The Change Our Communities Need

First Alaskans Institute’s Alaska Native Policy Center hosted “Partners for the next 10,000 years…A Racial Equity Summit” from February 1-2, 2016 in Anchorage, Alaska. For the past six years, the Institute has facilitated a project aimed at resetting the statewide conversation on racism and racial equity called Advancing Native Dialogues on Racial Equity (ANDORE) program. The Racial Equity Summit is one component of the ANDORE project. Tiffany Zulkosky, a member of Pride Foundation’s Alaska Local Advisory Team, also serves on ANDORE’s Visionary Council and offered the following reflection of her experience at the Racial Equity Summit.

by Tiffany Zulkosky – Nearly every day, I hear my family members, friends, and social media peers laud the progress of our society—the legalization of same-sex marriage, the movement toward pay equity for women, the expeditious development of corporate technology, and so on. But it would seem, as soon as we consider having a conversation about race and racial equity, many in our community would rather consider all progress as having been accomplished during the Civil Rights movement.

This is hardly the case.

There are social scientists and researchers who could have a much more concise and statistics-driven conversation about racial issues in America today. However, I know one thing to be true—the larger dialogue around this topic tends to happen in sound bites, tackling the sensitive and emotional topic in reactionary quotes to incidents of racial injustice.

For me, this placed a great deal of importance on the need for First Alaskans Institute to host a Racial Equity Summit in Alaska and dig even deeper in a workshop on “Partners in Progress”. This workshop highlighted that, as we work toward LGBTQ and racial equity, we must recognize the inextricable interconnectedness of these movements.

These are difficult discussions, but they are critical in building shared language to understand how our various identities shape our experiences in each of our communities. As with all discussions on equity, a single conversation or workshop is not the solution, but a very important step towards ensuring that all LGBTQ youth, adults, and families enjoy the freedom to live safely, openly, and genuinely.

I won’t profess to intimately understand the challenges or adversities facing all LGBTQ individuals. However, as a Yup’ik woman, I understand the impact that labels, stereotypes, inequities, and institutional racism have on individuals. I also know how much can be gained by having safe, honest, meaningful conversations with allies that will stand alongside you in the tough journey toward equity.

Our workshop was most successful because it made space for creating strong connections between individuals that seek to work together to make Anchorage—and the entire state—a welcoming and inclusive place for everyone.

Though a myriad of comprehensive policy shifts, agency actions, and enlightened “street-level bureaucrats” are needed to address various inequities, I hear the words of Mahatma Gandhi echoing through my mind, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

Measurable progress doesn’t just happen at the top and it doesn’t happen overnight. Progress happens day-to-day through our engagement with the community and our loved ones.

The racial equity summit merely affirmed for me the need to keep having these hard, but necessary, conversations with love and understanding. In doing so, we become the change our communities need.

Pride Foundation was honored to participate in the 2016 Racial Equity Summit hosted by First Alaskans Institute. Tiffany Zulkosky and Kathy DiLorenzo, Local Advisory Team members, and Pride Foundation’s Alaska Regional Development Organizer, Josh Hemsath, co-facilitated a workshop about the importance of centering our work at the intersection of multiple movements.

Josh Hemsath is the Regional Development Organizer in Alaska. Email Hemsath.

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