Equity, Dignity, and Justice at UEC

Written by Urban Ecology Center
    Wednesday, 10 February 2021
Equity, Dignity, and Justice at UEC

Hi everyone! I’m Kirsten, one of the Environmental Educators at the UEC. Usually, I’d be here to tell you about the many ways you can connect with nature in your own neighborhood, but this time I’d like to share with you some information about another equally important part of my work at Urban Ecology Center: the Equity, Dignity, and Justice (EDJ) committee.

So far the EDJ committee has largely focused internally, on learning about oppression alongside our fellow staff at the UEC. Now, with the public release of our anti-racism commitments, we felt it’s time to share the history of this work at the UEC and honor the work that many folks have done that led to this point. Que the proverbial slide-show!

History of EDJ at UEC
I’ll be honest in saying that I don’t know exactly how it began - when I arrived at my first day of work in August 2013, there were already staff voluntarily organizing with one another to learn about racism and oppression. This group laid a solid foundation for equity work at UEC by encouraging the addition of “cultural competency” as a strategic goal for the organization as well as creating a sense of trust and shared language amongst the core members.

In 2017, the group evolved into a more formalized Equity, Dignity, and Justice committee. This voluntary and cross-departmental committee began to meet monthly to plan and implement the initiatives we thought would best further the learning needed to dismantle structural racism and other forms of oppression. Since then we have created an EDJ onboarding training focused on the importance of dignity in our work, and helped write dignity-upholding policies including a gender-inclusive bathroom policy, amongst other projects. Additionally, we began developing monthly learning opportunities for our staff, including training and workshops, book clubs, and field trips. All of this is done in addition to our normal job responsibilities.

I’ll just say here that I’m pretty proud of the work that my co-workers have done. This work so far has been a passion project, and their passion is deep.

Towards anti-racism commitments
Throughout all this work, the EDJ committee always knew that we needed an outside perspective to help us focus our work, showing us areas for growth and pointing out some of our blind spots. In late 2019 we hired Ubuntu Research and Evaluation to do just that, and with their extensive knowledge, we co-created areas of focus for our work. We were just beginning to dig into these areas when COVID hit, causing us to pause until we adjusted to life working from home.

And then, the spring and summer of 2020 happened. Christian Cooper got the cops called on him while birding in Central Park. Ahmaud Arbery was murdered while running through his neighborhood. George Floyd was killed by police outside of a convenience store, Breonna Taylor in her own home, and in our own city, Joel Acevedo was killed by an off duty police officer.

In light of these events, we knew we needed to act. We held listening sessions, providing space for staff to express their grief and generate ideas for action. We wrote a statement condemning systemic racism and the violence that accompanies it and declared our belief that Black Lives Matter. We began to formalize our goals, both as a committee and as an organization and decided it was important to share these commitments publicly.

That’s where we are now, releasing our anti-racism statement and, more importantly, our commitments to you all. The four commitments included in this statement were distilled from our Ubuntu assessment and the listening sessions we had with many groups of staff, and include many rounds of feedback amongst the EDJ committee, a group of BIPOC UEC staff members, the leadership team, and all of UEC staff.

These commitments are where the EDJ committee will focus our efforts for at least the year 2021, though we know that many of these goals will require much more than a year’s worth of work. We also know that they are not perfect, nor are they fully complete. Right now, behind the scenes, we are crafting more specific, strategic steps to get to these end-points; the “how” behind the “what”. Stay tuned for more information on these steps and actions as they emerge.

Now is where I turn to you, the Milwaukee community, to share one more piece of our mindset, and to ask for your company on this journey. First, I want you to know that we are holding this work with the frame of “progress, not perfection.” We know we will make mistakes doing this work. We also know the fear of sharing those mistakes does not make it okay to hide the work from you. You are our community, and you deserve to know how we are working to make the UEC a place that really does honor the dignity of everyone. My request is that you continue to walk alongside us as we do this work. If these ideas are new to you, lean into your discomfort and learn with us. If you have been doing this work for years, ask us those honest questions and hold us accountable. We love you, and we want to be our best for you. Join us as we try our best to make progress towards an anti-racist future.

Read our full Anti-racism Statement here



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