Growing up, there weren’t many mainstream books with Black kids in them. There were books for adults about Black people, but not a lot of children’s books. To fix that, my parents bought children’s books and colored in the people with brown markers.
I was a logical kid. Logic told me my parents did this because the authors must have mistakenly put White kids in my books about Black kids.
In school, I was identified as gifted. I knew there were Black kids at school because we played on the yard together. But in gifted classes, it was mostly White kids. I had been raised knowing that my people are magnificent. So why weren’t they in class with me?
I was a logical kid. Logic told me that somebody had lied to the rest of the world and told them Black children aren’t magnificent.
When it comes to the work of diversity and inclusion, what my parents did for me is what you need to do for your organization. Adding people of color to my books was just one of the many things they did to counter what the world still tries to tell me about myself. They developed in me a belief and mindset that I was magnificent and that Black people are magnificent. Anything other than that was a tall tale.
You don’t have to believe I am magnificent. You just can’t run an organization that tells me I’m not.
You don’t need to believe Black people are magnificent. You just can’t let anyone’s identity, defined however you want, block their opportunity to show their own magnificence.
To advance diversity and inclusion, you don’t need to right every wrong or rewrite history. You do need to recognize no one has a stronghold on magnificence. You do need to inoculate yourself and your organization from a social hierarchy based on tall tales.
That’s easier said than done, but it’s possible. Over the past few years, our organization has gone from a leadership team that was 33 percent people of color to 80 percent people of color. People of color now represent more than two-thirds of our entire staff. Race and ethnicity is just one measure of our diversity. To that end, we conduct internal DEI surveys as well as an external, independent one. We score high on both.
Though we’ve made great progress, it’s too soon to say we are successful. Retention, for one, will need to stand the test of time. There still is, and always will be, plenty of work to be done.
If you are interested in some of what we’ve learned so far, take a look at the brief we’ve written documenting our journey. I hope our lessons learned will help you move your organization forward.
By the way, the logical kid in me loves the brief because it has actionable advice and tips — and when I share it with my parents, they won’t have to reach for their markers.
Click on the icon to read our brief:Chaka Booker is managing director of The Broad Center’s Alumni & Network Impact.