Turning Commitment into Action (TCA) is a free racial equity learning cohort designed to give organizations of all kinds and sizes the tools they need to turn their commitments to racial equity – both within their organizations and in partnership with the community – into institutional and structural change. The City of Seattle Race and Social Justice Initiative (RSJI) developed the initial TCA model in 2014 to support requests for applied learning from many of the more than 200 groups that participated in group workshops in conjunction with the dynamic exhibit, RACE: Are We So Different?, at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle. 130 of those participating groups went on to sign the RSJI Commitment to Action for Racial Equity. Seattle also has cultivated this cross-sectoral model for specific sectors. In 2015, the Office of Arts & Culture partnered with the Office for Civil Rights to adapt and expand the model into an eight-month learning cohort for representatives of arts and cultural organizations.
The Turning Commitment into Action Training Model
The TCA program is designed to give participant organizations the tools and knowledge they need to build racial equity at the inter-personal, institutional and structural levels. While many organizations and institutions have diversity and inclusion initiatives, fewer are explicitly working to address institutional and structural racism. The unique aim of TCA is to increase the capacity of organizations to create racial equity both within their own organization and in the work the organization does with partners and the community. Participants learn how to move beyond diversity, inclusion and equality models to enact and communicate a pointed focus on racial equity. TCA teaches groups how to lead, name and frame with race.
Organizations are asked to send three representatives from different areas of the agency (e.g. human resources, education, artistic production, board, etc.) including at least one organizational decision-maker in a leadership position with the authority to implement changes and hold all areas of the organization accountable (e.g. an executive director, managing director or deputy director). Organizations with fewer than 10 FTE may choose to send only two representatives. Participating groups complete an Organizational Commitment Form that indicates written support from executive leadership and outlines leadership support for the development, implementation and evaluation of the racial equity plan.
Each TCA racial equity learning cohort is designed to (1) build the capacity of participating organizations through collaborative learning activities, hands-on training sessions, technical assistance and coaching; (2) provide specialized tools and resources to address institutional and structural racism within and across organizations in a particular sector, and in the community; (3) provide organizations with the tools to conduct a racial equity assessment of their organization, and (4) develop and support the implementation of a racial equity plan for each participating organization.
Each TCA cohort takes place over 6 sessions and begins with two intensive, 10-hour training days. Individual participants and organizational teams are assigned homework between sessions. Each participant is paired with a “buddy” from another organization with whom they meet to reflect on questions about their experiences as they develop, implement and advocate for their organizational racial equity plans.
The program uses inquiry-based learning activities to explore the connections between contemporary implicit structural racial inequities and historical, explicit policies and practices. In addition, each organizational team writes their organization’s racial equity story – why and how they must work to eliminate institutional racism and build racial equity.
As the program goes on, participants consider how as individuals and as an organization they are situated to advance racial equity, given the historical and present context of structural racism as well as the unique racial equity story of their organization. Activities help participants develop an understanding of social position and change advocacy. Participants apply these concepts using a racial equity assessment tool, which is used to identify both personal and organizational power that can be used to advance racial equity.
After applying the racial equity assessment tool, participants outline an action plan that addresses areas for collaboration and engagement within organizations and with partners. Examples of increasing racial equity within organizations include hiring and promotion practices, the use of racial equity training and workshops, and applying a racial equity lens to internal policies and practices. Racial equity work within the community may involve direct services, policy work, partnerships, advocacy, education, events, initiatives and programming. On the second full training day, a panel of community leaders who have implemented racial equity plans within their organizations share their work and then answer often bold and cuttingly honest questions from the group. This gives participants a chance to see how their organization’s racial equity plans actually can become a reality.
The structure of the TCA program promotes reciprocal learning, networking and shared understanding. Participants leave with an understanding of the ways that their work overlaps with issues outside of those they typically address. For example, members of an arts education organization cultivate a relationship with an anti-displacement organization in their neighborhood. The arts education organization comes to understand the history of racialized displacement in the neighborhood and the anti-displacement organization comes to understand how arts and culture can be used to communicate their mission and engage community members in imaginative planning that builds racially equitable housing and land use strategies. The arts education organization hires teaching artists of color from that neighborhood to provide hands-on, arts-based programming that engages neighborhood residents in developing creative solutions. The arts education organization shares and gets feedback on this cross-sector partnership with the rest of the cohort as its developing; new ideas for equitable partnerships and for using arts as a strategy to design possibilities for racial equity emerge. This type of group learning and reciprocal sharing also occurs regarding internal organizational challenges and opportunities.
Educating and Communicating About Racial Equity: the TCA program integrates information on historical and current realities regarding racism.
Structural Change: the TCA program promotes cross-sector and cross-jurisdictional partnerships through its collaborative training model.
