Nothing About Us Without Us: Diversity, Inclusion and Equity
This week marks the 50th anniversary of Special Olympics (SO) a leading nonprofit that works with and on behalf of individuals with intellectual disabilities. Despite the outdated word choice (For a funny take on "special needs" check out this video featuring Lauren Potter), Special Olympics is focused on inclusion as a priority.
In the disability world many years ago, organizations like SO began to hear the outcry from advocates declaring: "Nothing About Us Without Us!" This is the idea that no policy should be decided by any representative without the full and direct participation of members of the group(s) affected by that policy.
No matter what your area of expertise, has your nonprofit committed intentionally to becoming more inclusive and equitable? Are YOU including those you serve at the decision-making table?
Whether you volunteer or work for a nonprofit that benefits people with disabilities, the arts community or perhaps deals with those who experience food insecurity or homelessness, we all came to this work because of our commitment to the mission and our desire to create a better world.
But all too often, we also look down on those we hope to serve. Sometimes consciously (if he learned to manage his money better, he wouldn't keep finding himself in this position of needing help) and sometimes unconsciously (calling a job candidate who has a name similar to yours instead of one that might be more common in another culture or language.)
This smacked me in the face this past weekend. I've been going through my mother's old notes and records recently. She served in leadership capacities at many nonprofits as well as her church. In reading her notes about the establishment of a church in my midwestern hometown, she shared the disagreements among the committee members when it came to monies going toward mission work in third-world countries.
My mother wrote: "A criticism arose over spending for missions. It seems the lady objecting thought the poor savages would be better off left alone!"
I cringe. And I feel even more strongly the need to de-rig the system. Disability, race, gender, orientation.
I must do better. We must do better. In order to truly fulfill our missions. We all must be intentional when addressing our own attitudes. If you haven't started actively derigging the systems at your organization, here are some resources on where you can start.