The 21 Day Equity Challenge with Pamela Smith of the United Way

July 28, 2020

The 21 Day Equity Challenge with Pamela Smith of the United Way

The 21 Day Equity Challenge with Pamela Smith of the United Way

“I knew that this Equity Challenge was going to give people an “on ramp” to talk about racism and to learn more about things in a self-guided, no barriers kind of way.” - Pamela Smith, United Way of Washtenaw County

There are many different kinds of biases that exist, and the key is to become aware of them and then choose the appropriate action to change these beliefs and behaviors. Today’s Brave By Design guest is Pamela Smith of the United Way, and she reveals how we can all start taking the steps to encourage real conversations with others using data and facts, in order to move towards more equity for all.   

Pamela Smith has been the President/CEO of the United Way of Washtenaw County since 2012. As a nonprofit executive she is dedicated to strengthening the community through philanthropy, collaboration and community engagement. Her vision and leadership guides the Equity, Diversity and Justice work of the United Way of Washtenaw County. She has more than 25 years of experience in management, communications and non-profit administration. 

In today’s episode you’ll hear all about The United Way’s exciting initiatives designed to encourage personal reflection and to give the tools for racial equity change in 2020 - and beyond.  

Connect with Pamela: https://www.uwwashtenaw.org/

Connect with Laura Khalil online:

instagram.com/iambravebydesign

https://www.facebook.com/groups/BraveByDesign/

linkedIn.com/in/LauraKhalil

Get on Laura’s Newsletter:

http://bravebydesign.net 

Invite Laura to speak at your live or virtual event http://bravebydesign.net

Support the show (https://www.paypal.me/bravebydesign)

What You’ll Hear In This Episode: 

  • The role that poverty plays in causing significant issues faced by many in our society [3:40]

  • What implicit bias is and how it affects the way we react to and process information [6:49]
     
  • The differences between implicit and explicit bias [11:04]
     
  • The steps we can take to bring our implicit bias to light, find out what triggers us and to slow down before we react [12:44]
     
  • What is on-ramping and how we can build an on-ramp to bring awareness to the inequalities that exist [16:08]
     
  • Why on-ramping has been seen as controversial by some people [20:23]

Additional Links & Resources: 

Pamela’s LinkedIn

United Way’s Website & 21 Day Challenge

Food Solutions New England (FSNE)

The Alice Project

Let's get to the root of racial injustice (Megan Mind Francis TEDx Talk)

Support the show (https://www.paypal.me/bravebydesign)

Transcript
Pam Smith :

I knew that this equity challenge was going to give people an on ramp to talk about racism. To learn more about things in a self guided, no barriers kind of way.

Laura Khalil :

Welcome to brave by design. I'm your host Laura Khalil. I'm an entrepreneur, coach and speaker. I love thinking bait, exploring the power of personal development and sharing the best strategies from thought leaders and pioneers in business to empower ambitious women and allies to bravely rise and thrive. Let's get started. Hey, everyone, welcome to this episode of brave by design. I am so excited for our guest today because we are going to be diving in to how white folks can really become better allies to our bipoc community. Pam Smith is the President and CEO of the United Way of Washtenaw County. She has been there since 2012. Her vision guides the equity, diversity and inclusion work of the United Way of Washington County as a nonprofit executive. She is dedicated to strengthening the community through philanthropy, collaboration and community engagement. Pam, you know that I have been obsessed with your 21 day equity challenge, and I have been screaming it from the roof. And I am so excited to have you here to talk more with us. Welcome to brave by design.

Pam Smith :

Thank you so much. I am so happy to be here. It's so great of you to not only host us but to embrace our work so much I know that you know, you have helped us spread the equity challenge far and wide. So I just want to say thank you, Laura, so much for that, of course and we are going to put a link in the

Laura Khalil :

show to the 21 day equity challenge. So if you guys don't know what I'm talking about, that's okay. You can go and check it out. It's actually really incredible. One of the great things about it is that it's non partisan. There. There's nothing in it that's politically motivated. It's just really looking at the concept of equity through a different lens over 21 days. And Pam, that brings me to what I wanted to start off with is this feeling that a lot of white folks have, that the worst thing that could ever happen to them is to be called a racist. And so what they do in response to that, is they try to prove they're not racist by saying I've got black friends, I went to school with black people. I've talked to my black community about what you've said, and how that actually just kind of entrenches a lot of the unconscious or implicit biases that people haven't Why don't we start there?

