There’s an old saying that every great victory is the result of many smaller victories that went unnoticed. As we undertake our individual and organizational racial equity journeys, I would suggest we slightly modify this adage. I think it's essential that we do notice the small victories – victories that may seem inconsequential when they occur but are critical to our achievement of more significant wins on the road to positive change. As an example of what I mean, let me introduce you to a White male nonprofit leader that I’ve known for many years (let’s call him “Bill”).

Bill is the chief executive of a nonprofit that provides direct services to lower-income clients that are predominantly people of color. As a White leader who has decided (in partnership with the organization’s board and staff) to implement an organization-wide racial equity strategy, Bill recently read a study on integrating racial equity into nonprofit organizations. After reading the study, Bill sent me the following note that summarizes his reflections:

For me, I can’t get very far from this question I scrawled in the margins toward the bottom of pg. 3: “Are we/have we ever held ourselves accountable to those affected by structural racism?”

And by posing the question, I don't think we have.

Then toward the bottom of pg. 8 I scrawled, "If we are going to ask the question (i.e., what does our data tell us), then we need to be ready to hear and act on the answer.”

Both were "ouch!" moments as I read.

When I read Bill’s note, I immediately recognized his message as a “small victory” for this reason: this was a clear, encouraging example of a White nonprofit leader who was investing his time and taking the initiative to read, reflect, and engage on the issue of racial inequity – in other words, he was preparing as an individual and as a leader to face the challenge of racial inequity rather than avoid it. I found small wins in his willingness to educate himself on the topic; to pose the kinds of uncomfortable questions that White leaders are often reluctant to ask (or answer) themselves; and to acknowledge feeling the actual pain (the “ouch”, as he put it) of recognizing past and present racial inequity in our country and the challenging - but worthwhile - path ahead if we intend to eradicate racial inequity in the future.

Bill’s note was brief but it prompted me to reflect on my own beliefs and experiences as a Black leader in the sector. I’d like to share my reflections on three parts of Bill’s message that stood out to me.

Read the full article about facing structural racism by Jim Taylor at BoardSource.