People in Circle
by Mary Pender Greene, LCSW-R, CGP, Sandra Bernabei, LCSW, and Lisa V. Blitz, Ph.D., LCSW-R
Last time, we explored explored the Undoing Racism principles of Developing Leadership and Maintaining Accountability, emphasizing the need to develop multicultural groups of partners, create meaningful dialogues about organizational culture, and listen to learn from people who experience racial oppression. Today we focus on networking as crucial to finding and developing partners who can join together and mobilize for change.
As we have emphasized in each column, efforts to have an impact on your own organization and working within your own sphere of influence are essential. Local work is not enough, however. No single organization can continue to function from an anti-racist framework without connection to the other systems that surround it and also have an impact on the community those organizations serve. Further, no individual can sustain and grow in racial equity work without the support and reciprocal mentorship of community and professional partners.
As we act to change our own organizations, we network out to connect with, learn from, and influence people from different sectors. Networking supports several important pieces of the work. Through networking, we (1) expand the power base, (2) enhance accountability to diverse groups, and (3) ensure that the movement continues even if one entity collapses or one individual moves away from the work. In this way, no aspect of the work is dependent on one person or one organization.
For this column, we did some networking of our own, and reached out to our partner, Joyce James, LMSW-AP, former Deputy Commissioner of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services currently working as a Racial Equity Consultant. Joyce led the Texas DFPS work addressing racial disproportionality, and she states, “Networking was crucial from the beginning. At the regional level, for the first time we were looking at our work and understanding that we could not bring about change in child welfare if we were not working with the community and the people who experienced the system.”
Building accountability with the community fosters further professional networking. From Joyce’s experience, “Our work is not only about how children, youth, and families experience us, but how they experience other systems. It became very important to engage others and partner with people from other systems that touched lives of our families.”
Educating others is key to racial equity networking. We cannot assume that others, even other social workers, will have an understanding of structural racism. Networking often involves educating to build a common understanding of the issue and a common language to communicate that understanding. For us, the PISAB Undoing Racism Workshop (URW) has been an invaluable tool, and we have been fortunate to live in large metropolitan areas where we can recruit dozens of people each month to attend trainings.
Joyce also uses URW as a vehicle for organizing. “I spend a lot of time talking to people to bring them into the conversation. I know that [URW] provides the kind of education people needed if we’re going to have a broad movement for social change so I’m committed to getting people to go to the training,” she says.
Many people do not work in communities that attract national trainers, but networking among local resources can help develop your own training/networking base. Our co-author Lisa now lives in a small diverse city surrounded by mostly White rural communities. She works closely with a multiracial group of residents who have developed their own trainings on structural racism that serve to stimulate community conversations. The core of this network is Lea Webb, a community organizer and Racial Equity Consultant who works with schools, city government, and other organizations. Lea, an African American woman primarily teaching and mentoring White people, notes that, “Working in a spirit of collaboration is critical in engaging small communities. Leading conversations around race is challenging and requires committed partners from diverse backgrounds to achieve systemic change. We need dialogue, empathy, commitment, and passion to gain momentum while keeping balance so we can move forward together.”
Racial equity work is often exhausting and can easily become frustrating or confusing. Networking provides the moral support that helps to prevent burnout, connects us with others who can help us find creative solutions to confounding obstacles, and keeps us energized. As Joyce notes, “As resistant as systems are to change, if you have a net that works, you have partners who are also working for change. I’ve lasted this long in the work exactly because of the net we built.”
Organize your network. In our next column, we move to Analyzing Power—the core of the work!
Mary Pender Greene, LCSW-R, CGP, is an organizational consultant, psychotherapist in private practice, career/executive coach, professional speaker, and co-founder of the AntiRacist Alliance.
Sandra Bernabei, LCSW, is President of the National Association of Social Workers—New York City Chapter. She is a founding member of the AntiRacist Alliance.
Lisa V. Blitz, Ph.D., LCSW-R, is a social worker, researcher, and educator with 25 years of experience in mental health and social justice centering on culturally responsive trauma-informed practice and organizational development.