Pam Smith :

Sure. So I think that there's a word right for why we're all probably a little bit racist. And even if we don't really want to be or we don't want to acknowledge It and that words called implicit bias. And one of the things that the equity challenge was based around First, I want to say thank you to food solutions network out of Boston and the YWCA out of Cleveland, both of them. The first was the originator of the 21 day equity challenge, and they made it open source and they said, Take what you want, you know, and localize it and do what you will. And then when I took both of their challenges, I knew that we had to bring it to Washington. I just knew that we had to talk about it, we had to advance the discussion in our community. And one of the things that kept coming up for me is people didn't want to talk about it. Right. And so let me use an example from a little bit earlier at my time here at United Way. I you know, we focus on early childhood, we focus on seniors, we focus on health, nutrition, you know, all of these different areas, and I kept thinking I was staring at it. My while I'm kind of a visual learner, so I'll stick stuff up on the wall so I can stare at it. And I thought poverty is really the root cause of all of these issues, right? So I started talking in Washtenaw County about poverty, and I had door after door slammed in my face. I really owe Washington County perfect. Oh, Washtenaw County. We don't have problems. Oh, Washtenaw County. We're a wealthy area.

Laura Khalil :

Yeah, because of Ann Arbor. They're thinking oh, no, we're really progressive.

Pam Smith :

Yes. Okay. So, so much so Laura, that I actually bought billboards on the major highway. And I wrote poverty here. Question mark. Yes. Literally, wow.

Laura Khalil :

Are you for real?

Unknown Speaker :

For real?

Laura Khalil :

Oh, my gosh, okay. You weren't having it.

Pam Smith :

so and so and we came out with the Alice report and Alice is a report done by right Here's University for some United Way's across the States, United States. Alice means asset limited income constrained, employed. So essentially people that were working so hard, right, so hard to get up to a better life, maybe sometimes they work two and three jobs. But when you're making minimum wage, you know, at any of these jobs, you're not making enough to meet the standard of living in like in Washington County, you have to make almost $14 an hour to cover basic needs. Well, minimum wage, just half that right. And so what happened? So that was my my first lesson right about poverty. So how, when I get into poverty, and we're starting to talk about intergenerational poverty, so Washtenaw County is one of the worst to build your economic mobility. So if you're stuck in a certain income level, it's going to be harder to ever move out of that. Income alone. And so then talking about intergenerational poverty, we had to focus on race. Because the majority of people, you know, that were affected by structural racism. You know, we're black and brown people in our community, our life expectancy rates for black males was 10 years difference in for a Latino male It was 17 years difference than a white person in our My gosh. So we get back to having to talk about race. Right. So now I'm I almost brought my my billboards back to say racism question mark.

Laura Khalil :

Yes, yes.

Pam Smith :

which, unfortunately, is really so far from not funny, but I knew that this equity challenge was going to give people an on ramp to talk about racism. To learn more about things. In a self guided, no barriers kind of way. Right,

Laura Khalil :

Pam? Let me sorry, let me stop you there because I want you to mention something really important. Well, first of all, I'd love for you to explain what is implicit bias for people who are listening who have never heard that term. I'd love for you to talk about that. And then the second thing is, let's circle back to what an on ramp is because nobody, I don't think most people understand what that even means. So let's start with implicit bias. What is that?

Pam Smith :

So basically, to get to the very basics, right, of implicit bias is that the human brain is processing up to 11 million facts a second, right amines coming at it, can't possibly do it, right. So in reality, it grabs about 50. And in actual in actual decision making, it boils down to about seven but still that's huge, right? You're making you're making money. Seven decisions

Laura Khalil :

are second, right? Okay.

Pam Smith :

Yeah. Kind of intense. It's really intense. But I mean, that's how your brain is wired. Right? So you're taking in, like, just us sitting here, my brain is assessing, Wow, this looks really hot. And those leaves on the tree are dying. And man, my desk is dusty. What am I going to do about that? And I have to keep Laura's audience engaged while I'm talking about implicit bias, right? So all of those things are going on. So implicit bias refers to your attitudes and your beliefs that affect your understanding your actions and your decisions in an unconscious manner. Right. So I decided the sun just looked hot. Right, right, because I have previous experience. I'm right now I'm in an air conditioned office, but I can look outside in summers in Michigan for your listeners. Really high humidity. Yeah many burning right now dripping.

