Our Equity Journey
A Letter from Our Executive Director
Dear Alliance Center Community,
At The Alliance Center, we believe that climate justice requires fighting for justice in all aspects of society. Every voice counts as we create a better future for people and our planet. Unfortunately, not every voice has been included in creating solutions. Conversations about climate change, often led by people with compounded systemic privilege, can exclude the communities most disproportionately impacted by climate change. These communities, typically low income communities and/or communities of color, get hit first, the hardest and take the longest to recover.
This is a symptom of systems that no longer serve us. Sustainability is a very homogenous industry. It is an industry of privilege—privilege to focus on the future instead of worrying about how to feed your family today. We can no longer silo these issues or their solutions. We must work at the intersection of social and environmental movements to build a regenerative future—a future where everyone has enough, all life can thrive and we are no longer exploiting ourselves, each other or the natural world.
To actualize that future, we must reimagine and reinvent literally all systems that currently govern our lives— and we must do it fast. This will take deep and coordinated collaboration with a diversity of change agents. How do we work at the pace and scale needed to address the climate crisis as well as the speed of trust needed for authentic equity work? How do we accomplish authentic equity work in a world so divided that we have forgotten how to respectfully disagree?
Equity work is forever work. It is a journey, not a box to check or a demographic to measure. Unraveling centuries of oppression and exploitation won’t happen overnight, but the arc of progress bends towards justice.
At The Alliance Center, we have made a great deal of progress—and we are not perfect. We are not striving for perfection, but rather progress, compassion and authenticity. This must be a humble journey to uplift the voices of traditionally marginalized people, not a tool for white people’s self improvement. We are deeply committed to centering our work in equity, but we know we have a long way to go.
When I started at The Alliance Center in 2015, the board and staff were 100% white. Through intention and internal work over the last four years, we are thrilled to celebrate and honor 50% racial diversity on our staff and 35% on our Board of Directors. 60% of our staff leadership are racially diverse and 80% identify as women. It is important to note that these demographics are certainly worth celebrating, but they are not the final destination. They are a starting point on a very long journey. Getting more diverse voices in the room can be misguided if the room still isn’t a safe space.
I personally have had to confront my own harmful beliefs, behaviors, privilege and fragility to be a better ally. As a white woman, I was formed by, but not aware of, systems of oppression while growing up. I used to believe racism was an individual problem perpetuated by “mean” people—not a deeply rooted systemic issue. I was, on rare occasions, exposed to racist comments, but didn’t recognize microaggressions. I knew there were racist people in the world, but didn’t realize just how much racism shaped the world we live in.
The systems that guide and govern our lives—from healthcare to education to how policy is created, how real estate is sold and how companies hire and operate—are all built on systems of oppression. Our country was founded and built on the backs and bodies of enslaved African Americans. Prior to that, the land was stolen from the Indigenous communities who called it home thousands of years before colonists arrived. This is a violent and appalling part of our nation’s history. While we cannot change what happened, we can do better every day from now on.
By 2018, I had been with the organization for three years and working throughout that time to add more racial diversity to our program members and approach our work through an environmental justice lens. We kept hitting a wall—a wall built by our own industry. No matter how hard we tried, we kept getting more of the same homogeneous job applicants, board member suggestions and white male “expert” panelists. I knew we needed help to make any progress.
Since 2018, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Consultant and expert Dr. Dwinita Mosby-Tyler of The HR Shop and The Equity Project has helped us examine how we repeat the cycle of oppression. She has worked with us to shape our practices with racial equity in mind. We began internally with our recruiting and hiring practices, equity training, employee handbook and team culture. During this time we also launched an initiative to rebuild our Board of Directors. We developed a skills and qualifications matrix and applied a racial equity lens. Through this, we built a board to help advance the work of the organization with racial, political, sexuality, spirituality and age diversity—something that had been lacking since our founding in 2004.
Dr. Mosby-Tyler also officially helped guide and craft The Alliance Center’s EDI (Equity, Diversity, Inclusion) strategy as part of our strategic planning process in 2019. In 2020, after years of our own internal equity journey, we launched our strategic plan with equity at the center.
This effort has since moved into our external work, helping to shape our programs and supporting us in making decisions through an equity lens. This includes a series of training sessions for our staff, board, tenants and Coalition members led by The Equity Project. We hope to continue transforming our well-meaning intentions into positive, helpful action that will keep pushing equity forward. It all starts with listening and learning with humility and vulnerability, and we can’t thank Dr. Mosby-Tyler and Ariana Flores enough for their willingness to work so deeply with us.
Times of disruption are opportunities to reflect on the practices that have brought us to the present moment—to identify and nourish what works and release what no longer serves. The pandemic is only one of many crises facing our economy. Climate change, biodiversity loss and systemic racism and inequality are only a few of the headwinds faced by our economy. Built on unequal prosperity, our energy, food, infrastructure, economic and democratic institutions are more fragile than we knew. Some people say that they want things to return to normal, but for too many, “normal” didn’t work. It was degenerative and detrimental to both people and the planet.
We are now at a tipping point of deep societal change. The Alliance Center is harnessing this potential for systems level change through the Regenerative Recovery Coalition. The Coalition started through deep community listening in 2020, which generated the eight fundamentals of a regenerative recovery. Equity is central to them all: it is the foundation upon which we build. When I started tracking our audience demographics back in 2015, The Alliance Center’s audience achieved only 5% racial diversity. Now, through the work of the Coalition, we have improved that to at least 36%—better, but still not where we need to be. So, what are we doing now?
We will continue to work with Dr. Mosby-Tyler and her team at both The Equity Project and The HR Shop. The Equity Project is guiding us once again to develop an equity blueprint for our next strategic framework, which will take us through 2027. We continue to conduct EDI trainings and workshops for our staff, board, tenants and Coalition members. The HR Shop will continue to help with policy review and recruiting as we build our team for the growth ahead. We also developed an equity lens upon which we now vet all decisions and projects.
Our internal staff is continuing to develop the competencies and areas of expertise needed to advance our EDI work both internally and through our programs. Yet we are constantly on a learning journey to accomplish deeper and better EDI work. I have personally joined the Colorado Inclusive Economy, a group of CEOs, executives and equity champions supporting each other as we build specific EDI strategies into each of our organizations.
The next chapter for us includes a continual focus on internal improvement, intentional relationship building and partnering with stakeholders, frontline communities and organizations who are centering their work in equity. The Coalition is growing wings to scale across the nation in the years ahead, and we aim to do so as an antiracist organization helping to lead the regenerative movement.
The Alliance Center has always demonstrated sustainability in action. It’s now time we focus on regeneration in action, with equity at the center of everything we do. The journey ahead is one of healing: healing the centuries of embodied trauma we have bestowed upon ourselves, each other and the natural world.
With gratitude and appreciation,
Brenna Simmons-St. Onge