Walking the walk: More than 5,000 accept the 21-Day Equity Challenge

Published on June 3, 2021 in

For Methodist Children’s Home Society (MCHS), the 21-Day Equity Challenge could not have come at a better time.

Following the death of George Floyd, the human services agency assembled a diversity, inclusion and race equity (DIRE) task force. Although they made progress in setting goals and building awareness, the team knew it needed to do more.

“Talk is cheap,” said Carolyn Watson, chief advancement officer at MCHS. “We want to walk the walk, and that means showing action. The Equity Challenge offered us a framework to do that.”

At United Way for Southeastern Michigan, we know it’s critical to address systemic inequities to create stable households where children can thrive. Our 21-Day Equity Challenge, which kicked off May 21 and runs through June 18, is an opportunity for individuals and organizations to expand their knowledge and understanding of the historical and persistent inequities that impact the social and economic landscape here in Southeastern Michigan.

The challenge is free and open to anyone. Participants receive an email every weekday with articles, videos, charts, infographics and points of reflection on issues related to equity. There are also virtual roundtables that community-based facilitators lead each Friday.

Methodist Children’s Home Society has been holding daily lunch and learns for their staff to discuss what they’re learning through the 21-Day Equity Challenge.

Creating actionable steps

MCHS is holding daily lunch and learns where team members can share thoughts on each email topic from the challenge including Personal Racial and Social Identity, Bias and Privilege, Inequity in Housing, Health Care, Child Care and Education, LGBTQIA+ and Disability Inequity, and more.

“I’ve seen so much hope already just in the last few days based on the talks we’ve had during our lunch and learns,” Carolyn said while reflecting on a recent eye-opening discussion around male privilege. “We’re already a very diverse staff with people from different backgrounds, but there’s obviously so much more we can learn from one another when we prioritize these conversations.”

The response to the challenge has been overwhelming, with more than 5,000 people in Michigan and beyond signed up to participate. The kickoff event on May 21 welcomed nearly 1,000 participants — more than any other United Way virtual event, demonstrating an eagerness and openness toward dialogue.

The leadership at OneMagnify, a challenge sponsor and participant, are also hoping to help their employees expand their knowledge of systemic inequities and begin to steward lasting change.

“We are looking forward to connecting the dots between our long-running annual campaign with United Way and our meaningful work to make OneMagnify a more inclusive workplace for all our employees,” said Mark Petroff, CEO of OneMagnify.

With nearly 50 business and nonprofit partners, it’s clear that community support for an initiative like this is at an all-time high as well.

Local municipalities including Oakland County and the city commissions for Royal Oak and Huntington Woods have committed to the challenge. Livonia’s human relations committee is also on board.

Whether you are part of a larger organization or an individual looking to learn more, we encourage everyone to engage family and friends in the challenge.

A special performance by the Detroit Youth Choir was the highlight of the kickoff of United Way’s 21-Day Equity Challenge.

A learning journey

“When we take it upon ourselves to educate ourselves – to learn, grow and then educate others – we’re doing our part to build a better future for our entire region,” said Andre Ebron, senior director of diversity, equity and inclusion at United Way for Southeastern Michigan.

Even as a 100-plus-year-old organization with deep ties to the community and a mission rooted in equality, we understand that true change takes time and ongoing commitment.

“We’re on a learning journey and we’re inviting others along through this 21-Day Equity Challenge. It’s an exchange of ideas – an ongoing dialogue – and when the challenge ends, that’s where the real work will begin,” Andre said. “We have a lot of exciting things planned.”

“It will take time — maybe generations — but we can begin today to build a world where every ethnicity is appreciated and not just tolerated; where people are seen, heard and valued; where they’re judged by the content of their character; where privilege is leveraged for the greater good.”

Stephanie Ralls, manager of diversity, equity, inclusion and engagement at United Way for Southeastern Michigan, is up for the challenge.

“We talk a lot about ALICE (asset limited income constrained, employed) households — the nearly 40 percent of households in our region that can’t afford their basic needs like food, housing and child care,” Stephanie said. “It’s our mission to provide opportunities where these families can thrive. But first, we have to understand our history and what drives the disparities we’re looking to solve.”

When thinking about true equity for all, Andre invokes a modern rendition of Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream.

“It will take time — maybe generations — but we can begin today to build a world where every ethnicity is appreciated and not just tolerated; where people are seen, heard and valued; where they’re judged by the content of their character; where privilege is leveraged for the greater good.”

Start from where you are

The 21-Day Equity Challenge invites people to start at the beginning by looking inward.

“We start from a 101-level, introducing the ideas of identity and bias, and we build a base of understanding,” Stephanie said. “From there, we can begin to understand how complex, dynamic and beautiful identities are. That helps build empathy, and there’s power in that.”

Of course, not every conversation that arises from the challenge will be easy, but as Jennifer Johnson, a diversity consultant and roundtable facilitator said during the kickoff, “When you’re uncomfortable, that’s where the real learning begins.”

Thousands have already taken the challenge, and it’s not too late to sign up. You will start receiving email content the following day and can access all the previous content on our signup page.

Once you’re signed up for the challenge, share your experience and daily reflections on social media using the hashtags #21DayEquityChallenge and #TakeTheEC21.