Unknown Speaker :

So how does that affect anyways?

Pam Smith :

how that affects race is your brain is making decisions all the time. And because of your background, societal context, conceptual context, cultural context, your brain is making a decision. So when you see a person, your brain is automatically deciding something, and let's use some stereotypes. If I see an Asian person, a person of Asian descent, I might think they're foreign. If I'm walking down the street, and three black males are walking towards me, I might hold my purse closer to me without even thinking about it. Yep. If I see three young girls that in short shorts and tank tops in And pink hair, I might have another preconceived notion about them, right? Like I'm. And so all of those kinds of decisions and thoughts are happening, because I have implicit bias. And I think, you know, if you really think about it, implicit bias really means that maybe we're all a little bit racist. Mm hmm. Because of our contextual background, and our thought processes and what we've been exposed to, without even thinking, we have immediate reaction to why something is like it is. So we've made that decision kind of like I'm sure that you remember from your science classes about fight or flight as a basic human instinct way back right? to, you know, prehistoric times. Maybe there's a tiger about there's a lion. What do I do? Yeah, right. Am I gonna fight him? Or am I gonna flee? Right. So that is a video Every kind of basic instinct. So bias, let's get back to implicit bias and explicit. So bias is a prejudice that we have in favor of or against one thing, right? A person or group compared with another. So that's bias. And then when you think about explicit bias, it means it refers to like, an attitude or a belief we have about a person or group on a conscious level. Hmm, let's say you went to a particular College, University of Michigan for sure. You might have an explicit bias, that anything and everything about the University of Michigan is the absolute best, right? Well, I don't pay him because I didn't go.

Laura Khalil :

She asked

Pam Smith :

when you're proud, you know that. They are the leaders and the best that are the bad Oh, and you hate MSU if you go to U of M, right. That's it. The state that shall not be named just immediately south of us. Oh, right. Exactly. Exactly. And those are a long standing rivalry with

Unknown Speaker :

those are those are solicit?

Pam Smith :

And everybody embraces those like we have no problem saying, right? We don't like them because we went here, right? And then implicit is the attitudes and beliefs we have that are unconscious in nature. So we are making decisions about something because we have this implicit bias. And it might be something you you grew up with, right? It might typically just be something that you grew up with. So Pam, what can

Laura Khalil :

we do about dealing with our own and confronting our own implicit biases?

Pam Smith :

Great question. Thanks, Laura. So first of all, you can become aware what they are. On our website, you can take implicit bias tests to understand What your implicit bias actually is? Then you can find out what your trigger is. What kind of situation makes you not think but just react. So is it stress? Is it mood? Are you tired? So understand what your implicit biases number one to find your trigger three slowed down before you react or make a decision. Try to pause before you respond. Try to take a deep breath and center yourself to really think about what you're doing and how you're reacting. And then for do something different, choose to make a different decision. Be mindful about your actions. So more than anything throughout my equity journey, I have tried to learn listen and act. That would be something that I keep with me daily because this is a journey, right? This is a marathon. It's not a sprint. And every day, I learned something new that I didn't know before. So I would encourage your listeners to try to learn Listen and act. And so part of the equity challenge you asked about what? onramp mess. So I told you that as a visual learner, right? So I create images to help me understand things better. And for me, it was like, I couldn't get people to talk about poverty until I had data and statistics to show them. How am I going to get people to talk about race and equity, right? Because it has been ignored for so long in this country. I just saw a TED talk by Megan Francis. And it was back in 2016 2016, four years ago in the stories she was telling about what actually happened to her and her family. Were almost an actual news story today, right about the harassment and the mistreatment of black people. And I thought, I just thought, oh my goodness, you know, like, I know that we have so much work to do. But I have a friend, you'll meet mesfin Johnson is the CEO of new which is nonprofit enterprise at work. And she has been a teacher and a mentor and a friend to me. And she has said more times than not to me, you have to listen to the people that are telling you these stories. Right, right. So you you need to listen and sit with it and think about what is actually happening to black and brown people in our communities on a daily basis. It just because it's not happening to you, and you don't have that personal experience doesn't mean that it's not happening daily. So back to this onramp Yeah. So how am I going to get so for your listeners on this podcast, I middle aged white woman, right. And I acknowledge that I have privilege And how was I going to bring these conversations to groups of people that weren't necessarily having them? Right? And so in my mind, I was thinking, what is my on ramp so like, if you think I'm an expressway or a freeway, you might call it wherever you're listening. You have an on ramp, and it allows you to merge into a lane of traffic safely, right? And so that's what I mean by an on ramp. How am I going to merge the general population of my community into a discussion in a safe expedient manner, and then really get into some heavy conversations. Because if you think about it, the first time you get on an expressway like you are a student driver, right? And you are nervous, and you are going to go from 20 miles an hour to 70 which is the fastest you've ever driven anything in your entire life and your hair standing on end and you have goosebumps all over right? And you're thinking Dear God, please let me Make it onto this expressway safely. You put your blinker on, you get in the lane, and then all of a sudden you have to go faster than you ever have in your life. And you're only hoping to be able to get to where you're going safe. Right? Right. At least that's how my first experience was because I had a stick shift. And I had to learn how to shift and break and merging. And so back to my my brain, right, taking in 70 million different things right once. And so I had a little bit of experience from our work that we did with poverty. And I had a lot of conversations with a lot of different kinds of people. And I think my board of directors for really being brave and courageous and having some courageous conversations. And I can't remember, you know, let's use our implicit bias, like picture a board of a nonprofit. What do you see Laura?

