Change and Racial Justice: One Year Later
“In the wake of the murder of George Floyd and the amazing protests across the country, there was a lot in the movement for Black lives… The moment of well-overdue racial justice reckoning, we saw that as an opportunity for us to change within ourselves… We had been on a continual journey becoming the diverse and equitable and inclusive organization that we are committed to being… While there’s a lot to be proud of, there’s also a lot of ways that we’ve fallen short.”
These are the opening words from a video recapping our “organizational reset,” a process that Change.org began nearly a year ago to assess our shortcomings and what was needed to truly become a more impactful and equitable organization. Among other things, this several-week process, powered by a cross-functional set of staff-led committees, helped take forward a series of racial justice commitments we made in June 2020.
Today, one year later, we’d hoped to report that we’d made significant strides both in structuring our organization to be more diverse, equitable and inclusive, as well as in fighting racial inequality in the world. And while we have made progress, what we really want to share openly is that this journey is even harder and longer than anyone thought. Meaningful, non-performative change—the kind needed to undo what has been embedded in our society over the course of 400 plus long years—takes time. That makes for a painful journey for those who continue to be oppressed, underrepresented and misunderstood in often very subtle and unseen ways.
Here are a few reflections from various group leaders on their experience during this process:
“As Black people, conversations about race, diversity, and inclusion are nearly impossible to not take personally. These aren’t objective concepts for us. And yet, we live in a world where not everyone is at the same stage in their understanding and empathy around these concepts. I wrote in a piece for Medium as a representative of our Black affinity and resource group, Change.Noire, that said allyship is a journey, not a destination, and I still believe that. Doing this work takes honesty, humility, and self-awareness. I give grace to those who are on a journey of greater self-awareness and on the path to becoming an agent of change. As we find our way as an organization, Change.Noire and similar groups will continue to keep diversity and inclusion top of mind, holding our leaders accountable and pushing Change.org further to create a true culture of equity and inclusion.”
Ansa Edim, Change.Noire
“As a white member of staff, much of my journey has been about reckoning with the multitude of ways that my privilege and the privilege of white people around me have shaped the policies and practices of the organization. Interrogating how that has affected my colleagues of color, past and present, was challenging and painful. But it has also been incredibly enlightening, and I’m grateful for the many ways we’ve grown as an organization since then. We paused ongoing big initiatives in order to focus hundreds of hours of team time on some of the most difficult questions we face around our strategy, our policies, and our approach to equity and inclusion. The work to deliver on our commitments is ongoing. We continue to fall short in some areas, and we need to be dedicated to learning from those ongoing challenges, not giving up when we face them. I believe this to be true for Change.org, and in my own journey of allyship.”
Melissa Benjamin, Reset Committees
“Many of us naturally experienced a range of overwhelming emotions: burdened by lived experience, excited to take concrete action, and anxious about whether we could achieve real impact, to name a few. The greatest challenge we faced as an organization in this last year was striking the balance between the desire for immediate action and the need to take the time and space required to interrogate the best way forward in the pursuit of systemic change. With so many efforts and conversations in motion at once, we struggled to discern top organizational priorities. There was so much energy and interest to make an impact in the ways that many staff felt was necessary. It was hard to say no. We didn’t want to be perfect, but we wanted to be effective. Through this experience, we learned a lot that informs our work today.”
Justin Lyons, DEI Council
“Revisiting internal systems and processes through the lens of equity allowed us to meaningfully interrogate our roles in perpetuating systems that lead to inequality. We were also able to identify the ways in which we had become accustomed to organizing ourselves around the comfort of the dominant group at the expense of the safety and advancement of non-dominant groups. Transparency is key to equitable systems, particularly considering that people in power default to hiring those with whom they have chemistry and are comfortable with. If teams are relying on the systems of hiring and advancement that aren’t rooted squarely in equity, then naturally that system is going to default to results that are homogenous.”
Lindsay Stuiber, Anti-Racism/Anti-Oppression Committee
“Last year, as we watched a movement for racial justice grow across the United States and around the world, we asked tough questions internally about who we are as an organization and how we could best support and affirm the work of the countless Black people pushing for justice and change. From that, the Racial Justice Fund was born, which we hope will help to set a new precedent for ourselves and similar organizations—one that embraces philanthropy and movement building in a way that is impactful, restorative and grounded in justice.”
Rashawn Davis, Racial Justice Fund
Together, we’ve learned a number of things, including:
- Transformational change of this nature requires a long-term investment in unlearning ingrained behaviors in order to see consistent results over time;
- The complexity and depth of engagement required to make meaningful progress on this work means it can be difficult to prioritize while still managing other aspects of our core business operations— despite being a critical aspect of our culture AND our business success;
- This work is emotionally taxing, tiring, frustrating, and sometimes even scary. Making meaningful progress requires everyone to be on board and engaged;
- It’s challenging to feel satisfaction in the value of partial progress and to set collective expectations around what success actually looks like along this complex journey;
- Small wins matter on the journey to big, transformational change, although the progress we’ve made is still just the beginning of so much more work to be done.
I’m grateful for the voices, passion and commitment of everyone on the Change.org team. As we continue on our internal journey to make our organization better, we’re also working hard to have a positive impact at a grassroots level through our Racial Justice Fund: a proud pledge to move $6 million dollars into the hands of Black people on the ground who are leading the ongoing fight for justice. To date, we have moved more than $2.3 million to organizers and Black-led organizations making racial justice impact through education, criminal justice reform and advocacy.
We understand that it is not enough to simply move money, but that we also need to form lasting relationships with the organizations we support. To do this, we partnered with North Star Fund—a New York-based community foundation that has a long history of prioritizing the voices of those impacted and those leading the work.
North Star Fund has helped us design a selection process to identify the right funding recipients. It’s a process that incorporates the voices of a diverse group of Change.org staff and the voices of incredible petition starters like Cece Jones-Davis and Dr. Daihnia Dunkley, who are at the heart of what we do here at Change.org.
Our work through the Racial Justice fund touches just one of the commitments we’ve been working toward. Here’s a quick glance at where we are today against each of the seven commitments we outlined in 2020:
We’ve made important progress. But there’s more to do. We’ve had some really hard conversations over the last year. But it has led us to a place where we more clearly see the changes we need to make, not just out in the world, but within ourselves. Along the way, we’ve opened wounds and in some cases unintentionally created new ones. We hope we’ll soon be able to look back and say our most difficult moments in this process were all in service of our shared goal—to build an equitable organization truly capable of achieving our mission to empower people everywhere to create the change they want to see.
We will continue to bring you along on this journey with us, sharing updates on both our progress and our setbacks. Thank you for holding us accountable.
Nick Allardice, Acting CEO, Change.org