29 Things Heard & Witnessed at #SeattleEquitySymposium2019

Aiko Bethea
5 min readApr 28, 2019

On April 26, 2019, a cross-sector of 130 representatives convened at the #SeattleEquitySymposium2019. There was a waitlist of over 200 individuals seeking to attend. Attendance was curated with the specific goal of having innovators, those on the frontlines of equity building in community, funders, and policy makers collaborate and explore actions for equity. Among the hoped for outcomes:

  • Create greater understanding of racial and economic issues in Settle and beyond
  • Explore new ideas for closing the gaps between people and opportunity in education, housing, and the workplace
  • Inspire inclusive decision-making across sectors for a collective path forward
  • Commit to taking action towards equity

The symposium was envisioned and largely implemented by C’Ardiss (CC) Gardner Gleser and Satterberg Foundation, Fred Hutch, and Technology Access Foundation were co-sponsors. CC Gleser, Trish Dzikos, and I were co-chairs. #blackgirlmagic The energy at the summit was high and ideas flowed. The opening by the Youth Poet Laureate, Azura Tyabji, entitled Seattle Freeze more than did the job of prepping us to engage and counter-norms. We were grateful to have so many great minds in the room, like Prof. john a powell and Rochelle Riley. It’s impossible to capture all of the thoughts shared and connections made, but here are a few:

1. People of color often are programmed to protect whiteness.

2. The Big We (every one of us) will be well-served to build bridges to connect with one another. The distance can be great. Better to build short bridges than none at all.

3. Meet people where they are, but don’t leave them there.

4. Working in any system in this country usually requires us to hold white supremacy in one hand and attempt to balance equity in another.

5. A credential (trade school, associates degree, etc.) is necessary to break cycles of poverty. A four-year degree is not required.

6. Diversity, equity, and inclusion often replicate white supremacy.

7. Shoot for belonging. Inclusion is being invited to a space, system, etc. that has already been built. It’s like soft assimilation. Belonging is about co-creating that space.

8. The demand for “data” (logic models, longitudinal studies, etc.) to legitimize approaches to change have been weaponized against communities of color and nonprofits led by POC. Qualitative data, anecdotal data, and lived experiences of POC are undervalued, if valued at all.

9. Development: requiring people of color to have hats in hand to ask wealthy- mainly white people for money, which at its roots is ill-gotten money is white supremacy reproducing itself.

10. There’s a heightened focus on monitoring the rapid advent of technology, but no one is protesting or assessing the specific rapid rise of robots-which is where there should be a greater concern.

11. Philanthropy is fundamentally accountable to no one- and its white.

12. It’s interesting to watch funders make excuses about why they don’t fund POC-led organizations. One of the largest funders present said: If we fund everything, it will scare other funders off. That’s against the collaboration model we seek. (You’d rather just fund white-led organizations that already have a range of funders; And, have the smaller POC-led organizations struggle and shut down. These POC-led organizations are usually closest to and most trusted by marginalized communities to perform in-community work.)

13. Philanthropy funds white-led organizations millions. Those white-led organizations then pay the POC 1–2% of that funding- because they need the POC to actually provide them with connections in the POC communities, inform them on how to do the work, and train them on how to connect with POC communities.

14. People of color are simply invisible to white people. We are the cleaning people. We are the help. We are here for their convenience. When we trespass beyond their convenience, we must be removed and destroyed. (This often leads to #15.)

15. It is unsurprising the number of white people who have never learned to make an unqualified apology. This should be expected, unfortunately.

16. The affront on blackness becomes a spectator sport to whites (who see it) and other non-black people of color- especially when they have not learned to see anti-blackness and microagressions, much less learned to disrupt it.

17. Black and brown people are powerful when they are together and in community.

18. Others can become part of that community- the Bigger We- by training themselves to See and to Hear us. They can stop and mitigate inequity (and even save our lives) by learning to disrupt the violence against us. Or, why not just stop committing the violence?

19. Number 18 is required for this world to retain its humanity, to continue on, and to avoid complete social disintegration.

20. Certainty is a privilege that people of color have never had. Philanthropy’s demand for “data” is a result of white privilege- and its demand for certainty- especially before it invests in communities of color.

21. Blood soaked money- philanthropy built on wealth that was never earned by its’ possessors. Instead it was built on the blood of the native and blacks- who are now required to beg for that money.

22. Wealthy whites can give away all of “their money”, and it will only return to them three-fold, because it is so admirable when they are this “caring and good”. They are rewarded for being “philanthropic”.

23. From POC: When I work in white dominant organizations, I stay only as long as it serves me. When it’s no longer serving me, I leave.

24. From POC: Organizations are gaining three-four times my compensation due to the value of my presence and my work. I Deserve to be present and I Deserve to be paid.

25. Only 20–30% buy-in is needed to make large, material changes. Transformation can happen without everyone on board.

26. Efforts for material, sustainable change must be: (1) Intentional (2) Deliberate, and (3) Organized.

27. Suffering is inevitable but suffering that is meaningless and doesn’t result in a greater good is Surplus Suffering. This includes things like homelessness and a lack of education.

28. POC can become intoxicated by being in proximity to whiteness, sometimes to the point of wanting to exclude other POC or distance themselves from other POC.

29. We must focus on the meaning of reparations -repairing- that has outlived slavery.

#equity #inclusion #diversity #RochelleRiley #johnapowell #seattle



Aiko Bethea

Aiko is Founder of RARE Coaching & Consulting, a leadership development agency that focuses on emotional intelligence. NYT Best Seller: You Are Your Best Thing.