The City of Austin is a member of the Racial Equity Here cohort, a national movement of government leaders working to dismantle institutional racism, eliminate racial disparities, and improve outcomes for all.
The City of Austin has committed to acknowledging its long history of racial inequity and working systemically to undo this legacy. In the ten months since the City’s Chief Equity Officer, Brion Oaks, came on board, huge strides have been made to integrate purposeful consideration of racial disparities and inequities in everything it does. The City’s first racial equity assessment tool has been completed and utilized by eight City departments to examine their budgets, programs, policies, and procedures for disparities and these departments will soon draft Racial Equity Action Plans of their own. However, none of these achievements would have been possible without deep and meaningful collaboration with the local community.
To develop the City’s Equity Assessment Tool, the Office hosted a visioning session to gather information from the community regarding themes they wished to see highlighted in the Tool. A series of workshops to take a deeper dive into these themes and brainstorm questions followed the visioning session. The Chief Equity Officer and his staff then used this information to draft the first version of the Equity Assessment Tool before sending it out to community stakeholders for feedback. Stakeholders had one month to provide commentary after which the Tool was reworked—a process which was repeated for the second draft. Now, the Equity Office is working with community stakeholders to develop a community-based review mechanism for the evaluation of the Tool and its responses going forward.
Austin’s racial equity efforts are first and foremost community-driven. The City’s Equity Office and Equity Assessment Tool are a result of the overwhelming pressure from residents for City Council to take action to address racial inequities, and since its formation, the Office has involved community in all of its activities every step along the way. The Chief Equity Officer and his staff engage the community in a co-creative process in the planning and development phase of each new program or initiative. By using this model, the Office ensures that all initiatives address the community’s concerns the right way from the start. Today, the Equity Office’s stakeholder list is over 100 strong, with diverse representation from the community and city staff.
Written by: Gabriella Becker
Equity Program Coordinator | AmeriCorps VISTA member
City of Austin Equity Office