Beginning Our Journey to ColorBravery

For the last 55 years, NCADA, now PreventEd, has promoted the idea that addiction is a disease that should be addressed head-on. That it should not be ignored in the hopes that it will “go away” nor should it be accepted as a “given.” We challenge institutions to do better for those with substance use disorder, and to treat folks humanely. We have launched statewide campaigns and made commercials teaching caregivers how to “talk about” alcohol and other drugs with their children. We teach teenagers how to confront their friends who are using in a caring way. We preach the value of “courageous conversations” when it comes to substance use disorder. And yet, for my tenure at PreventEd (12 years), I’m ashamed to admit that we have been a bit hypocritical. We haven’t had “courageous conversations” about perhaps the biggest elephant in the room: racism. To our credit, and to the credit of those who came before me, we tried. We’ve talked at length about how to better serve our clients. We’ve talked about the need to have a staff and Board that better reflects the people we serve and talked about how to recruit staff of color. We’ve held professional development trainings on poverty, trauma and toxic stress. We’ve created a robust non-discrimination statement and added it to our policy manual and our website.

Despite all of those efforts, we didn’t do the real work to un-center whiteness at PreventEd. We didn’t challenge how our institution is created and structured. We didn’t question how our system gave opportunities to some, while overlooking others. We didn’t encourage “courageous conversations” about race amongst our staff. We didn’t allow our staff the space to discuss the racial injustice that dominates the headlines. We didn’t disaggregate our program data by race (or gender) to ensure that our outcomes are the same. We didn’t examine our staff engagement at a deeper level, and we didn’t probe to see whether our staff satisfaction varied by race. And our white staff (including me) certainly did not learn about our privilege and how to use that privilege to be anti-racist.

But now it’s time for change.

Thankfully, some long time employees (and a few zillennials) had the courage to agitate and challenge the status quo by nudging me into action. They have pushed me to use my privilege—as a white person in power—to address racism and racial equity head-on at PreventEd.

We currently are participating in the United Way’s, “Building a Framework for Advancing Racial Equity” pilot program, designed to help select member agencies take system-level action.

  • Establish a common language within PreventEd for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) terms.
  • Update our procurement policy to reflect a racial equity lens.
  • For the first time in our history, include a budget line item for diversity, equity, and inclusion work.
  • Build capacity to disaggregate data by race and gender by hiring a Data Specialist to enter more of our programmatic data.
  • Create a “lending library” in the break room to provide DEI books and resources for staff.
  • Survey staff perspective on the racial climate at PreventEd.

We have engaged with Undo Bias, a consulting firm, to accompany us in our work. They have led us in various caucusing exercises and have helped us create an internal Racial Equity Committee. The Committee is composed of 8 staff, plus me. Their self-identified goals are: to create a process by which staff can confidentially report critical incidents of intolerance; provide “lunch and learns” on various DEI—related topics; and encourage staff to be “colorbrave.”

And now our real work begins. Because now that we have addressed the elephant in the room, we must do something about it. Our internal goal is to eliminate the disparity of employee experiences at PreventEd, from hiring to retiring, within 3 years. We have identified internal benchmarks and developed outcomes to measure our success and track our progress. We realize this a lofty goal. But staff at PreventEd staff are scrappy and determined. We set ridiculously high goals and then we move mountains to achieve them. This isn’t a trend, and it’s not a knee-jerk reaction to satisfy funders or some disgruntled staff. This work is the right thing to do and it’s long overdue. Feel free to hold me, and the rest of the Agency, accountable.