Laura Khalil :

Bunch of rich white dudes

Pam Smith :

Exactly, you know, so that's your implicit bias. But Yep, all too often that's what is happening. Right? And so we were having a conversation, and you know about poverty, and he was like, Ah, you know, that is, that is just not a conversation, you know, I want to have a cocktail party. And I said, Oh, well tell me, tell me, why can you tell me you know, can you share with share with us? Why you want to have to have that we just want that sound like party talk. That's not like, you know, I don't want to tell sad stories. And, you know, and I saw what would make it palatable, right. And I was just really curious, right. So I was just just really curious and trying to understand them. And he said, What if you had facts and figures with that help you start a conversation about what's actually happening in our community? And he goes, whoo, whoo, like what? And I was like, well fact that 14% of our population lives in poverty, and 27% struggled to afford basic needs. I said, Could you start a conversation like that? Mm hmm. And he goes, Well, yeah. Because people listen to data. You know, people listen to data and facts. And so that was a conversation that never left me. Right. And so I was just trying to think, how we make this on ramp to talk about poverty, and how do we get this on ramp to talk about race and equity? And I'm not an expert, right. I do not have, you know, multiple degrees. I'm just somebody that was interested in trying to help this community come together. Yeah, right before the George Floyd murder and before all of everything that's happened this summer. So this this challenge was happening. This started back in 2019. And we launched The actual 21 day challenge in January. And so that's what I mean by onramp. How is I going to introduce this conversation? And even in the short timeframe, we have to think about, about the changes that have occurred, like, you shouldn't worry about making people feel comfortable

Laura Khalil :

talking, right, you know, and Pam, let's talk about that a little bit. Because one of the biggest criticisms or challenges that discussing an on ramp into really becoming more of an ally becoming more aware, and becoming an anti racist, one of the main challenges that we will hear as well you're just trying to make it convenient for white people to not get too emotionally upset. And why are you trying to coddle them? And so maybe it's just a different point of view, but I would love if we could address that for people who are listening saying no, you need to clap back and you need to do it hard and you need to do it harshly and you need to you know, be fears in your response? Let's talk about that. Yeah.

Pam Smith :

Yeah, let's talk about it because it's something I struggle with and get criticized for. And, you know, we have pretty heavy discussions about, and even the tenor of our community today is different. I might even approach launching the the equity challenge in a different manner today than I did you know, in the past, just six months ago. Yeah. But what we have to do is we have to, yes, I agree with all of that. We should not make it easy. We should No. black and brown people have been struggling for 400 years in this country. How dare I write, trying to make anything easier? Hmm. It's not so much that it's easier. I'm not trying to make it easier. I'm trying to help people comprehend it. We had no comprehension that poverty existed in this community. They didn't see it. So we had no comprehension really about the depth of interest. equity in this community. So how do I help people see it? Right? And so that 21 day equity challenge is so for your listeners, it's 21 days, you get an email into your inbox. It covers a different topic each day about equity. We ask that you read about it, we ask that you read about the topic for the day. And it could be implicit bias. It could be white fragility. It could be talking about trauma to healing segregation, gerrymandering, the wealth gap, each one of those is a different topic. Yeah, when you open it up, there is information and then we asked you to engage in one of five options. So you might, you might find we try to appeal to lots of different types of warming. So you might be asked to read something you might be asked to watch a video you might be asked to take a test. You might be asked to engage in the community. There's a lot of different things that you can do to get involved in Understand that particular topic of the day, a little bit deeper.

