2024 Equity Challenge Day 5: Institutions Acting with Trustworthiness 

Move at the speed of trust.

adrienne maree brown

Writer, activist and facilitator, and founder of United States League of Young Voters
▶ LISTEN TO DAY 5 – 9:36

Today’s challenge will ask us to critically examine the role institutions play in developing trust. Institutions are human-created structures often in the form of an organization that is centered on a certain topic or belief. Some examples include health care, arts, nonprofits, philanthropy, education, religion, and government. Institutions influence our patterns, beliefs and how we perceive others. They play a major role in perpetuating or working against inequity (United Way National Capital Area).

Within institutions, there has been a significant increase on the topic of trust. Often, institutions will find ways to gain or regain the trust of people who have been historically harmed and/or excluded rather than making trustworthy actions and decisions from the start. There is a strong emphasis in institutions to get work done fast, individually, and places the value on monetary and social gain for an individual/institution. All these characteristics are those of dominant culture. While institutions that prioritize fighting for equity tend to take a more values-driven approach to their work, which emphasizes getting the work done well and places the value on relationships and people. These institutions are focused on building trust from the start to create meaningful work, not repairing harm once trust is gone.

Below are examples of how institutions are confronting trust:


This year, a local top ranked art museum, Detroit Institute of Arts, began returning various items from their Native American exhibits to Native and Indigenous groups and descendants when the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) implemented stricter rules (Metro Times). Many Native and Indigenous people find this action imperative and long overdue in re-claiming their ancestral and ceremonial items. Many still cannot access their ancestors’ remains for proper burial, ceremonial items, or even songs created by ancestral tribal members, due to inequitable and harmful policies and procedures.

Historically, research, academia, and art institutions have claimed ownership to these items while conducting research on groups and tribes, with little to no acknowledgement or compensation to original creators. In this example, the DIA is taking necessary steps to repair harm with NAGPRA to return items to ancestral owners. These institutions can begin to act with trustworthiness by giving equal, if not full, ownership of items and data to the individuals and groups being researched.

Health Care

Similarly to research and academic institutions, health care and medicine have notoriously harmed women, especially women of color, Black people, and disabled people throughout time. While the first immortal human cell line known as “HeLa “cells have paved the way in biological research and were at the forefront of COVID-19 pandemic research, Henrietta Lacks, the Black woman whose cells created this line, were taken and used without her permission or knowledge (Office of Science Policy).

Just last year, 70 years after her cells were taken and her descendants were still struggling with their own basic needs, her family began a lawsuit. After a group of people have experienced significant harm by an institution, distrust is a natural response. Health care can act with trustworthiness by addressing racist practices and beliefs and provide real, understandable informed consent for testing and treatment. Health care providers should truly take the time to listen to patients’ concerns and questions.


Nonprofit organizations play a key role as social institutions that help people navigate our capitalist system. Even organizations and institutions with the best intentions to do good work that supports people need to be analyzed for the role they play in maintaining some of our oppressive systems. In this way, it is critical that we analyze the Nonprofit Industrial Complex – a system of relationships between governments, owning class, foundations, and nonprofit organizations to control social justice movements and continue capitalist structures (Incite!). It is a very real reality that nonprofits and foundations are also a way to house wealth and hide harm with perceived good deeds.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, Jeff Bezos donated over $100 million to combat food insecurity while also firing warehouse workers that demanded safe working conditions (Vox). Nonprofit and philanthropic leaders can begin to act with trustworthiness by re-learning and understanding how philanthropy is a racialized power and begin to ask the tough questions of how effectively their work is serving the community, and if their work doesn’t align with their values, make changes (Stanford).

Acting with trustworthiness requires institutions and individual leaders to confront the power dynamics that value and privilege some forms of knowledge over others (Ruha Benjamin). If we are seeking equity and justice, we need to genuinely listen to community concerns, hold ourselves accountable to harm we may have caused, change course if our work does not align with our values, and do the hard work of ensuring that we act with trustworthiness, the first time.






Reflect And Share

  1. What is something that resonated with you or was new to you in today’s challenge?
  2. Thinking about today’s quote, what areas in your work or life can you begin to practice moving at the speed of trust? How will you practice this? What would moving at the speed of trust look like to you?
  3. How can you begin to ask yourself and leaders around you to engage in trustworthy decision making? How can institutions practice this?


Start the conversation. Send the tweet. Share your story. Make the Facebook post. Sharing what you learn and experience with your family, friends, and co-workers is the first step toward allyship.

Join thousands in conversation by using hashtag #RiseToTheChallenge.