Race, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (REDI)
We have long considered the work we do at Downstreet to be social justice work, with the view that housing is an ideal platform for the delivery of services that touch all areas of a person’s life. We believe in human dignity and equity for all, and those beliefs guide our work every day. As such, we recognize that we have an important role to play in helping to dismantle racism and promote equity, diversity, and inclusion for all through education, understanding, and action within our organization and throughout the communities we serve. We welcome this opportunity and embrace the challenges and benefits it presents.
Where We Stand
We at Downstreet appreciate the significance and importance of home.
As such, we acknowledge that our offices and properties, like all the buildings and homes in Central Vermont, were built on unceded Western Abenaki territory, which they lovingly refer to as Ndakinna, or “homeland.”
The Abenaki are the traditional stewards of this region, which long served as a site of meeting and exchange among Indigenous peoples. We remember and honor their connection to this region and the hardships they have endured and continue to endure as a result of colonialism and forced removal from their land.
Nothing can repair the impacts of past wrongdoings, but we can take meaningful action to improve things now and in the future. Starting in 2022, with the grand opening of Foundation House in Barre City, we began the practice of making donations to groups that support and promote Vermont’s Indigenous peoples, history, and culture at the completion of every new Downstreet project. We are also committed to providing information and resources to help people learn more about the history of Indigenous people in Vermont and how to engage with and support organizations that carry on their legacy and traditions.
Creation of REDI Awareness & Action Initiative
In September of 2020 we established our Race, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (REDI) Awareness & Action Initiative in order to formally facilitate awareness and action at Downstreet that advances equity and centers the needs and experiences of those living in Downstreet’s housing and participating in Downstreet’s programs. This work will involve hearts and minds as well as policies and procedures, with outcomes that impact all areas and operations of our organization along with the communities we serve.
When we began this initiative in 2020, a joint Board-staff committee was formed. With the help of an outside facilitator committee members developed a framework to guide this work into the future. Since laying the foundation for the initiative through the creation of a vision and an action plan, the original group has branched into two separate committees – one for the Board and one for staff. This structure will allow us to focus on the unique needs of each group while working toward the unified vision.
- All Downstreet customers are treated equitably with respect and dignity and are safe from harm in Downstreet housing and programming regardless of their race, class, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability, religion, or any other form of identity or social category.
- Downstreet’s staff and board share an understanding and analysis of equity, and use that analysis to inform how we show up individually, how we work together inter-personally, how we operate organizationally, and how we use housing as a tool for social justice in our community. This analysis helps us to realize diversity and inclusion within the organization, and is rooted in an understanding of how power, privilege, and oppression show up within our communities, our programs, our relationships, and ourselves.
- We are familiar with and accepting of the discomfort that doing this work requires, for that is how we know we’re transforming.
- We have cultivated the courage and the collective capacity to take action to clarify and change organizational policies, practices and structures to fully align with the beliefs and values that guide our mission. We live out our core values through developing structures that build inclusivity, embrace diversity, honor the dignity of all humans, and are built on fairness for everyone.
- A social justice and equity lens is embedded throughout the organization so that all decisions, opportunities, issues, and ideas are evaluated through our values.
- Our relationships with one another -- our customers, staff, board members, partners, and community members -- are stronger as a result of this work.
We understand that each individual, whether a staff or Board member, rental resident, home-owner or community member will necessarily take their own individual journey in order to come to terms with our nation’s long history of racism and discrimination, the role they each may have played in it, the ways in which has impacted them in their own lives, and how to reconcile and move forward. While we cannot be responsible for those individual journeys, we are committed to affecting positive change in every way we can, and that includes providing education and support for our staff, Board, and program participants as they find their way. In terms of Downstreet as a non-profit organization, our intention is to review and evaluate our policies, practices and procedures, along with our organizational culture and strategic plan, in order to make adjustments where necessary to bring our REDI Awareness & Action Initiative’s vision into reality.
PROGRESS SO FAR
Staff and Board
We are proud to say that we have taken concrete steps to ensure that our Board makeup more accurately reflects the residents and communities we serve. Through this representation, we will give voice to program participants and community members who have historically been underrepresented while also bringing new perspectives to light through their lived experiences. This input and direction will be crucial as our Board focuses on conducting business through an equity and social justice lens. In addition to these developments, the Board regularly participates in discussions and exercises centered around racial justice and equity for marginalized groups. Ongoing education and training is in the works for the future.
Recent staff meetings have included social identity exercises and education about our country’s history of racism in the housing industry over time, including The Great Migration, Redlining, the Chicago Freedom Movement, and the Community Reinvestment Act. Our staff has been open and engaged throughout these meetings and, as a result, have collectively strengthened their connections to one another. Racial justice and equity work requires those participating to welcome vulnerability in themselves and from others, something that is by no means easy, but has nonetheless seemed to come naturally to our close-knit staff.
Part of our approach to increase awareness of the need for this work is to use our digital communication channels, including our social media accounts, the blog on our website, and our e-newsletter, to share information with our audiences. Whether it’s highlighting the activism work of a local community member, sharing the perspectives of our BIPOC neighbors, or promoting education, resources, and opportunities to engage in racial justice and equity work, we are helping to bring to light the importance of racial justice and equity for all.
We recognize that words are not enough. For meaningful change to occur, action is necessary.
To that end, we have engaged the services of two independent consultants: one to facilitate our REDI Action & Awareness committee meetings, and one to conduct a comprehensive equity assessment of Downstreet’s multi-family rental program. Through resident and staff surveys, individual interviews, and a site assessment of our physical and virtual spaces, this assessment will provide important information to paint a clearer picture of the improvements needed in various areas, provide a baseline against which we can measure future progress, and establish metrics and measures for future assessments.
What the Future Holds
Just as the need for racial justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion will never come to an end, neither will this work. We have no illusions that this work will be easy, or that we will not make mistakes along the way. But, in the words of Rosa Parks, “To bring about change, you must not be afraid to take the first step. We will fail when we fail to try.” With this in mind, we are prepared to take constructive criticism of our efforts with grace, to learn from our mistakes, and to proceed with a strong determination to continually improve our efforts toward becoming an actively anti-racist organization that promotes equity, diversity and inclusion for all.