Laura Khalil :

You know, I want to say something about this quickly because I have sent this, as I talked about at the top of the show to a lot of people. And what's interesting is that people, especially older white men, who think that they are very woke, because they grew up in the 60s, they know something about cultural revolutions, done a lot of drugs, they feel like hey, I'm a, I'm a cool guy. Like, I know what's up. Those guys and women, I think, are sometimes the hardest to reach, because they already think they're quote, unquote, not racist. But and they think they're already aware. And so I noticed that with that community who read this, and who went through the challenge, that they had really profound transformation, because they said, Wow, I actually didn't realize All the ways I was complicit in this, and I think that's a really powerful and I am an advocate of the onramp. Personally, because what does tend to happen with people? Is they shut down. If you attack, someone shuts down, and you know, I have experienced that in my life, and it's in sometimes we do want to speak up, we do want to make a strong statement of No, you can't say that word. That's not acceptable, and more other things where it feels like no, I need to respond right now. And I think in other instances, and maybe that's up to us to discern what's appropriate, but in other instances, helping people get on board and walk on, like, you know, get onto that on ramp onto the freeway, that's more things are going 100 miles an hour, but they're starting off at 10 miles an hour. They're still trying to shift from first gear into second gear. You know, this is really, really powerful and I just Keeping of that analogy, it was kind of this is not the right analogy, but I'll say it anyway. It's kind of like boiling a frog. It's kind of like you get it in the water, it doesn't know what's happening. And suddenly, you're like, Oh, it's hot in here, Whoa, what's going on? You know, it's sort of that approach. And I think it's pretty freaking ingenious, Pam.

Pam Smith :

Well, if we have to get people to a place where they're willing and open to learn, right, and so I live in the most educated city in America. That's what some that's what I'm a recent study. You know, you always hear these great things about Ian Arbor. But there's also this other side, where, you know, we also have one of the worst third grade reading scores for black children, right. Wow. In the state. So going back to your point about the frog in the water, I think that has that personally strikes a chord for me because one I'm Not black, I didn't have a lot of experience going into this. I just wanted the conversation to happen. And now that I'm here, I walk a constant tightrope of step up, step back, let your voice be heard, be quiet, you know. So there's so much push and pull as I tried to find a space, you know, for this work to happen to make sure that it's happening with fidelity, you know, to make sure that it's happening with integrity in my community, and where we're constantly I'm constantly looking at myself personally, and also looking at the organization that I lead, as far as are we doing the very best we can to create this thriving community for everyone? And how are we going to change and the way that I can help change it is to help people understand that the disparity that exists in our community is becoming Racism, structural adorkable racism. And so consequently, this equity challenge, lets people learn, you know, we catalogued it all. It's all tied back to specific things within our county. You know, we're using our data, you know, as far as like the health disparities that exist, but then there's national studies that will also point you to so we can talk about our life expectancy differences. But we know that there have been studies in where clinicians, you know, harbor an implicit bias against blacks and Latinos. We know that black babies die more often in our county than white babies. We know I mean, everybody's heard the Serena Williams story, right. A prominent African American woman almost dies during childbirth and only lives because she knows her own body and man's the attention right that she deserved. And so if we don't get it Every single person to understand even just the basics on implicit bias or white fragility, or any of those things that we talked about in the equity challenge, we are not going to be able to change this community for the better.

Laura Khalil :

I love it. Pam, I want to thank you so much for joining me on brave by design today. For those who are listening, we're gonna put a link in the comments to this show. So you can go take the 21 day equity challenge for yourself, because it is very useful. And thank you again for being with us. Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to talk to you Laura, I really appreciate it. I want to thank you for joining me and remember to subscribe through your favorite app so you can stay up to date, and I would love your review. If you've enjoyed this episode. Please leave a review and comment on Apple podcasts. You can also keep in touch with me online. You can find me on LinkedIn and I'm also on Instagram at force of badassery all that information will will be available in the show notes. Until next time, stay brave