TCA Learning Objectives:
- Examine how race is socially constructed.
- Understand the manifestations and impacts of institutional and structural racism in our communities.
- Understand your own and others’ social identities and social positions, and why we approach equity through the lens of race to achieve structural transformation.
- Explore how we can create the change needed to build racial equity. What does it mean to be a change advocate? What does it take for groups/institutions to change and/or to sustain racial equity as their core work? How can we work structurally, across organizations and sectors, to achieve racially equity?
- Articulate a clear, compelling story for your group’s evolution that you can share with stakeholders, including co-workers and others connected with your group.
- Use an assessment tool to understand the steps your group must take to address race-based disparities and build racial equity.
- Hear from local leaders who have led and participated in racial equity change processes: What worked? What didn’t? What were the most important lessons learned?
- Incorporate what you’ve learned to outline your plan to build racial equity.
- Receive feedback, coaching from facilitators and City of Seattle Race and Social Justice Initiative (RSJI) staff, and peer support on plan implementation – successes and failures forward.
- Practice applying racial equity tools and learn about additional resources for ongoing support.
Sector-specific focus: Arts and culture
- Discuss patterns of institutional and structural racism facing artists, arts and culture administrators, funders, arts educators, audience/participants and communities – both those working within the arts and cultural sector and those using arts and culture to support transformation in other areas (e.g. housing, criminal justice, transportation, education).
- Identify perceived and real barriers to racial equity in arts and cultural organizations and the sector as a whole.
- Share and examine best practices such as calls for artists, racialized content in artistic productions and leveraging arts-based strategies for community change.
- Workshop strategies and tactics for overcoming institutional and structural barriers as part of each organization’s racial equity plan development.
Having had two Artist Trust staff members and one board member go through the Turning Commitment into Action (TCA) program, Artist Trust immediately began infusing what we learned throughout our strategic planning and services. One of the main initiatives we recently completed was creating and publicly displaying a Racial Equity Framework, which was spearheaded by our Diversity Task Force, comprised of board and staff. TCA also led to the creation of equity-based values in our new four-year Strategic Plan, explicit attention to issues of access during grant panels and choosing panelists, pilot workshops for artists of color and a racial equity training for all board and staff in 2017. Having participated in the TCA program myself and being the manager our Resources page, I’m currently in the process of developing an Equity section that will address equity issues through articles, toolkits, glossaries, situation-based solutions. The TCA program was an excellent springboard in equipping Artist Trust staff and board with the tools and urgency to move forward in racial equity.
Zach Frimmel, Artist Trust (Seattle, WA).
Seattle is completing an evaluation of the TCA cohorts for arts and cultural organizations that it will be using to update the model for a fourth arts and culture cohort in 2017 or 2018. (30 organizations were able to participate in the first three cohorts; many others remain on a waiting list.) TCA groups are also invited to apply for grants to address structural racism through the City’s Racial Equity Fund. A convening of the first three cohorts in March, 2016 led to multiple ideas for ongoing learning, both led by organizations and by the City. In 2017, the Office of Arts & Culture will hold a forum for top leaders of arts and cultural organizations on “walking the talk” of racial equity.
Based on the popularity of TCA, the Office of Arts & Culture is using a Racial Equity Toolkit analysis to seek community input on the development of two additional TCA phases:
- TCA II, a shared learning cohort of creative strategists – artists, teaching artists and cultural organizers who integrate racial equity frameworks with arts- and culture-based learning to develop policies, practices and experiences that build racial equity (2017).
- TCA III, creative strategist residencies within arts and cultural organizations that lead to arts and cultural projects. This project is supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (2017 – 2018).
In these ways, Seattle has worked to provide opportunities for groups to be active with RSJI even after the training, as well as opportunities to enact their racial equity plans and deepen their racial equity practices.
Lessons Learned from Advice:
Based on the experience with developing and launching Turning Commitment Into Action, Seattle has some advice they would like to share with other jurisdictions interested in providing racial equity trainings:
- Get to know what your community is seeking. Find out what types of training people are asking for and go from there.
- Work with a cohort that can get strong as a cohort. Then invite them to help organize other organizations and sectors that may be looking to do racial equity work but are fearful or uncertain for various reasons.
- Seek willing partners and dream big. The Office of Arts & Culture reached out to the Office for Civil Rights to explore how they could partner to expand the TCA model to build racial equity within the arts and cultural sector and with other sectors and jurisdictions. The success of this project-based partnership has enabled the Office of Arts & Culture to secure additional City dollars for racial equity work, including a full-time Manager of Arts & Equity who will expand the work both across City departments and with the community.
For more information about Seattle’s Race and Social Justice Initiative:
For more information about Turning Commitment into Action, contact Diana.Falchuk@seattle.gov, (206) 615-1800.
Originally posted April 12th, 2015