Two weeks ago on social media, we shared our communal grief for the continued loss of Black lives to brutal violence. With an understanding that these recent cries for justice represent centuries of generational trauma, violence and fear, we also made the commitment to bear witness, do the work, and demand justice.
Tacoma/Pierce County Habitat for Humanity is faith-based organization, but we realize that faith alone is not enough. We are called to build a world where we share one humanity. Our faith must be coupled with works and action, and we acknowledge that we have a lot of work to do. We commit to being actively anti-racist and to affirm, through word and action, that Black Lives Matter. We stand with all our neighbors, working toward equity for all marginalized populations.
As a historically white-led organization, doing the work includes confronting bias in hidden corners; asking tough questions of ourselves – both as an organization and as individuals in leadership; better use our privilege to amplify the voices of Black leaders; and just doing better– even if it means we show up imperfectly or don’t have the right answers.
Confronting the status quo means understanding that historic discrimination in U.S. housing policy — particularly discrimination against Black Americans — is one of the chief drivers of racial inequities that persist today. In Tacoma we have our own history of redlining, which is a reflection of nationwide discriminatory housing practices that systematically denied people of color access to, and the opportunity of, homeownership for decades. Even today the disparity is sobering. According to the most recent Census, Black homeownership rates are the lowest of any racial group in our country at just 44%. (In comparison, the white homeownership rate is 73.7%).
Tacoma/Pierce County Habitat for Humanity believes that everyone deserves a safe home that can serve as a foundation for education, professional achievement, and personal growth.
Jonathan Reckford, Habitat for Humanity International’s CEO, recently wrote, “Habitat for Humanity was born on a farm in South Georgia on the theory of radical inclusivity, at a time when inclusivity was seen by some as an existential threat. Habitat is more than a housing nonprofit. It’s a vision of a world where we share one humanity. It’s a vision of a world we still believe in and fight to build every day.”
As our Board of Directors is called into the national conversation on racism, they have been reflecting on Habitat for Humanity’s legacy as a vehicle for reconciliation. Habitat has always sought inclusivity, and our construction sites often serve as a place where people holding disparate views can come together for a common cause.
Some of the Board’s initial actions steps are to open conversations within our local organization on how to create change, including:
- Revisit our value statements with an eye to strengthening points of equity and inclusion and rededicating ourselves to the work
- Review and update policies and procedures; ensure we are explicitly anti-racist in our practices
- Review board governance documents for any deficiency about our priorities in celebrating our differences
- Formulate an actionable strategy to improve the boards’ diversity regarding race, gender, work experience, and age
- Discussion on the merits of adopting a Board values statement on the topic of diversity, to be acknowledged and signed at the beginning of each year
At the staff level we are also committed to tangible action, including:
- Listening and learning from the Black leaders and voices within our field, amplifying and celebrating the work of people of color
- Taking bold actions for racial equity through our advocacy efforts
- Participating in continuing education opportunities around the topics of redlining and racial inequality in housing disparities, pressing issues in housing including health and the impacts of COVID-19 on low-income families and particularly in communities of color
- Opening dialogue about exclusionary and unjust practices through our work and in our workplace
Habitat can be a vehicle for reconciliation. But it only happens if we make it so.
This is a more than a moment in the history of our nation; this is a movement. The need for our hands, voices, prayers and participation is greater than ever. I hope that you will join us in listening, learning, and acting for justice and lasting change.
Let us commit to the work before us, doing what we can – and perhaps even what we think we can’t – to make a true difference in our world. We will lead with housing justice, firmly rooted in our vision that everyone deserves a decent place to call home.
As we move forward, however imperfectly, I remain ready to listen and to learn. Please don’t hesitate to contact me with feedback, questions or thoughts.
Maureen S. Fife
There are countless ways to make a difference, and I believe it is up to each of us to choose the way in which we do. But in case you need help with where to start, Habitat for Humanity International’s employee resource group, the Black Employee Success Team, endorses the following list – to which we’ve added a few of our own favorites.
Map image courtesy of Robert K. Nelson, LaDale Winling, Richard Marciano, Nathan Connolly, et al., “Mapping Inequality,” American Panorama, ed.