Participating in a Racial Equity Course

“The Racial Equity Institute (REI) is committed to bringing awareness and analysis to the root causes of disparities and disproportionality in order to create racially equitable organizations and systems. Even 50 years after significant civil rights’ gains, the impact of race continues to shape the outcomes of all institutions.”

During the first weekend of November, I had the privilege to attend REI’s Phase I training program. Unsure what to expect, I walked into the McMannen Church in Durham, NC. Upon entrance, I was greeted by a woman with the nickname of ‘Muffin’ who was extremely energized for 8am, possessing a contagious positive spirit. After a quick breakfast which the church supplied, 43 of us sat down in a round circle to understand what we were about to dive into.

“REI’s two-day Phase I training is designed to develop the capacity of participants to better understand racism in its institutional and structural forms. Moving away from a focus on personal bigotry and bias, this workshop presents a historical, cultural, and structural analysis of racism.”

Phase I of the REI program was jam packed with information. It was an interesting situation off the bat being the only Canadian in a room of 43 people. Much of the information shared on the origins of America was knowledge that the other participants learned in school but this time it would be told in a very different manner. For me, it was the first time hearing much of this history, period. I had the advantage of hearing a version that called attention to sources of racial disparity rather than brushing over them.

I would be remiss if I did not mention Monica Walker, our lead instructor. Mrs. Walker was one of, if not the most compelling speaker I have been in a room with. This training was intense, and sitting and listening for 8 hours a day to anyone is not an easy task. Mrs. Walker was not only extremely knowledgeable, (remembering every single person’s name off the top of her head within the first 10 minutes of the session!!!) but she was also hilarious. As Monica taught us the disturbing origins of racism, she made time to crack humour within her lessons, making everyone attentive and comfortable.

If I had one message to take with me, it is that: Racism and race are construed concepts created during the rise of America to segregate groups of people and allow white supremacy, driving Europeans to want to cross the sea. That being said, racial injustice has been an evil that has existed since people have separated themselves into tribes. People simply use race to create a false construct to make themselves/their own tribe seem superior; protecting power and wealth.

Some key topics covered include:

- fish/lake/groundwater analysis of structural racism

- understanding and controlling implicit bias

- “markedness” theory - state of sticking out as different ‘not the norm’

- institutional power arrangements

- definitions of race and racism – what they actually mean

- history and legacy of race in American economic and policy development

- racial identity and its interaction with institutional culture.

With shared language and a clearer understanding of how institutions and systems are producing unjust and inequitable outcomes, participants are better equipped to begin to work for change.

At the end of the lesson, the topic of discussion was - while being informed and knowing the faults in the system is good, action is better. I want to continue to learn more about the institutional racism surrounding this country and my own, in Canada. Future steps would be to work with Joe Finley and his Connected By a Cause program, which provides a place to have open and honest conversations around the cultural and economic impact of the racial divide in Wilmington. I would love to see the GA (Global Ambassador) role help some members of underprivileged communities going forward. Secondly, I want to share my new knowledge with my community. I plan to continue this discussion with my fellow Global Ambassadors here at CastleBranch and invite you to reach out to me as well if you are interested in a sharing a conversation on racial disparity and would like to move to a more equitable future.