The murder of Ahmaud Arbery and so many Black Americans killed by police horrified and awakened me. I decided I would no longer be silent, complacent, complicit and still. As the leader of a local organization, I can speak for where we stand. The Coastal Watershed Council stands with Black Lives Matter, condemns hate, racism and violence against Black people and commits to practicing anti-racism, allyship and intersectional environmentalism.
As a leader of a mostly white organization, I will start with listening and learning, which matches our organization’s strategy or “theory of change,” to transform the San Lorenzo River into a community destination that Santa Cruz is proud of and drawn to. For me, this means tuning in to our team and partners about where we are now and where we want to be – and broadening that listening circle to include more people of color who live, work and play along the lower San Lorenzo River.
Learning also includes acknowledging where we’re failing and correcting course. The Coastal Watershed Council is not yet an organization that is diverse, inclusive or showing a commitment to equity. How might our organization help Santa Cruz shape a Riverwalk that is a safe, nurturing place for people of color? Exploring those possibilities and learning more about how race is a part of our organizational culture, policies and programs are only the first steps for success that benefits all. CWC is taking the following steps and we invite you to join us by both learning and acting now:
- Beginning long overdue board and staff training by the end of this year. Reimbursing staff for money they spend on books, podcasts and trainings about anti-Black violence, race, white privilege, bias, etc. We’ve begun with internal discussions shaped by the Race Matters Toolkit from the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the piece titled white supremacy culture by Tema Okun available at dismantlingracism.org;
- Identifying and implementing ways to amplify the marginalized voices of Black, indigenous and people of color;
- Re-examining CWC’s culture, policies and procedures and changing what’s preventing diversity, equity, inclusion and access in our workplace and at the river;
- Holding weekly discussions about our progress and identifying how to measure progress in employee evaluation and professional development plans;
- Shifting internal budgets to reflect these priorities, including a review of our vendors, to support more businesses owned by people of color.
We’re guided by and are adopting the best practices of others further along in this work. That includes taking this intersectional environmentalist pledge, crafted by Leah Thomas:
If you’re reading this, we invite you as partners to learn, act and hold us accountable, to shape this effort to create something fully different from our past. That means challenging us to do meaningful work beyond just these words. Specifically, that means emailing or calling to share how we can advance this long overdue work. I thank you in advance for the partnership and support.