Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion @ King Street Center
from the desk of Jehan Dolbashian
In late October, King Street staff arrived to an empty center, void of the normal patter of toddlers and preschoolers running across the gym floor and excited afterschoolers bustling in at the end of a long school day. Instead, the chatter of eager teachers, directors, and administrators filled the walls of KSC’s Playhouse, where we gathered for a day of in-service devoted to diversity, equity, and inclusion work.
Dr. Maria Mercedes Avila, Program Director of UVM’s Vermont Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities Program, led us in an enriching half day training entitled Cultural and Linguistic Competence to Address Disparities and Inequities. We spent the morning exploring the systemic oppression that contributes to disparities throughout our healthcare, educational, housing, and social systems.
This engaging presentation shocked us with statistics of how racial, ethnic, and class biases have shaped inequity throughout our country. Perhaps most troubling was how the inequities that have plagued our society for centuries have become so ingrained in our day to day – and that those who benefit from these systems fail to question them. Mercedes not only provided us the tools to think critically about systemic oppression but also the drive to begin our work as an organization towards cultural competence.
With the themes of Dr. Avila’s workshop on our minds, King Street Center staff got to work creating a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Action Committee (DEI). In our preliminary meetings we have identified and committed to the following:
- Opening the DEI committee to all staff, guardians, volunteers, partners and children in the King Street community
- Connecting with an agency/consultant in our community who can perform an organization wide audit of programming and practices
- Integrating diversity, equity, and inclusion work into all KSC initiatives and special committees
- Making diversity, equity, and inclusion training accessible to our Board and volunteers
We are kicking off our initiatives by asking our directors and staff to take an implicit bias assessment. Our intention is to utilize these assessments to spark fruitful and productive conversations amongst our staff on how their biases may influence everything from curriculum to hiring processes. Beyond our organizational aspirations, we hope that our staff consider how bias affects all aspects of their lives and strive to continue educating themselves and one another on these issues.
If you are interested in joining us in this effort, assessments can be found here. We suggest gathering with a group of friends, colleagues, or family to discuss your results and how your implicit bias may shape your day to day.
Nervous to share your results with others? Try implementing some of the amazing guiding edicts we learned from Tarahee Jackson during her presentation “Whose Country Is This? Race, Racism, and Refugee Status in America” in Montpelier this past April. These edicts can make your circle an inclusive, judgement-free zone that is conducive to productive conversation. Feel free to add your own!
- At any given moment we are doing the very best we can with what we know- but, there is always room to grow.
- You are an expert on yourself and your life experiences.
- Human beings are not better and other human beings.
At the forefront of our strategic plan is ensuring quality of our programming. To us, this means keeping a critical lens on the services we provide, organizational policies, staff recruiting strategies, and daily procedures and their impact on all families and children in the community. Like most organizations, King Street Center has room for growth. We are making this commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion knowing that our work will likely never be complete as cultural competence is ever-evolving. However, we are determined to make King Street Center and the Burlington community a more inclusive place to learn, play, work, and live!
In an effort to include more voices around the table, King Street Center’s Program Committee of the Board of Directors changed its format to include three board members, three staff, two parents, a youth member, and two community partners. The re-configuration has radically changed the goals and work of this committee. Also, King Street Center along with Spectrum Youth and Family Services and USCRI, spearheaded a community-wide group, Chittenden County Multicultural Youth Coalition, to improve communications, programs, and resources available to teens across the region. (During the pandemic, King Street Center is also now participating in the Multilingual Task Force supporting the many cultural groups who need to access critical information during this time.) In addition, we were proud to stand with some King Street Center youth as the Black Lives Matter flag was finally raised at Edmunds Middle School.
Our work to be an anti-racist organization, that feels safe for all families, and serves as a source of learning for all is evolving. Here are a few key initiatives underway:
- We raised the Black Lives Matter Flag at King Street Center in August 2020.
- King Street Center’s Board of Directors recently participated in a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion retreat with Dr. Mercedes Avila from University of Vermont.
- In our K-5th and our Teen Program, children are actively engaged in the Learning for Justice
- Six days in 2020-2021 are devoted to staff trainings with Dr. Rebecca Haslam from Seed the Way covering topics such as, Equity Literacy, Racial (micro)agressions, The Power of Language, and Organizational Climate.