Hi everyone! It’s Zekiye Salman, VISTA Leader for the Pathways to Employment AmeriCorps VISTA Program. This is my third year with Michigan Nonprofit Association’s program, my second year as a VISTA Leader, and my last blog post! Normally, I’d take the opportunity to talk about trainings we are planning for our VISTA members or the upcoming recruitment season. However, those tend to be cyclical topics in the world of AmeriCorps, popping up every spring as VISTAs start thinking about next steps. So, instead, I’m going to talk about a commitment our program and organization has made to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion this year.
I’d like to start with the disclaimer that this isn’t a new concern of ours. Diversity and inclusion are listed as values of MNA. We have policies that promote the use of minority-owned vendors and we are working with nonprofits across the state to ensure that EVERYONE is counted in the 2020 Census. We even highlighted the #MeToo Movement in one of our quarterly newsletters last year. Within the VISTA program, we created space for pronouns designation and accommodations on onboarding forms, and we routinely include information on the intersections of race, gender, and poverty in our trainings and resources. Additionally, this year we provided a housing stipend for ALL of our VISTA members. This allows us to expand our service opportunities to everyone who is passionate about improving Michigan communities and eradicating poverty, rather than limiting VISTA program participation to individuals that have a safety net or external economic support.
All this to say that diversity, equity, and inclusion have been priorities in MNA since before I started serving with the VISTA program. And, they are intentionally incorporated into the work we do as an organization. But, because they are embedded in this other work, diversity, equity, and inclusion rarely have dedicated time and space. Most workplaces simply do not have either the ability or the will to interrogate how they embody their values, to recognize blind spots the organization might have, and to commit to making the changes necessary to create a more just and equitable environment.
MNA is doing just that. We have day-long conversations every quarter facilitated by MNA Board Member and YWCA Great Lakes Bay Region Interim Executive Director Kimberly Houston on the culture of MNA and how to better incorporate diversity, equity, and inclusion into every facet of our work. But, the conversation doesn’t end after these deep dives. We have follow up work, like completing our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Assessment or hosting smaller discussions within our departments on building culture with intention. Additionally, two weeks ago, our President and CEO Donna Murray-Brown brought in Dr. Peter Hammer, A. Alfred Taubman Endowed Chair at Wayne State University Law School, to talk about structural racism and the role of nonprofits in addressing racism with the board and staff.
As someone who cares deeply about making both Michigan and the nonprofit sector more equitable spaces, I am often disappointed with how slow change can be. In fact, learning how to navigate nonprofit organizational structure and operations has been one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned over the past three years. As such, I am so encouraged to serve with an organization engaged with and truly committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion. We could all use a little hope and inspiration in that department.