Furthering Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at RAHFH

By Glasa Gottschalk

The world has been forever changed by 2020.  At the Rockford Area Habitat for Humanity (RAHFH), it was the year we launched our first ever Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Committee.  Alongside the rest of our country, our organization was confronted with the inequity existing in our policy and structure as a nation, community and organization.  Faced with this realization, and the desire to create sustainable change, RAHFH brought together board members and volunteers last June to further and forward the conversation around inequity and injustice.

You may have heard the term DEI thrown around casually this past year, but what is DEI?  Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is the work of identifying and addressing opportunities to create fair treatment, access, opportunity and advancement to all who have been traditionally excluded due to policies, processes, or accessibility.  The work of the DEI committee these past 7 months has been to address newly identified inequitable practices, and to construct a more equitable process within the Rockford Area Habitat for Humanity.   

Maya Angelou has said, “Do the best you can until you know better.  Then when you know better, do better.”  Since coming to formation, it has been the duty of the DEI Committee to continue to push the Rockford Area Habitat for Humanity to both know and do better.   This has come by bringing awareness, analysis, action and accountability around the practices and processes of the organization, and to do the hard work required. This includes not only looking within our organization, but in also leading transformation in this space in our community.

Since coming to formation for bi-weekly meetings last year, this dedicated group of committee members has been tirelessly active.  As of recently, the committee hosted four free community conversations around equity.  The first focused on Richard Rothstein’s book, The Color of Law, which included a compelling conversation regarding de facto and de jure segregation in the United States (click here for our blog post reflecting on the Color of Law community conversation).  To deepen the conversation, the second community discussion focused on the documentary movie Owned, which centered on national housing and home ownership history.  In December, the group turned the attention to two pieces for the third community discussion.  One piece, an article written by Brad Plumer and Nadja Popovich featured in the New York Times, and the second piece, a Ted Talk by David Lammy, both of which discussed the intersectionality between climate change and inequity in housing, shedding new light on connections to other racial disparities.  Most recently, the committee hosted a discussion on Ibram X. Kendi’s book, “How to Be Antiracist”. These events brought together community members to further the conversation around injustice, bring new awareness around housing inequality today, and to enlist each participant to reflect on U.S. historical policy and its impact on today’s discriminatory policies.  Lastly, and most importantly, it engaged members around their personal and societal awareness, biases, and challenged participants to create action with this new found insight.

Within our organization, the DEI committee quickly became aware of opportunities for change and has been evaluating the affiliate’s programs and processes.  This began with improving the process to recruit, evaluate and onboard new board members to assure that our board of directors is a representation of our diverse community.   This also meant taking a look at the dynamic and composition of our current board and creating new ways and policies to include equitable practices in board member recruitment and selection.

As we move into 2021, the committee has adopted a framework for the journey ahead.  It is both a personal and collective one, which supports members in bringing awareness to biases both as an individual with a lived experience, and as a member and participant of our affiliate.  The framework, which is a modified adapted version from the Sustained Engagement series from University of Wisconsin, includes working from awareness to analysis to action and allyship through to accountability.  As the committee adopts the framework, the work this year is to take account of all known opportunities and categorize them.  The committee will then thoroughly evaluate each individual piece to explore it more fully.  Through the evaluation process, they will then address inequitable policies and practices as they arise.

As our Executive Director, Keri Asevedo, quoted in her pledge made last year, “Habitat for Humanity was founded and continues to believe that everyone – and we mean EVERYONE – deserves a safe, affordable place to live, and this movement – this very powerful movement – has strengthened our drive to be a leader in the fight for equality.”  It is the honor and duty of this devoted DEI group to do the important work of creating lasting change towards a more equitable future.  The year 2020 may always be remembered infamously.  But through the lens of our DEI Committee, it is the year where awareness rose, momentum ignited, and a perfect storm culminated to release the veil between lived experiences.  All that remains is the pursuit of equity to further equality for all humankind.

Glasa Gottschalk is the Vice President of the RAHFH Board of Directors. She is the owner of GII Coaching & Consulting, and is also a Life & Business Mindset Coach.