As the retired director of equity for one of the largest school districts in the country for over a decade, I thought I would use some of my time to share my reflections on what I learned along the way with other leaders.

I became the director of equity in my district in 2011. The district had been focused on racial equity work for eight years when I took the helm.  At that time, there were not many districts doing equity work at the level we were.  Luckily for, me the former director was one of my mentors and could help me navigate the work at the district level, which was very different than leading the work at the school level.  At the time, I didn’t know that it was not the norm to have someone that had done the job for almost a decade to have as a mentor soundboard.


The idea of equity is a simple concept but very difficult to operationalize. A great deal of weight comes with leading this work, and as a person of color, which many of us are, adds the dual burden of this work as someone who not only experiences racism but also has to lead the work as they are processing world events.  This realization became real to me with the murder of George Floyd.  I could not believe that I lived in a world where a Black man was lynched on national television. I have only seen a few seconds of the footage because it is still too painful to watch.  My brain could not absorb what I saw on my television. Then my phone and email started blowing up with people who wanted to know how the system was going to respond, what were we my team was going to do to support others in dealing with this situation.


What I needed was a minute to absorb what had happened to this Black man who could have been my brother, my cousin, my friend, my Morehouse brother, or hell, me, but I didn’t have that time. I had to push through as we always do.  My phone was buzzing and ringing off the hook with questions about how we were going to support staff in navigating this situation. My team had to pull together and come up with a response to support staff and students by designing a process that we could model with leaders to facilitate conversation in their schools and workplaces. The drop-in virtual sessions we created were greatly appreciated by the district leaders and provided them with the ability to engage their staff members.


This situation made think about the weight of leading this work at this time. I have always found the work to be heavy but the political and social context of the last decade being hopeful that change was possible to living through four years of a complete nightmare, the ongoing massacre of black bodies, and the rise in interpersonal and systematic racism. Even with all the despair I was appreciative about working in a district where there were many staff, students, and community members committed to the work.  The work we had done as a system had built a critical mass of people committed to the pursuit of equity.


During the low times that we experienced as a district and as a country the community that our equity work had built would reach out and check in on me and my team. I appreciated the calls and emails checking in on me during these times from friends and colleagues that understood the weight of our work. I tried to make it a habit to do the same for others.  It is important to know that people see you and appreciate you so that you can push through in challenging times. Going back to George Floyd I was not able process the events of that day until two weeks later, and I broke down in tears because of all that I had bottled up realizing I observed a Black man being lynched for the world to see. The equity person needs support just like everyone else. We are people, we care deeply, and we are impacted by racism and all the other isms that everyone else experiences.


When onboarding new staff members, I always share with them this work will consume you.  You will start to see how racism plays out in every aspect of our lives. This is also true for the people leading the work coupled with the fact that too often we are asked to carry the inequities of the entire district as if it is our sole responsibility to fix it. We have to make sure we take care of our mental health and wellbeing, especially when white supremacist are boldly doing everything in their power to dismantle the multicultural coalition that threatens their power. These attacks are taking place on virtually every front and can be overwhelming, but that is what they want. It is essential to stay clearheaded and centered.  Here are a few things to consider that helped keep me centered during my tenure.


For Equity Folks

  1. Make sure that you are clear on the “WHY” of your work.
  2. Be realistic about what you have control over.
  3. Create a vision for what you want to accomplish.
  4. If you have a team, make sure that you are creating spaces for them to decompress.
  5. It is not your job to fix the ENTIRE This is important, so I will say it again for the people in the back of the room. It is not your job to fix the ENTIRE system.
  6. Celebrate the small steps.
  7. Ending racism is the long game. This kind of change will not happen in a few years. You will not get it all done in your tenure.
  8. Push for others to recognize their role in leading equity. Provide support and hold them to it.
  9. It is ok to turn off for a while and just live. In fact it is needed.
  10. Have someone or a group of colleagues serve as a support group.
  11. This consideration is an extension of number two, read fiction or some other non-fictional materials.


For Supervisors of Equity Folks

  1. Remember, this is YOUR work too. It is everyone’s responsibility to operationalize equity in the district or institution.
  2. You must communicate, support, and enforce the work in all of your messaging.
  3. It is ok if you aren’t there yet. Use your power to model continuous learning and reflect on mistakes.
  4. Constantly ask questions to encourage reflection on practice.
  5. Speak up when a member of your community pushes back on your work. Own your power!
  6. Check-in on your equity person(team) to make sure they are well.
  7. Hold district leaders accountable for leading this work by creating space to show their evidence of equity in their work.
  8. Identify the structures that, if addressed, will disrupt inequitable practices and outcomes.
  9. Make an effort to engage with people most impacted by the inequities perpetuated by the institution or organization.
  10. Create opportunities to ensure that everyone important to the conversation has a seat at the decision-making table.
  11. Equity is deeper than training. We need to be doing the work of creating access and opportunity for traditionally marginalized people though our daily actions.
  12. Do your homework know the issues particularly of those who want to maintain the racial hierarchy so that you can be proactive.