Any journey, whether long or short, must begin with a first step.
Community Action Lehigh Valley (CALV) and a number of partners are embarking on a journey that will take more than five years, but they still had to start somewhere. Announcing the launch of a new initiative to the public may seem like the first step, but the original seed was actually planted a few years ago.
In November 2018, a small racial equity committee of about 10 people, including Dawn Godshall, executive director of Community Action Lehigh Valley, met with the goal of improving the state of diversity, equity and inclusion in the Lehigh Valley.
In the years that followed, this idea grew and grew more than tenfold, as organizations around the Lehigh Valley as well as members of the greater Lehigh Valley community all joined forces to work on the Color Initiative. Outside the Lines.
Color Outside the Lines, officially, is a 5-7 year strategic plan “that seeks to address racial inequality and disparity,” according to a statement from CALV. Since the first conversations in 2018, the initiative has developed five areas of focus: housing, education, criminal justice, economic opportunity and employment, and quality of life – the latter includes four sub-categories : health, mental health, arts and culture, and recreation. Community members and stakeholder organizations around the Lehigh Valley have staffed each focus area and are beginning to start conversations that will move the initiative forward.
Color Outside the Lines aims to help underserved communities, primarily Black and Indigenous Peoples of Color (BIPOC).
According to the statement, groups such as Lehigh Valley Partnership, Lehigh Valley Justice Institute, United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley, Promise Neighborhoods of the Lehigh Valley, FACES International, Ortiz Art Foundation, Unidos Foundation, Project Equity, The Chamber of Commerce of Greater Lehigh Valley, the Lehigh Valley Arts Council and more.
These groups are instrumental in effectively implementing the short- and long-term goals of Color Outside the Lines, said Candace Moody, community racial and ethnic justice organizer at CALV.
“Yes, the Color Outside the Lines initiative grew out of (CALV),” Moody said, “but for the next five to seven years, the majority of this work will be done through partnerships we have with different organizations and different people and volunteers.
Looking ahead five to seven years is difficult, so those involved in the initiative are currently focusing on short-term goals, which include both gaining support and increasing their involvement. As things get going, there will be information sessions for community members to learn about what’s going on and ways they can get involved in any of the areas of support. ‘intervention.
The plan itself, which is an ever-evolving document, Moody said, is constantly being edited and revised, but all of the focus areas are pretty concrete at this point. In the development process, each committee reduced the big questions into more simplistic terms to identify the basic inequity, then countered that inequity with multiple strategies and end goals to achieve over the years.
Scott Blair, associate vice president for diversity, equity, and inclusion at DeSales University, first got involved as part of the Color Outside the Lines planning committee about two or three years ago. years, when he was Director of Diversity at Northampton Community University.
Last fall he was named chair of the initiative, and having helped lay the groundwork, he is optimistic about what the initiative can do for the community.
“I hope this creates a community-wide understanding of the importance of being fair and inclusive for all members of the community,” Blair said. “Focusing on (areas of focus) not only supports and should support historically excluded populations, but in many ways helps us all.” For him, a truly thriving community is one in which all parties are equally supported, especially by the pillars on which the initiative is focused.
To achieve this, the committees of the different areas of intervention engage with the main players in the field in their field: for example, the education committee, of which Blair is a member in addition to presiding over the whole initiative, had conversations with educational institutions such as area school districts and local colleges.
Staff at these institutions, whether teachers, administrators or other education professionals, played a key role in developing the plan, Blair said. Going forward, the education committee will work with them on implementing short-term goals, including hiring and retaining teachers of color and training current teachers in cultural humility and training. on implicit biases.
Blair, who grew up in the Scranton-Wilkes Barre area but is originally from Venezuela, stressed the importance of representation for young people. “If you’re a person of color, you may not see yourself in the educational experience,” he said. “It’s everything from representing the diverse content and stories we learned in a history class to representing it uniformly in front of the class. It has an impact.
“Those are the things that we seek to highlight in the Color Outside the Lines initiative, the importance of being diverse, the importance of being inclusive. Having this awareness not only makes our community members feel like they belong here, but that they matter.
Other committees are beginning similar practices in their own areas – the Criminal Justice Committee and its partner Lehigh Valley Justice Institute are balancing short-term work on policing, bail, readmission, probation and parole with a years-long deep dive into the local Lehigh Valley criminal justice system.
One of the main measures already taken relates to the intervention area of mental health. The subcommittee has launched a program that provides free or low-cost mental health services to BIPOC and all other underserved communities. The program is already open, Moody said, and residents who want to apply can fill out a notification of interest form. More information can be found in the Color Outside the Lines section of the CALV website.
As the initiative continues, CALV and its partners will hold information sessions for community members who wish to get involved. There will be some over the next few months, Moody said, including committee-specific sessions. The Lehigh Valley Justice Institute is hosting a “School to Jail Pipeline” forum on March 30. Others will be announced on the CALV’s social networks.
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Connor Lagore can be reached at [email protected].