"There's this movement towards people wanting to better understand how they can be part of creating a more equitable America, and as a result we are finally able to begin partnering with organizations that historically may have been more resistant to dig into DEI work."
Jackie, can you tell us a little bit about your background and what led you to the position you currently hold at Intentional Futures?
Absolutely. I was born on a West Indian Island, two years post-colonization, and spent most of my life there until I moved at 17 to Cuba to study. These aspects of my life, especially the culture, are extremely important as it relates to my lived experience and how it informs my passion and the work that I do.
I've spent the majority of my career working on complex social issues like behavioral health, mental health and substance addiction, and homelessness, while always embedding racial equity in my approach to addressing those issues.
For example, in my experience working with predominantly brown and black young people diagnosed with mental health conditions in the inner city of Philadelphia, I saw the multitude of disparities present in the community– homelessness, chronic and persistent behavioral health, mental health and substance use disorders.
It led me to understand that if we are to effectively address and potentially eradicate these issues, we must apply a racial equity lens to them. I began to focus increasingly more and more on diversity, equity, inclusion, anti-racism, and equity work.
Most recently, I’ve been working as a consultant doing this work with agencies, speaking and writing about the issue at a national level. And it continues to be a passion today, which is why I was excited to join iF to grow the DEI practice here.
You’ve been doing this work for awhile– it seems like DEI is now this buzzword that's at the forefront of many conversations these days. Can you unpack that for us? Why this, why now?
I think the times that we're in has created an exciting opportunity to advance this work. In the early part of my career, I found that there was some tension that existed at the intersection of work that has social impact and social benefit, and issues of race and equity.
A few things have impacted the way in which we think about and talk about race and equity in our society recently– George Floyd was one of those issues. That tragedy occurred at a time where the country had no choice but to pay attention, and reflect on what it meant about who we are and how we interact with one another. It created this opportunity for us to begin engaging in some honest and real conversations.
There's this movement towards people wanting to better understand how they can be part of creating a more equitable America, and as a result we were finally able to begin partnering with organizations that historically may have been more resistant to dig into DEI work. I still believe that there's a lack of understanding as to the importance of the anti-racism journey, which is why it’s important we continue to educate and elevate this discussion.
Could you get specific about the kinds of offerings that you could envision working with a client on?
Initially, we are able to offer a DEI audit or an assessment to the state of equity within an organization. The second is helping folks improve and increase the equity lens, to understand the principles and practices, and how they apply them in ways that bring about the results they're looking for. A third piece would be creating strategic plans: how do you implement these things throughout all facets of your organization? The final piece is that we want to continue to remain in relationship with the client as a strategic thought partner, so that we are available to provide technical assistance throughout the process of implementation. I want to finally acknowledge that this is all an iterative process, so things may change. We’re going to be learning as we go as we customize our approach in partnership with our clients.
What kind of things is iF doing as an organization to make sure that we're prepared to take on more of this work? Are we walking the walk?
Great questions– I think ‘the walk’ is a bit of an abstract concept, we're still defining what that is. I think it varies across organizations, and in some regard, we're all doing some kind of walking, maybe not all in the same direction.
My work at iF is predated by a consultant by the name of Michelle Major, who conducted an assessment and evaluation of the organization and made some recommendations. Following those recommendations, the company decided to hire for my position and continue to build out the practice.
One of the things that I've been really pleased about is that, in addition to trying to launch this work as a practice, we've been very deliberate about what this work looks like internally. In some ways, we are test driving this thing on ourselves. I have found members at all levels of the organization to be very engaged– there was and continues to be a real appetite for this work, and an understanding of what an anti-racist and equitable Intentional Futures will look like.
That is all to say that Intentional Futures is on its way. This is never a destination, it's always a journey. We are continuing to move forward, looking at how we can offer this sort of process to partners, new and returning.
You alluded to it a little bit, but what kind of clients are you hoping to work with?
Let me first say that I want to honor the work that has already been done by organizations led by BIPOC, women and LGBTQI folks. But I do envision that there is an opportunity here for Intentional Futures to step into this space in an intentional way, no pun intended.
When I think about the kind of clients I want to work with, the short answer would be difficult ones, meaning organizations that historically have not really considered this work. To clarify, I'm not calling them difficult, but I'm saying that the work may be somewhat challenging.
In addition to that, iF wants to partner with communities that want to do better, that want to thrive, that are saying, “I want to create equal access and opportunity for all.” That might mean nonprofits, it might mean government agencies, it might mean folks looking to solve complex problems that have equity concerns attached to those two as well.
I'm excited about what opportunities may lie ahead of us, and just really looking forward to doing work that brings mutual benefits to the organizations we'd work with, the employees, the constituents, the consumers and the communities as well.