By Jennifer Anderson

As the fast pace of summer programming winds down, September brings a time of reflection for the Trellis staff.  Before the memories fade, our team dedicates considerable time looking back and identifying what went well, what did not work, and what we want to change in the coming year. The process is full of curiosity, inspiration, and optimism. It is a healthy and kind dialogue, steeped in creativity and intellectual challenges — the sort of back and forth that I have found to be the most satisfying in my career to date.  It can also sometimes be painful and hard.

During this time, I have also been evaluating our diversity, equity, and inclusion progress as an organization.  Since the time of collective intense reflection that followed the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery in 2020, and the plan we put in place to tackle racism and diversity within our own walls, I am questioning what we accomplished and how far have we come.

When I feel deep and listen to my heart, I cannot ignore the answer that echoes back to me. “Not far enough”, it says.

Have we made progress?  We absolutely have.  Have we learned a lot?  No question.  Do I feel proud of where we are today relative to where we were in June of 2020?  Somewhat, but not as much as I would like.

One of the things that never sat well with me during my years working in corporate marketing, and later as a consultant in corporate sustainability, is the time-honored tradition of updating stakeholders in a way that puts a shiny spin on things that did not go so well. At the end of such reports, typically in the second to last paragraph, there is mention of “a few things we still need to work on”, for fear of losing sales or a dip in share value.  In contrast, I have found it immensely refreshing and profoundly worthy of trust and respect when bold, honest leaders dare to tell it like it truly is.

As the ED of this organization, I feel empowered and freed to report out to you the way I am truly experiencing it. As such, I will start with where I feel we fell short. The list includes, but is not limited to, the following areas where I wish we had done better/more or where we clearly bumped up against shortcomings in our process or approach:

  • We did not update our stakeholders on our progress and status frequently enough
  • We did not do enough of the REAL work to ask the hard questions and engaging in the broader community specifically around race
  • When we brought diverse individuals onto our team, there were areas where we had not thought things through and thus resulted in pain and discomfort for them and the rest of the team
  • During the summer season, our internal education and reflection process around DEI floundered, which cost us
  • Our focus on racial justice overshadowed other areas of DEI, such as gender and sexual orientation, that are very important to our team and the community we serve
  • We were not adequately prepared as a team to handle challenges with the youth in areas of inclusion, which resulted in pain for some of our teammates (and possibly participants)
  • We do not have a good plan for how to prioritize areas of DEI to work on for our organization

I am sure there are more than I have listed above, but those are the ones that rise to the surface.

In terms of what we have accomplished, I can say that I am proud of the following successes our team had over the last 14 months:

  • We created a detailed three phase Anti-Racism Plan and a correlating robust learning resources database that we have shared with other organizations and leaders
  • We stayed true to the course of internal self-education (Phase 1 of the plan), having sessions at least every other week (until the summer) to dive deep into and discuss a particular topic
  • We have been as honest and open as we know how, working with incredible intention and authenticity to encourage people to speak up, share their truth, and to create a safe and inviting space for them to do so
  • We completed a strategic plan that prioritizes diversifying our board and staff and engaging with the communities we serve specifically around diversity
  • We began collecting and reporting publicly on diversity data regarding our staff and board
  • We just recently established an Internal Affairs committee of the board that is charged with working on the DEI strategy for the organization
  • We had the most diverse team in the history of the organization this year

Based on the experiences over this time, I find myself, and our senior leadership, grappling with some tough questions that we will work to understand and address as we go forward.

  • How do we continue to proceed on this path of education and learning in a way that invites input and feedback from those who matter most without burdening them or causing additional suffering?
  • With all the competing obligations of running a public charity, how much is the right amount of time to spend on this work? How do I balance it with other priorities?
  • How do we honestly reflect on our history as a country, as an organization, and as a team, and not let the pain and shame get in the way of loving ourselves and staying the course?

As the Executive Director, I take total ownership of the areas where we fall short in living up  to our mission and our values.  I am eager to tackle these extremely difficult questions and I look forward to the progress we will make in the coming year.

Most importantly, I invite YOU, our fabulous supporters, participants, and partners, to join with us. I encourage you to tell us about your experience with us. Tell us what is important to you. And get involved if you are interested!  We warmly welcome your input and participation. Without it, we cannot do this journey justice.