framework is a foundational elucidation of the vision that will enable us to be more effective. The more we feel that our organizational home truly reflects the values that drive us, the better equipped we are to do “the work.”

For many years, our externally facing work has explicitly focused on equity, with a strong emphasis on working with organizations and people who are most impacted by inequities, and on naming racism and other systems of advantage that result in poor health outcomes. However, until 2017 we hadn’t named racial justice as an explicit value that undergirded our mission. Nor had we taken the opportunity as an organization to look at our assumptions about racial justice.

What was missing was an articulation of our own guiding values — for our organization and how we want to be together, as opposed to what we want to do together. We wanted to turn the mirror back upon ourselves.

Setting Our Intentions

As we created the framework, we documented underlying ideas and theories, principles we hold ourselves accountable to, and organizational practices to institute and deepen our approach to racial justice.

The underlying theories and ideas that we consider central to what it means to be committed to racial justice as an organization:

  • Power imbalances are at the root of inequities in the social determinants of health, which perpetuate health, social, and political inequities
  • We can’t achieve health equity without doing racial justice work
  • We lead with racial justice explicitly, but not exclusively
  • We incorporate an intersectional analysis into our work and approach
  • We need radical strategies to undo the systemic imbalance of power and privilege

How we hold ourselves accountable to our values:

  • Identify where we have growth areas as an organization around racial justice by creating space for staff to identify growth areas for our projects and our organization
  • Create transparent processes and make room for experimentation on the path to racial justice, with senior leaders embracing ongoing review and iteration of strategy
  • Generate staff-wide accountability to this framework, explicitly look at whether we’re honoring the framework, and determine what it looks like when we hit hard times
  • Promote shared language across the organization, including staff, board, and partners to ensure we are fluent in a common language of racial justice

Organizational practices to institute and deepen in order to reflect racial justice:

  • Establish norms to routinely engage the head and heart
  • Establish systems for feedback and input
  • Routinely practice organizational self-reflection
  • Support all staff in becoming emergent racial justice leaders
  • Assess decisions and practices through a racial justice lens, including: hiring staff and appointing board members; assigning decision-making power to staff; structuring financial support for partner organizations and consultants

The process of creating this living document and building staff-wide agreement to cultivate an organizational culture and ethos work to embody it led to more authentic relationships with one another, and to more effective work with community partners. Moreover, collectively creating this framework made us aware that there were tangible practices and policies that we didn’t have in place that we should.

As I reflect on the community power and transformative frameworks built by the Movement for Black Lives and communities of color, I notice that the narrative around equity is shifting to one of greater transparency, collaborative engagement, and possibility. I see an opening and a deepening in the potential to explicitly name and dismantle white supremacy, anti-Blackness, policing, and state violence.

In order to eliminate racial inequity, organizations must foster dialogue and education to raise awareness of structural oppression. We must take a long, hard look at the historical and current realities that perpetuate poor health outcomes in some communities, as well as policies that unknowingly carry out the racist imperatives of larger institutions and cultural forces.

By better embodying the values of racial equity and justice at HIP, my hope is that we can repair the root causes of inequities that manifest in ourselves and in our relationships, and translate those changes into how we work with communities. In sharing HIP’s experience, I am heartened by the possibility that we might be a greater voice and catalyst for racial justice, in addition to modeling the rigorous reflection, vulnerability, and openness that are necessary to grow and change.

Lili Farhang is Co-Director at Human Impact Partners. Along with Solange Gould, she’s responsible for advancing the mission and strategic direction of the organization. For nearly 20 years, she has visioned, developed, and implemented policy and systems change to advance health equity in the government and nonprofit sectors, and she’s feeling energized by people’s willingness to talk about race, power and the other root drivers of health.

📌 Did you know? Human Impact Partners provides health equity capacity building to public health organizations. Contact us to learn more about our offerings at info[at]humanimpact.org.

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