#ynpengage: Diversity and Inclusion
YNPN Portland recently collaborated with the Urban League of Portland and several other community partners to host a day of service for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. As part of the event, YNPNers and other members of the community put together personal hygiene, dental care, and school supply kits for children and homeless youth. The event was an effort to reach across boundaries, groups, and neighborhoods to reflect King's vision of the Beloved Community.
This event is just one part of YNPN Portland's efforts to bring social equity to the front and center and make diversity and inclusion a core part of its work. We spoke to YNPN Portland Board Chair Kate Elliott about the event and how their chapter is pursuing "a diverse and powerful social sector" in Portland.
It looks like the MLK Day of Service was a big success! Can you tell us more about the partnership and how it came about?
As a new and growing group, YNPN Portland has made it a priority to meet with other organizations and groups supporting young professionals, especially those associated with social sector organizations. We also want to prioritize being inclusive, so although Urban League Young Professionals doesn't have a nonprofit focus, Urban League is a well-respected civil rights organization and we knew we wanted to be connected to the dynamic young professionals involved with their young professionals group. Once we met, we realized they bring incredible experience and perspective to facilitating dialogue on racism and social justice, and that we had experience planning and hosting professional development events that might help their work to bring those opportunities to their membership. When we found out both groups were planning to do something for MLK Jr. Day of Service, we figured it made sense to start there.
It sounds like the Day of Service was a first step in what will hopefully be many more projects. Is there anything else currently in the pipeline that you're working on?
The MLK Jr. Day of Service project was a great success, and we do hope it is the start of an ongoing partnership between our chapter and the other groups who worked to host the event. We don't have any other events in the works, but we have committed to supporting one another's programs by spreading the word, helping to brainstorm and secure space, presenters, etc. In that regard, although our programs sometimes have different audiences, we know we can share our networks and advice with one another to help each other be successful.
How have the principles of diversity and inclusion been integrated into your other programming and chapter activities?
To be honest, this is still something we struggle with. Our chapter's board and committees are decidedly not a very diverse group, and we're still learning how to make our group one that makes diversity and inclusion intentional. We know that partnering with other organizations simply isn't enough. We need to work to make YNPN Portland a group that makes diversity and inclusion a priority, and that takes time and hard work. We're open to suggestions from other folks from the broader YNPN community who have figured some of this out, and will certainly share our progress as we move forward.
YNPN Portland member Liza Jacobson with the kits
Do you have any strategies or advice for starting conversations around diversity and inclusion? I think many people and organizations in the sector support these principles, but aren't comfortable or sure how to talk about them. Is this something you've encountered and have you gained any insight into how to start these important conversations?
Well, I think the point is that they are often not comfortable conversations, and you have to be OK with that. Working collaboratively in itself is tough, but working collaboratively with people who haven't worked together is even tougher. It isn't easy, so it takes humility and commitment. You have to be willing to be embarrassed, or wrong, question your assumptions and the way you approach things, apologize, call yourself out, call other people out, and all the other less-than-thrilling parts of forging new relationships that are complicated by social diseases like racism & classism. But if you want your group to be representative of the community you have to be willing to put the work in. If you look around and your membership looks, talks and thinks the same, that is because it's designed to be welcoming to those people, and you have to get out of your comfort zone to make being inclusive a reality.
How do you think an organization like YNPN (both at the national and local chapter level) can and should be working to make our sector more diverse?
There are so many things we could be doing. I'm hopeful each local chapter looks at the history and current state of their community and thinks critically about how their chapter fit into some of the social dynamics at play. So many of us work in nonprofit organizations that seek to address looming social problems, and YNPN can be a place where we think about the systemic issues that help, hinder or cause that work to be necessary. For example: how does racism impact the environmental issues your organization works on, or the hunger another YNPN member is trying to alleviate, and the access to education someone else is passionate about?
These are important conversations that a multi-organization network like YNPN is perfectly poised to have. There was a speaker presentation portion of the MLK Jr. Day of Service project, and several speakers offered their thoughts on how historical racial inequities like redlining have played out and continue to have an effect on the Portland we live and work in today. It was so important to have that conversation as part of our day of service, and I am hopeful we'll be able to generate conversations on systemic issues like that through future YNPN programs. That's one thing I think continued partnership could do - help us connect up with the leaders who know those stories and will graciously share them with us to give context to our passion and work. We just have to make sure we're really listening!
Do you have any advice for local chapters and individuals who might be considering starting a project/partnership like this that crosses sectors?
I think I alluded to some of this above, but collaboration is tough work. It means you don't always get your way and have complete control, and that can be a really hard feeling. It can take more time and compromise, but if you're committed to being inclusive you don't get there by planning programs and events with a bunch of people who have the same lived experiences and agree on all but the finest of points. It is important to listen, and offer your time and partnership with true and genuine intentions.
We want to thank Kate for taking the time to talk with us about her chapter's work. And we want to hear from you:
How does your organization or local YNPN chapter make diversity and inclusion part of your work?