May 20, 2021, 4:30 PM
I’m a Black woman adopted from the child welfare system by White parents, and I’ve been aware of the fight for racial equality all my life. But it wasn’t until five years ago that, in the course of my work, I started focusing on equity. This is the idea that we must adjust resources, transform systems and remove obstacles to create fair and just opportunities and outcomes for Black, Indigenous and other people of color (BIPOC) so that they are supported toward success.
As an assistant county administrator for the highly diverse Broward County in Florida, I was reviewing data from our child welfare system and was struck by the disparities and disproportionality. Black families were being decimated in two ZIP codes, with child removal rates two and three times higher than that of White families.
I knew right then that we had to identify the root cause of the disparities reflected in systems that perpetuate racism—while purporting to help people—and are often a barrier to health for BIPOC in this nation.
So, we implemented a comprehensive training program that goes beyond unconscious perceptions and implicit bias to directly address systemic racism, shifting the focus away from individual bigotry. Having a common analysis and language as our foundation allows us to communicate effectively as we craft new services, policies, and procedures using an antiracist lens.
To date, we have trained over 3,000 people, including service recipients, business, law enforcement, social service agencies, the local school board (including staff and students), and the public health department.
Building an infrastructure to support long-term change
Racial equity training is just the beginning. We are building an “infrastructure of support” so that people can truly practice what they are learning and support long-term change. We hold a facilitated debrief session after each training workshop to help participants navigate new emotions they experience, such as excitement, anger, and sadness, and explore questions they may grapple with.
White, Black, and Latinx caucuses also meet each month to deepen their analysis on racism and race equity work by reading works or watching videos on racism and race equity. They engage in ongoing facilitated conversations about how an antiracist philosophy plays out in practice.
Here are additional ways in which the county is working to become antiracist:
- We’re continually assessing our progress towards becoming antiracist. Then, each agency works to change policies and practices that unintentionally perpetuate racism or racist practices. For example, over the past several years Broward County Human Services examined its requirements for the nonprofit service providers it funds to ensure we’re not excluding any groups. In our current cycle of funding, we’ve encouraged organizations to take an antiracist approach when serving primarily BIPOC populations. That means committing to becoming antiracist by participating in training and conducting an organizational assessment. Our next funding cycle will require these steps.
- Last December, the Broward County Commission approved the establishment of a race equity taskforce to hold the county accountable to its goals. The commission also has approved a criminal justice and police review board, called for in the wake of George Floyd’s murder last year. The board will examine and seek to rectify disparities in the criminal justice system, from arrest rates all the way to sentencing rates.
- Our business community has also stepped up in a meaningful way. The Broward County Chamber of Commerce, the Broward Alliance’s Prosperity Partnership, and others have prioritized racial equity as an issue to address through improved access to resources such as jobs, education, and self-sufficiency.
- “Equity liaisons” in all 250 of our public schools create plans to increase equity in each school. The school district is also training high school kids in antiracist analysis so as they mature they can bring an antiracist perspective to their places of education or work.
- The Florida Department of Health in Broward County is continuing to focus on health equity through a racial equity lens, particularly within the context of COVID-19 response and mitigation strategies.