Equity and Local Government

This post is part of a series highlighting the workshops from the TJCOG 2020 Regional Summit, “What’s Equity Have to Do With It?”. Sharon Williams is the Racial Equity & Inclusion Manager for the City of Durham.

1. For the purposes of government work, how do you define equity?

We use the following definition in the City of Durham: Racial Equity is…. When racial identity cannot be used to predict individual or group life outcomes (e.g. wealth, income, employment, criminal justice, housing, health care, education, etc.) and outcomes for all groups are improved. This definition is from the Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE). A host of other examples are available on the internet.

2. What are a few examples of ways that government has perpetuated inequities through our policies, laws, etc.?

Redlining, property ownership restrictions, poll taxes, division of neighborhoods (e.g. Hayti in Durham), racial profiling by law enforcement, use of fines and fees, hiring practices, disciplinary policies.

3. What are a few examples of ways that government agencies are improving equity in their community, whether they know it or now?

Equitable community engagement. Using community rooted partners. Participatory budgeting. Support of affordable housing. Eliminating or reducing fines and fees. Justice-involved hiring and training. Minority/Women-owned Business Enterprises (M/WBE) contracting opportunities. Workforce development. Community policing. Loans/grants for small businesses.

4. For communities who do not have the ability to dedicate full-time staff or resources to incorporating equity in their work, what are some good ways to get started?

Devote time to learn about equity, what it is and what it is not. Understand the concept so that you are able to identify equitable decisions that your organization has already made and determine how they can be built upon. Integrate equity into your decision making processes by beginning to use the racial equity decision making tool and insert some initial questions into your analysis of potential decisions. Are there any unintended consequences if we do this? What can be done to mitigate harm? Asking these questions is the beginning of ‘applying a racial equity lens’ and can help identify alternative strategies to reduce harm that may be outside of the box (e.g. drive-thru payment windows at City Hall during COVID; pop-up water parks after pool closing). Below is the sample racial equity tool that was outlined during the Summit:

Take the following steps for a new decision or policy
1. What is being considered? Desired results and outcomes?
2. What does the data tell us?
3. Community engagement. What does the community need?
4. What are the benefits, burdens, and unintended consequences? What strategies exist to mitigate harm?
5. What does implementation look like and who will be accountable?

5. You mentioned that data is a critical tool for equity work, as it can display who is benefiting or being burdened by policy decisions. Can you give 2-3 tips around data collection for communities?

Data collection is driven by the proposal, recommendation or decision being made. Start with data that will identify the population that will be most impacted. Where are they located in relationship to the proposal, recommendation or decision being made? What is the poverty level, unemployment rate, average wage, homeless rate, etc. of the population in the community that will be most impacted. And what can you do to mitigate harm? Great data examples below:

6. How is community engagement tied to equity and why it is important?

Community engagement is essential to leading with equity in government work because we serve and represent the community’s needs. It is important to move from surveys or sessions where we are simply informing, to opportunities for the community to consult or collaborate with us that can strengthen decisions we make and meet their needs.

About Sharon Williams

Sharon began working for the City of Durham in October of 2015 in the HR Department, and played a lead role in implementing the City of Durham’s annual ‘all employee’ leadership conference and was instrumental in making the business case for racial equity to senior leaders. On July 1, 2019, Sharon assumed her role as the City of Durham’s first Racial Equity Manager. Her first assignment was to form The City’s first racial equity core team. The team is made up of representatives from 19 of The City’s 24 departments and is responsible for normalizing, organizing and operationalizing racial equity in the City of Durham. Accomplishments include development of the vision, mission and language that will guide racial equity work. The team has also launched the City of Durham’s first racial equity survey, which will provide meaningful insights that will be integrated into The City’s first racial equity action plan. Sharon is passionate about the work and the ability to have a meaningful impact on employees and residents of the City of Durham by advancing equity.